WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Shoring up hardiness in the wake of Yolanda

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 Nov.) — The Ateneo de Davao University, through its Integrated Humanitarian Emergency Logistics Protocol (i-HELP), designates the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services to deliver the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) response to affected populace. Thus, in response to the humanitarian emergency in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, COPERS draws on its advocacy program for capacitating community-based resources for psychosocial interventions in times of disaster and expands its efforts beyond current engagements for follow on support for survivors of Typhoon Sendong, Typhoon Pablo, North Cotabato, and Zamboanga.

It shall therefore respond to the needs to capacitate community-based resources in Region 8 for the delivery of psychological first aid, grief counseling, specialized services, as necessary, resilience enhancement, and community recovery planning. It shall deliver MHPSS services with strict adherence to the principles set forth by the UN Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) and in coordination with the Incident Command System (ICS), as prescribed by Republic Act 10121. COPERS shall work with local psychologists, psychological organizations/centers/groups, community-based NGOs, and the LGUs that require capacitation support.

In Davao and in other areas not affected by Typhoon Yolanda where survivors have sought refuge, COPERS shall coordinate with the DOH and the DSWD to assist in the refugee processing centers, provide stress debriefing for first responders and local volunteers coming back from deployment to Yolanda-affected areas, and coordinate for stress inoculation of responders and volunteers – from both the government agencies/units and civil society – who are to be deployed.

To this end, COPERS established an MHPSS volunteer center at its office in Room 206, Dotterweich Hall manned by the Internal Director Nelly Limbadan and Administrative Affiliate Gabriel Lizada. Together with me as COPERS Director, we assemble, train, and activate MHPSS volunteers to serve the various populations in need of psychosocial interventions and support.

To deliver on these services, COPERS shall network for fund support or defray cost from internally-generated income for deployment, reproduction of materials, communication, and conduct of training.

COPERS Yolanda Response was initiated on 9 November 2013 and shall end on 8 February 2014.

Today, we welcome back our team from a week in Calbayog, where they worked with the staff of the Visayan Support Unit and the Eastern Samar Project Unit of Plan International – Philippines to prepare them for assisting the early recovery of their partner barangays. Last Sunday, the team had also debriefed members of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion who, after a two-week stint at the high-stress battle zone of Barangay Sta. Catalina in Zamboanga City had been sent back to Samar in time to be hit by supertyphoon Yolanda. The 1SRB was among the first responders deployed for search and rescue operations, recovering dead bodies and securing civilians. The Scout Rangers are typically stoic warriors whose first instinct is to spare others the weight of their terrible memories.

The members of the first team we deployed to Yolanda-affected areas were handpicked for their ability to deliver and train for MHPSS while working under fluid field conditions. Designated team leader was Randolph Reserva, on loan from the Student Development Center of the Grade School Unit. Randolph and Psychology Department faculty Rodge Lelis were also the first COPERS affiliates we sent to Cagayan de Oro in the wake of Typhoon Sendong. The day after Sendong, they had both shown up at my office door with backpacks and bedrolls, ready to be sent out on a mission to deliver tetanus toxoids and beef up Xavier University’s psychosocial support activities in their evacuation center.

Cha Ferraris had joined the team we sent out the next day on board a KM 450, with escorts from the 84th Infantry Battalion. Together with COPERS External Director Ericson Batican, they had endured 11 hours on the muddy road to get to CDO that, by the fourth day, was then heavy with the stench of death and decaying flesh.

This time, Cha was the only female who traveled with the team to Calbayog. Rounding off the team are Justin Paleguin, Kenneth Ragonton, Ryan Europa, and Polomolok MSWDO psychologist Michael Jess Lapid. Jess’ deployment has the blessings of the mayor. The team members are all alumni of the AB Psychology program in the last five years when COPERS had started to operate to, among others, provide the venue to train our students for community research and extension.

Dr. Batican and I shall be on hand later this afternoon to debrief the team before they disband and rejoin their families and go back to their jobs.

As I write, Terry Mirafuentes, Monna Sawan, and Jon Perez are still out there working in the barangays of Guiuan (Sapao, Cogon, and Giporlos). Tomorrow, Sinver Merlas, MG Suarez, and Joni Nuenay are leaving for Biliran, accompanied by New Bataan parish priest Fr. Edgar Tuling and some residents who had requested for psychosocial support to their communities. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)