As I arrived at the resort hotel in Western Samar, I was greeted by smiles of young people barely older than the children we were training them to serve. These youth were ecstatic to stay in the beautiful hotel, swim in the pool and sleep in real beds after living in tents for months. You see they were from Eastern Samar where Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) swept away whole villages. After serving as crew leaders during the Quinapondan child trauma camp they were getting a well deserved treat as well as training to prepare them for dozens of camps over the next few months.
I was impressed at how eager they were to absorb the material, as I taught them about critical incident stress, PTSD, child protection and how to care for their own emotional and spiritual health as well as their teammates. They knew just how important it was and listened as through their very lives depended on it. (And they just might) Since we have now completed two OperationSAFE camps in the Philippines; Zamboanga and Quinapondan, the veterans of those camps have now become the trainers passing along songs, crafts, games and Bible stories to those who will lead the children next.
After long days of training, they stayed on to translate “Pete’s Adventure” into their local Warai dialect so that the children in the next camps will be able to understand the story even better. There are six towns in Eastern Samar where the child trauma camps will be held; Quinapondan, Balangkayan, Hernani, Giporlos, Balangiga and Lawa-an. Once the initial camps arecompleted, local teams will then conduct smaller camps in the barangay (communities) surrounding these centers.
As we finished the week of training we spent time talking through with each person what they had experienced during the disaster. For many of them it was difficult both to talk about the terrible things that they saw and also to listen to the stories of others, but through it they were able to share their burden, find that they are not alone, and pray for one another.
I began to feel the shivers inside me as I started to picture in my mind how I will be able to deliver “Pete’s Adventure” with his friends, using Pilipino language to relate to 200 children and crew leaders who are mostly using the Visayan (Waray) dialect. In the two weeks prior to our departure, I was really struggling inside me on whether to accept the task and was praying that somebody else will be assigned to be in charge. I then prayed for wisdom and the courage and creativity as I started to review the modules, storyboards, and translation of Pete’s story in Tagalog, one story, one theme, one day at a time.
The storyline and translations seemed to be simple enough to be readily understood but what kept me apprehensive during the pre-departure period was the fact that I will be facing grades 1 and 2 children who had suffered trauma during typhoon Yolanda and the “fear” of the unexpected when we start camp in Quinapondan, Eastern Samar. We then continued to pray and seek God’s wisdom for organizing ourselves, packaging of our baggages, things we need to bring as emergency aids (given that there are still no electricity, with possible tents as our resting areas, transport concerns, excess baggages, and completion of the Op SAFE materials that we need to bring with us). We continued to pray for a secured place to stay and that the generator that was bought by PCMN will be the source of our power supply. Three days prior to departure, we were informed that we will be residing in the newly rented PCMN Mission house and that electrical supply become operational once again in the municipality! Halleluliah, and Praise be to Our Lord Jesus Christ for His faithfulness in answering our prayers….
February 4 Tuesday (Day 1 Camp)
My prayer….“Dear Lord, please help me to remember the storyline of Pete, translate the words correctly, coordinate the movement of cards and get the attention of the children and let them appreciate Pete’s adventure.” I then remembered and reflected on the theme of the day ….”You are not alone….FEAR NOT”. Then the jitters inside left me as I personally noticed that I was actually enjoying the time with the children when I told the story of Pete. God has really brought out of me the penguin walk, the penguin grimace, the penguin’s sad face, and a lot more of other movements that captured the attention of the kids. I was so relieved and happy to see them smiling, participating, and interacting with me throughout the session. It was being noted that there was one child who was affected by Pete’s story of separation from his parents. The teacher reported that she became so sad and teary eyed as she remembered the loss of her father during a recent flashflood while he was fishing for food in the river. She was then monitored as she moved through the different stations and was referred to Ms Wendy. I also noted the crew leaders and the assistant station leader (teacher-in charge) was also listening attentively….Thank you Jesus for day 1.
February 5 Wednesday (Day 2 Camp)
As we started Day 2 of the camp, we noted the excitement from the children’s faces as they walked the streets towards the school premises. It was even more challenging for me for I have to learn how to present 4 of Pete’s friends in the scenario. I had to project the voice of a big walrus, 3 other penguins, and then to a baby seal needs a little bit of creativity to capture the interest of the children. The day’s theme was “Everybody is important….FEAR NOT.” I remember how the children were able to recall the name of Pete’s friends that day and describing their character. For me, it was an indicator of their attention span and interest and how they are doing in terms of their participation in the station’s activity. “Thank you dear Father God for sustaining me through the 5 batches of children for the day.”
February 6 Thursday (Day 3 Camp)
As I was reviewing and preparing for day 3 character (Aurora) to be introduced as another friend of Pete, I faced the most difficult part when Aurora (who was a big old whale) will have to sing some lines as she swims towards Pete and his friends. My initial reaction was….oh no, now I have to sing!! Haayyy……this one is difficult as we tried to find a song that would fit Aurora’s line (in Tagalog). I prayed hard before I slept that night for God to provide me with the right notes and tune for the lines. I woke up early and reviewed the module on Aurora’s story and started to hum some notes. Lo and behold, God’s wisdom and faithfulness has allowed and provided me with the “song of Aurora” which I introduced to the children and the crew. “Sundin ang iyong puso (follow your heart)…sundin ang iyong puso (follow your heart)….sundin at maniwala ka (follow and believe), ” the song reflected the theme of the day which was “Follow and believe….FEAR NOT.” It was easy for the children to learn the song and they were even singing it as they were moving to the other stations. This was another signal that they are having fun and learning at the same time. God’s love was already felt inside their hearts as they were singing Aurora’s song. Praise God our Lord Jesus Christ for the love and music in our hearts!
February 7 Friday (Day 4 Camp)
Day 4 was another challenge for the OpSAFE team as we were being informed that it will be the last day of the camp. For me, my thoughts were, how can I finish the 2 remaining adventure stories and other activities in 3 hours. I prayed hard for God’s guidance to keep me focused so that I will not lose on time. I was able to finish the first batch on time but during the second batch, I was being called for an emergency with one teacher who was not feeling well. I immediately notified Dr Wendy that I need to leave the station to attend to the sick teacher. I was later on informed by Dr Wendy that my assistant station leader Ms Norma (teacher assigned in the room) took over the story telling session in Waray. I was so glad and happy to receive the news as Dr Wendy was describing to me how the teacher was relating the stories to the children the same way that I had been moving around and depicting the various characters in the storyboard. We were all happy at how Ms Norma handled the session that we both agreed to do it together on the last batch. We also noted that rain started to fall and so it was decided that the raincoats will already be distributed to the children. During the last batch of children, the rain was falling hard and the wind became stronger which actually distracted (once again) the attention of the children. I saw all them turn their heads all at the same time staring at the windows and very quiet. I then told them that we will pray together (me in Tagalog and Ms Norma translating it in Waray). As we ended the prayer, the children felt better and waited for the next activity. As the children wore their individual raincoats, they were so happy and excited. We were informed by Ms Norma that this was the first time ever that these children each receive a raincoat that they can use. The children were smiling and singing as they started to exit. The joy and gladness can be observed in their smiles and how they expressed themselves to most of us especially their crew leaders.
“Nais ko pong ipahayag ang kabutihan ng Pangainoong Hesus sa akin sa mga nangyaring himala at masasayang oras na ipinagkaloob ng ating Panginoon Hesus upang maabot, magamot, at mabigyan katuwaan ang mga bata at mga iba pang kapatiran na dumanas ng hirap hindi lamang sa pisikal kundi pati sa emosyonal na aspeto ng kanilang mga buhay matapos ang pagsalanta ng bagyong Yolanda. Ang Kanyang katapatan at mga kaloob na kakayahan ay tunay kong pinasasalamatan dahil kung sa aking sariling lakas at dunong ay hindi ko kayang gampanan ang itinakdang Niyang gampanin para sa akin na makapagkwento sa grade 1 and 2 students ng paaralan. Alam ko na mula pa sa umpisa ay kinakabahan na ako sa dahilan na ang bahaging ito [Adventure Station] ay hindi madali at hindi biro lalu na sa pagpapadaloy ng kwento ni Pete. Salamat sa ipinagkaloob ng Panginoon Hesus sa pamamagitan ng Banal na Espiritu na patuloy na gumagabay sa bawat isa sa amin at nagbigay ng lakas ng loob, karunungan, at kakayahan upang maganap ang maayos at nakatutuwang pakikipag-usap at pagkuwento sa mga bata. Patuloy kong pinanghahawakan ang Kanyang mga pangako sa Jeremiah 29:11 at sa Filipos 4:4-9. Maibalik nawa ang papuri at luwalhati sa Kanyang dakilang Pangalan.”
While heavy snow fell in Tokyo in mid-February, the OperationSAFE team headed to Seoul, Korea, to share child trauma training with Cornerstone, a ministry focused on North Korea. Since the cease-fire (not a peace treaty) ended open hostilities in 1953, North Korea has become one of the most repressive human rights violators in the world. Children invariably become some of the most affected because of their vulnerability.
The UN’s commission on human rights violations in North Korea’s report that was released to the public on the 17th of February 2014 has the following things to say about children,
1. The State operates an indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult.
2. The State denied humanitarian access to some of the most affected regions and groups, including homeless children. Street children migrating clandestinely to Pyongyang and other cities – principally in search of food – are routinely subject to arrest and removal. The commission is particularly concerned about ongoing chronic malnutrition in children and its long-term effects.
3. An estimated 20,000 children born to women from the DPRK are currently in China but are deprived of their rights to birth registration, nationality, education and health care because registration would expose mother to repatriation. Repatriated women who are pregnant are regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born are often killed. In political prison camps denial of reproductive rights are enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.
OperationSAFE and Cornerstone are strategically preparing child trauma workers to minister to children in the aftermath of the fall of the current regime in North Korea. During the training conference, CRASH Japan director Jonathan Wilson taught on Post Traumatic Stress, crisis intervention for children and how to provide ongoing care for workers over long responses. OperationSAFE leader Rie Wilson and the team coached their Korean counterparts on children’s games, songs, crafts and activities. Cornerstone also brought in speakers with first-hand experience teaching North Korean refugee children and the situation in the North.
Cornerstone has opened up a Facebook page for OperationSAFE in Korean for those interested in learning more the program.
The first OperationSAFE child trauma camp in East Samar finished in the city of Quinapondan. The Philippines Children’s Ministry Network and local volunteers held the 5-day camp with support from Humedica and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.