Psychosocial support services for survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Northern Cebu

February 8, 2014 – April 27, 2014

The Visayas Primary Healthcare Services, (VPHCS) Inc. conducted a series of  psychosocial support services missions from February 8 to April 27, 2014 in 20 barangays in nine municipalities and one city in Cebu which were affected by Typhoon Yolanda.

The missions sites were as follows, namely: Barangays Kampinganon, Lipayran and Patao in Bantayan, Barangays Kaungkod, San Agustin, Bonacan in Madridejos, Barangays Bateria, Malbago and Tominjao in Daanbantayan, Barangays Bitoon, Langub and Hagdan in Kinatarcan island, Sta.Fe., Barangay Tambongon in San Remegio, Barangays Pulambato and Gairan in Bogo City, Barangay Cagcagan in Poro, Northern Poblacion in San Francisco, Barangay Puertobello in Tudela, Barangays Kawit and San Juan in Pilar.

The services are part of the rehabilitation project, “Building Resilient Communities  In Facing Natural Calamities – Phase I,” implemented by the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (FARDEC) with the support of the Action Aid.

The six-month project provided relief,  housing materials, livelihood assistance, and rehabilitation services to families in the 20 barangays that were affected by the typhoon.  It also organized people’s organizations that shall become resilient in facing future calamities including formation of working committees  on disaster preparedness.

The psychosocial missions of the VPHCS were part of the rehabilitation services for the affected families.

Each psychosocial intervention started with a disaster  education which mainly consisted of information regarding the scientific explanation of the occurrence of earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, and floods and other calamities, and basic information on disaster preparedness and management.  This information did not only increase knowledge of the affected communities but also eased their  tensions as  they can now explain scientifically the causes of disasters. Even the basic knowledge  on what to do during disasters is a form of healing for the affected communities.

After the lecture on disaster education, discussion on the “Impact and reaction to trauma” was held which deepened the different effects that typhoon Yolanda had on the people, including economic losses, emotional, social, mental, behavioral and physical ailments.  This was followed by a  discussion on the “Five steps for psychosocial support” which outlines the five role of a psychosocial caregiver in the community, namely:  active listening, relive and regrieve, recreation, rebuild and referral.

After the forum,  a pre-test was conducted on the assessment of the feelings during the disaster and a post-test of the feelings felt at present.  The two tests were filled up by all the survivors that would identify those who needed psychosocial therapy.

This was then followed by stress debriefing through group therapy.  Here,  the residents were grouped into groups of 10 to 20.   Each group had a therapist who facilitated the survivors to express their experiences  and their feelings before and during the typhoon,  and how these affected them .   They narrated their  flashbacks of what happened during the typhoon.  They shared symptoms they had after the disaster that included headaches,  difficulty of sleeping, feelings of anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate, lack of appetite, depression, nervousness, symptoms of numbness of feet, pounding of the heart, and stomach problems.

The residents said they didn’t expect Typhoon Yolanda to be that strong.   There was extreme fear that another typhoon would occur again which could even be stronger than Yolanda.

They also answered the facilitators’ questions on  what they did  to conquer their  fears,  what keeps them to move on with life and what are their coping mechanisms.  It was heart warming that the people clinched to their hopes with the consolation of being still alive.

Most of them said that they need to move on since they have families, and that their peoples’ organization was actively looking after the welfare of the members, especially in the orderly management of relief operations being extended by many civic and charitable organizations.

Many also said that they have  attributed their  strength in their conviction and belief that there was still the existence of God and this faith would alleviate their emotional and psychological  burden.

At the end of each session, the facilitator  identified  those who really needed psychosocial  and  psychiatric treatment for them to fully recover from their trauma.

The children had psychosocial activities.  In play therapy, the facilitator engaged groups of  children in play  in order to draw out their  feelings of fear and anger.  The facilitator then processed the emotions expressed during the play.  In art therapy,  the children expressed their feelings through drawings after which the facilitator  processed the projections of the children. The children enjoyed  their play and art therapy as they  shared their drawings to everyone. They also shared experiences during the disaster.   The team didn’t see any abnormal behaviour during their play and drawing  sessions.

The people in the northern towns of Cebu  indeed have suffered from the disaster that was Typhoon Yolanda and other calamities in the past  but they  have emerged triumphant and  stronger in will and spirit, an indomitable resilience  which many of us in the city may not have.  We  have much to learn from them, indeed.