When typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines in 2013 it claimed thousands of lives.
In the wake of the destruction, one group, the Philippine Educational Theater Association, or PETA, helped to heal trauma in the community through theater.
PETA’s program “Lingap Sining” or Nurturing Hearts through the Arts, worked with communities, students, teachers and parents in the country’s east, an area among the worst hit by the disaster.
Madonna Virola spoke to those involved in Palo, Leyte province.
I’m passing by markers of mass graves, the gravesite of those killed by super typhoon Haiyan.
Sixteen-year-old Norlyn Boco is among the tens of thousands of survivors in the Visayas region.
The horrific day was the morning of November 8, 2013. People thought it was a normal typhoon, not understanding what a storm surge was.
Norlyn recalls what it was like when Haiyan hit.
“Our house which was by the road was carried away by huge waves of sea water, which separated members of the family,” she says.
“I swallowed plenty of water and was saved by trunks from the trees and houses, which I held onto. I was crying hard, I lost hope and I just prayed while fighting for my life in an open space of water. One of my siblings died.”
Funded by the Germany-based NGO, Terres de Homes, the Philippine Educational Theater Association, or PETA, moved into affected areas to debrief survivors and conduct theater workshops just weeks after the typhoon.
Michelle Calinawan, a member of the local theater group, the Palo Culture and Arts
“Our house was totally washed out so we had to stay at the evacuation center. My mind was blank and I was only looking for food and missing relatives,” she says.
“PETA from Manila made us go through drawing and play activities to express our feelings and think about our next plan. I next helped in evacuation centers. I was healing while others healed, too.”
Yeyin dela Cruz is project coordinator for PETA, conducting creative campaigns for safe schools and resilient communities explains more.
“We believe in the power of theater not only to entertain, but to also transform the community,” she says, “So PETA explores theater for psychosocial support and disaster risk reduction.”
Editha Maceda is a senior teacher at the San Joaquin Central School in the community. She says 67 of more than 400 pupils died during the typhoon, including one who was graduating valedictorian in Grade 6.
In telling their experiences, the students make use of drama, visuals, music, movements and creative writing.
“It is not like a usual seminar where we just sit down. This is most enjoyable. The children love to move like in identifying hazards and disasters,” she says.
“There are pictures they have to choose from. The children are now more resilient. They are aware of what’s happening around like when typhoon is signal number 2, they would remind me and we go home.”
Yeyin dela Cruz says part of the healing is being empowered for a disaster.
So they rehearse to explore problems and solutions.
“Like before the typhoon, they would depict their father to be drinking wine, children to be wasting time on the mobile phone and computer games,” she says, “After the typhoon, they depict themselves to be listening to news, asking their parents how they can be of help and managing their garbage so they don’t clog in the drainage.”
Municipal health officer Leo Calonia says stage plays like Padayon, a Waray local term for “Move On” offer good learning experiences.
The play depicts the story of an imaginary community devastated by a strong typhoon and how it stood up after the disaster.
It has been seen by nearly 8,000 people since its first tour in November 2014, he says.
“It’s holistic, participatory and healing that happens within the community,” explains Calonia.
Leo Calonia has also joined PETA in its requests for more survivors to undergo theater workshops for healing. So far eight villages and 13 schools in Leyte province have taken part in the workshops.
In the meantime, student Norlyn is now able to sing with others.
“Now I have the courage to share to inspire others because like me, I am a survivor,” she says, “I used to hide under the blanket so I wouldn’t hear even the drops of rains. Theater helped me to get over the trauma.”
And Norlyn tells the world through a song that while there is life, there is hope to realize her dreams.