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.
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.”