Christmas in the Philippines: Together as a community


By Attila Kulcsar

Despite the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, Christmas is still a very important event for many people in the Philippines. The festive period has demonstrated the resilience of those affected, as people have come together to support each other on the road to recovery.

On 22 December, HelpAge and our partner Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE) and Mercy Malaysia organised a Christmas event at the Ormoc District Hospital. People dancing at the Christmas party in Ormoc District Hospital in the Philippines. With our partners we organised a Christmas party in Ormoc District Hospital in the Philippines. (c) Paul Gotiong/HelpAge International

Children sang carols and all generations joined in playing games and dancing. HelpAge Santas handed out gift baskets containing towels and other items to inpatients and a Christmas packed lunch was distributed.

Older people particularly vulnerable in disasters

However, as with previous natural disasters, older people have been disproportionately affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The combination of poverty and lack of family support can make isolated older people particularly vulnerable in crises and poses enormous challenges for meeting their basic needs.

Fransiskus Kupang, COSE's Executive Director said:

"It is important to realise that older people have very specific psychosocial needs, because the loss of their loved ones and their property is compounded by decades of memories and emotional attachment."

Psychosocial care

With COSE, HelpAge is working through an existing network of older people's associations; the Confederation of Older People's Associations in the Philippines (COPAP) to provide psychosocial support to 3,000 extremely vulnerable and traumatised older people.

The first of its peer counselling units has been established in Ormoc District Hospital. They have already provided support to more than 500 people and will be expanding the programme in other areas. Support will also be provided in the form of home visits.

Salve Basiano, a past president of COPAP, is one of the volunteers who have been helping. She said:

"There is so much positive energy from the people we are assisting, much as they have suffered from the calamity. Of course they have suffered physically, but spiritually and emotionally many have been able to accept everything that has happened to them. Our work has been very fulfilling as people have opened up to us about their experiences."

Responding to older people's needs

Since the typhoon hit the Philippines in November, we have distributed food aid to more than 40,000 of the most vulnerable people in 30 hard hit communities in the area around Ormoc City on Leyte Island.

We are also distributing 4,000 shelter kits from the UK government's Department for International Development which include buckets and lamps. We will be providing shelter vouchers for households to obtain zinc sheets, seals and roofing nails to repair their homes.

Finally, we have identified 7,930 farmers who we will provide with seeds and fertilisers to help them start earning a living again.

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