After Typhoon Haiyan, nightmares continue for kids

By Dennis Sadowski

TANAUAN, Philippines — When Dem Depayso heard that kids across the Visayas in the central Philippines were having nightmares and difficulty focusing on their schoolwork because of vivid scary memories of Typhoon Haiyan, she decided to help.

A nurse who works for Catholic-run St. Louis University in Baguio City, Philippines, Depayso is spending a week of her vacation talking kids through their fears.

Children in Tanauan, Philippines, have been counseled by volunteers to help them overcome fears stemming from November’s typhoon. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Children in Tanauan, Philippines, have been counseled by volunteers to help them overcome fears stemming from November’s typhoon. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

CNS photographer Tyler Orsburn and I ran across a group of volunteers, Depayso included, who are offering counseling services and group therapy sessions to children in order to help them overcome traumatic visions of their homes and communities being torn apart by the storm’s vicious winds and rising flood waters.

Depayso said she knew kids needed an outlet for their fears. But what she wasn’t sure of was how big the need really was.

Since Sunday, Depayso and the 20 other volunteers have seen 300 children of all ages.

“We talk with the students and let them verbalize their fear and try to see how they are coping now,” Depayso told CNS on the steps of Assumption of Mary School in Tanauan Wednesday morning. Depayso and the volunteers have set up shop while repairs are made to the severely damaged structure.

When she took leave time soon after the storm to start meeting with kids elsewhere in the typhoon zone in December, she recalled that they held deep fears and did not want to talk much about what they saw. Three months after the storm Depayso said she is seeing that kids are beginning to laugh more and are more willing to tell their stories of survival from one of the worst-recorded typhoons to make landfall.

But a lot of fear remains.

“There are students who still have nightmares,” Depayso said. “It’s more the younger children.”

She also has found that children in public schools have harbored more fears than those in church-run schools. She believes faith and the more closer relationship that teachers in church-run schools develop with their children makes a difference.

The volunteers’ work involves a variety of techniques including just plain talking, story-telling therapy and art through which the youngsters can express their experiences and reveal what still frightens them.

“From those we get their feelings, their emotions, how they cope now,” Depayso said. “We try fun things with them and explain to them you can still continue on with your dreams.”

Three months after Haiyan, Filipinos find remains of teen

By Dennis Sadowski

PALO, Philippines — The mood turned somber late this morning in the community known as Barangay San Joaquin as residents uncovered the body of 16-year-old John Steve Cobacha, who had been missing since Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Phillippines Nov. 8.

The remains of John Steve Cobacha, 16, were discovered Feb. 7, nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tanauan, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

The remains of John Steve Cobacha, 16, were discovered Feb. 7, nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

A small crowd of supporters stood alongside the main road between Palo and Tanauan to watch about 15 men carefully pick through a large mound of debris after another neighbor found human remains while clearing branches next to his home.

Cobacha’s brother, Gilbert, 23, was among the men removing tree trunks, palm branches and personal belongings washed more than a quarter-mile inland by a 15-foot storm surge and pounding winds.

John Steve was reported missing soon after the storm. The death was the fourth for the Cobacha family, neighbors said. Mother Lorenda, father Leondro and toddler son Santino, 2, also were killed. Their bodies were found soon after the water receded into the ocean once the storm passed through the region.

The volunteers moved debris knowing that more human remains could be in the decaying and water-logged rubble that had been pushed against what was left of a battered concrete block wall of a two-story building.

Barangay council member Fel Rene Bambi Maraya told Catholic News Service 40 people remained missing from the tight-knit community. More than 400 people from the area died in the ferocious storm, he said.

Two middle-age women watched their neighbors struggling to lift some of the debris, silently praying.

Virtually every home in the area of the discovery was covered in tarps donated by various worldwide relief agencies. Twisted metal, broken windows and fallen walls are now trademarks of the once-thriving, if poverty-stricken community.

The site of the discovery is across the road from the grounds of San Joaquin Parish, the site of a mass grave where 352 people were buried immediately after the storm.

Simply crafted crosses of wood and metal marked dozens of slight mounds in front of the church. Candles, photos, large banners and even dolls served as small memorials at nearly every grave.

At one grave, the resting place for 10 members of the Lacandazo family and three others, a group of school children on their way home from morning classes delicately placed a small brown basket filled with colorful plastic flowers. Each one took a turn at arranging it until it looked just right. They stood, looked at their work and slowly continued on their way home.

Visitors constantly entered the makeshift cemetery during the 45 minutes colleague Tyler Orsburn and I were there. Most were women who stopped to pray and remember the events of that horrible day.

The Philippine government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported Jan. 29 that 6,201 people had died because of the typhoon and another 1,785 were missing. Now John Steve Cobacha will be added to the roster of the dead.

But to the residents of the Barangay San Joaquin, John Steve was so much more: a friend, a loving brother, a young man whose life was taken much too soon by the whims of nature.