Psychosocial training workshop empowers healthcare workers to serve Baganga communities

“People from my barangay now become fearful when it rains and the wind starts blowing hard,” says Nita Penas, a midwife from San Isidro in Baganga.

During the last Christmas eve, a low pressure area hit Davao Oriental. This sent many a resident of Barangay San Isidro to panic and pack their things to evacuate.

“It wasn’t until I talked to some of them that they calmed down.” Penas says.

This automatic fear was a result of their previous experience with Typhoon Pablo, internationally known as Bopha, which struck the area 20 days earlier, on December 4. The powerful typhoon destroyed even the most sturdy houses and buildings, reducing the municipality of Baganga into a wasteland.

On January 26, Penas and more than 60 other midwives, nutrition scholars and barangay health workers from all over Baganga attended a Psychosocial Training Workshop conducted by a team of psychologists and nurses from the Ateneo de Davao University in partnership with Balay Mindanaw Foundation and the Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion.

“Our objective here is to process ourselves so that we will be ready to help others in our barangays,” said Dr. Gail Ilagan, a clinical psychologist and a professor at ADDU. The stress on self-processing was especially striking since these health care providers who would be dealing with Pablo survivors in their respective communities were themselves survivors of the same castastrophe.

One of them is sixty-year-old Ophelia Navarette, whose house was among those almost completely destroyed. This was a huge blow to Navarette, a midwife from Barangay Lambajon since 1977. She had been slowly completing her house with her savings. Just last November, she had installed G.I. sheets for the roofing. Then typhoon Pablo hit just a few weeks after.

“The man who sold me the G.I. sheets teased me a lot about that,” laughed Navarete. “He said, ‘What happened, Ophelia? You just bought that from me and now it’s all gone?’”

“I used to look at the news about typhoons in Luzon, Visayas and other parts of Mindanao.” She continues, “Then I used to say: I feel so sorry for them. How will they ever rise up from their situation? Now, we have had a taste of what it’s like when people feel sorry for us.”

During the first part of the workshop headed by Prof. Sinver Merlas, the group of health care providers themselves underwent psychosocial processing, wherein they expressed their worries and fears, and then their happiness and hopes.

After the activity, they then performed a similar activity with children from Lambajon Elementary School, where the training workshop took place. It was similar to the one for adults, except for one big difference.

“If you ask an adult to explain his fears and hopes in words, he will have no trouble,” explained Merlas. “But if you ask a child to do the same… They just don’t express things the same way adults do.”

And so the children were encouraged, by the participants, to express themselves through crayon drawings or clay sculptures.

Fifth grader Aira Jean Vasquez drew a sad girl with a house on one side and its roof on the other. When asked to explain about her drawing, she said that the roof had been ripped off her home in Barangay Lambajon during the typhoon. It had made her sad to see her home destroyed. Many others drew images of ravaged trees and houses.

But the children’s thoughts were not only on destruction. Sixth grader Josha Vea Lanciang and her classmates created a clay sculpture of a happy family.

“This is the father, the mother, the ate, the kuya and the bunso,” said Lanciang. “The heart on top means that they love each other very much.”

Many of the survivors were thankful to have survived and to still have supportive family and friends. Another thing to be thankful for, perhaps, are fellow survivors who, despite their own losses, are still willing to offer their services to others.

After Pablo, Navarette’s children in Davao City had implored her to come live with them in the city.

“I told them that I don’t want to run away from my problems. I don’t want to leave my job yet. I’m almost retiring anyway and there’s still a lot to do,” she says, still upbeat.

“What we learned in this workshop will help us work with our communities,” Navarete affirmed, getting the nod of many others who joined the workshop. – Hazel Aspera

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