4th of a series

Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

Today is the third and last day of playing with children in this covered-court-turned-evacuation-center. Did the healing movement activities help the children? How?

“I felt like giving up on the first day. The children were unbelievably energetic and could not keep still even for a moment,” says Kim. That’s interesting because Kim didn’t show she was struggling. She and the rest of the emergency pedagogy (EP) facilitators were calm the entire time and spoke quietly. They were not fazed when the children yell, hit each other, pull hair, or shove and continued to act as loving authorities to the children. This is how they earned the children’s respect, trust and admiration.

The blindfolded little girl in the middle of the circle attempts to tag her friend to the delight of everyone else. Photo by LOUISE FAR

“At first I felt the children were so difficult to control. Maybe they are different?” Suli shares. “So when the kids were rowdy, I joined them.” She changed strategy when she realized the children just really need love and care. Time and again their parents would suddenly butt into a circle to smack the noisiest, cheekiest child on the head. Crying children would rarely be consoled by the adult onlookers who left them for the rest of the day with the EP facilitators. In a situation where it’s each to his/her own, children coped by fighting.

Imad says, “While we were in our circles, I felt parents were critically observing us and wondering, ‘When will they give up? When will they lose their cool?’” One parent affirmed this observation. Yet despite the lack of confidence, the EP facilitators persevered and stood their ground with the children. “I am sure the children enjoyed because whenever we passed them, they would hold our hands and follow us around,” says Hannah. “They must be longing for older companions they can look up to.”

Passing the ball without dropping is not as easy as it looks for these toddlers. An impatient adult onlooker butts in to take the ball from one child and give it to child sitting next to him. Photo by LOUISE FAR

We can’t blame parents for being cynical though. In their experience, according to one mother, relief organizations have given up on their children because they are too much to handle. Imad disagrees. “I think the opposite is true,” he says. “Children are hard to handle precisely because relief organizations have stopped spending time with them.” That’s why the Creating Sinag Within volunteers made it a point to be loving but firm. They were rewarded when hardened children mellowed down and developed a trust and affection for them that wasn’t there before.

For the facilitators, the recipe to heal the children is simple:

  • Meeting children at their level and being a model for them keeps them adequately challenged without asking them for too much too soon. This includes remaining calm and not losing patience when children are not calm. Extinguishing fire with fire always fails.
  • Establishing a rhythm of breathing in and breathing out activities is not only reassuring for children but also engages their thinking, feeling, and willing. A variety of activities help children focus, mellow down and loosen up. They not only learn to respect boundaries but also learn to follow directions and imbibe the songs much more easily.
  • Grouping the children into as many circles as there are facilitators helps make things more manageable. Facilitators without a group serve as assistants. Their role is to go around and intervene whenever necessary.
  • Even though all children live in the same evacuation center, they don’t seem to know each other well. A fun ball game gives them opportunity to ask each other their names when passing the ball and creates camaraderie among them.
  • Translating English and Tagalog songs into Meranao proved invaluable because children “get it” and “feel it” much easily. Facilitation becomes easier as well.

The volunteers are exhausted, tired, but fulfilled after three grueling days of playing with children who could not stand still, kept on dropping balls, were stiff and extremely aggressive. The facilitators feel that the children have bloomed in a space full of loving attention.

The experience of the Creating Sinag Within group shows that it is important to determine the kind of relief work that is needed by the children. Is it warm and attentive? Is it compassionate? Is it respectful of the culture? Yes, culture is dynamic, but are the recipients of our relief ready for the new and different way of storytelling with puppets, for instance? Are they ready to play games where boys partner with girls? Are they ready to just play without a winner or loser or prize? Some expectations are easier met than others.

Because the trauma runs deep among the Marawi survivors, it is critical to plant seeds of warmth and compassion in their hearts. They can then grow like trees full of hope and love.

Author’s note: Creating Sinag Within’s Mission 1 in August 2017 and Mission 2 in October 2017 focused on giving holistic and integrative healing modalities – like Emergency Pedagogy (EP) or healing movement activities based on conceptions of Waldorf education and closely related therapeutic instruments. For more information about how to support the next activities of Creating Sinag Within, visit or contact the Founder and Director, Rosan Aliya Agbon at