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School playground helps ‘Yolanda’ kids cope with stress

/ 05:51 PM June 16, 2014

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—At a newly unveiled school playground here, children happily mobbed their way to play amid drizzles. This is finally a reprieve from the trauma caused by super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that struck nearly seven months ago.

“In the past, when it’s time to go to school, she will go. But after Yolanda, when it rains, she’s scared and doesn’t want to go to school anymore,” Edna Calderon, 45, mother to six-year-old Kassy Gill, said in Filipino.

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Although far from the coastal area, Calderon’s family was not spared by Yolanda when it battered Eastern Visayas with its destructive winds and torrential rains last November 8.

“At my age it was only then I experienced something like it. I have experienced a powerful earthquake before but a storm like this, it was so strong,” she said.

“What destroyed our house was not the ocean, it was the wind. I saw the wind. We’re not supposed to see the wind, we just feel it. But I saw it,” she recounted of their house in Pampango village.

Yolanda affected 16 million people and displaced four million others, based on government records. Many fled their homes and are still in temporary shelters even at seven months later. Death toll is at 6,200 with over 1,000 still missing.

Kassy Gill may be luckier than others, but she still has traces of trauma. “She now goes to school, but she doesn’t want me to leave. Maybe she’s still scared that something will happen again. But before, I can leave her in school. I do it little by little. The teachers might get distracted if I am there,” Calderon said.

A playground for ‘healing’

People have different ways of coping with stress. For children who have witnessed death and destruction, it is by playing that they can escape trauma and bring back normalcy in their lives.

On June 6, Johnson & Johnson, in partnership with the Department of Education and Play Pilipinas, launched a playground at Sagkahan Elementary School to help heal trauma among children affected by Yolanda.

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“As part of our campaign, we wanted to make sure that in Tacloban, we are giving a safe place where kids can play again to help in their healing process. So we are moving beyond the different learnings of play but actually this is all about active play healing,” said Kris Llanes, senior brand manager of J&J.

“This is part of our advocacy ‘Di lang laro nang laro (Playtime is not just pastime)’ that encourages 60 minutes of active play everyday,” she said.

Sagkahan Elementary School was chosen by DepEd as the recipient of the playground. It is the biggest non-central school in the city with almost 2,000 students.

“The first six years of a child’s life are the best years for them. Their minds are like sponges. How they pick up things, how they develop things are based on that first six years,” said Sigrid Perez of Play Pilipinas.

“May benefits of play that one cannot learn just in school such as the concept of leadership, social skills and physical aspect of being strong. Playtime has a lot of benefits. We really believe it is important for the holistic development of kids,” Llanes said.

The making of the playground

The playground built in Tacloban, a first after Yolanda, is customized and is more than a regular playground. J&J conducted insightings and focus group discussions with teachers and children to build a playground suited for them.

“We asked [the children] to draw their dream playground. It was very interesting because the first thing they drew was actually a house. In J&J we build a temporary or permanent playground but it’s the first time we heard about a house. And when we asked them why, it was obviously because they lost their homes. So the playground that we built there is a treehouse where they can re-build new happy memories while playing,” Llanes said.

The group also added a place where children can play with water to lessen their fears of it.

“The kids also drew rain, fighting in the rain with swords. Moms say that up to now young kids still cry when they hear the rain. So we have a special place for them where they can play with water to lessen their fear of water,” she also said.

The children also needed someone in control based on their study. “The kids also drew pictures of Jesus, Mama Mary and superheroes. When we asked child psychologists, they said it was because they were traumatized. They needed someone in control,” Llanes said.

This prompted J&J to give the kids another surprise, by giving them additional toys that they can enjoy outside the playground.

The colorful playground, which became a reality after two months of studies and conceptualization, was made from recycled materials.

“We wanted to make sure that when we build the playground, the community residents themselves can repair for sustainability purposes.

‘‘So as much as possible the materials we have here can be found within the community. We will give them (materials) to make sure the playground is well-maintained so kids can play there and it’s not a one- time thing,” Llanes said.

A big help

Kassy Gill was one of the children eager to play at the newly built playground that day. “She wanted to play even a few days ago but it was still wet from paint. We didn’t have a playground then so many kids are happy,” Calderon said.

“This is a big help to our school especially to our nearby villages because we don’t have this facility before,” said Niceta Galura, the school principal of Sagkahan Elementary School. The school caters to 14 villages.

“Aside from helping the children from trauma, this will be helpful even to those who didn’t have trauma,” she said.

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TAGS: Johnson & Johnson, playground, Regions, schoolchildren, Supertyphoon Yolanda, Tacloban City
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