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Two months after the catastrophic storm made landfall in the central Philippines, World Vision continues its long-term response by providing spaces throughout the affected region for mothers and young children to spend time with each other and receive health and nutritional support.
Rowena smiles as she watches her 8-month-old baby, Solenn, play with his toys. He just woke up after a long nap.
The other mothers smile with her. That’s what mothers do in this little space World Vision has created for them and their babies. They enjoy private time with their infants and smile at each other’s babies and support them.
“It is good to be here in this space for mothers and babies,” says Rowena. “The tent we live in right now has nine people living in it. I have very little privacy with the baby.”
Ensuring the well-being of mothers and children during and after a disaster is a priority for World Vision. Rowena is in the WAYCS (Women and Young Children Space), a special resource World Vision has created for lactating mothers like her with children under 5 who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines in November.
The space creates a safe corner for mothers to spend private time with their infants, breastfeed, rest, eat, and receive support, counseling, and advice about how best to care for their children following the disaster.
“The space helps me take my mind off other worries and focus on Solenn and even my other children who tag along with me,” says Rowena, “and I have learned much with regard to breastfeeding and nutrition from the sessions at WAYCS.”
Currently, 13 such spaces operate in the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, with more than 1,000 mothers participating. World Vision strategically selects the locations for the WAYCS, making sure the spaces are safe, quiet, and capable of providing easy access to water and food for mothers.
Each location is equipped with basic comforts for mothers and children, including sitting mats, pillows, and toys for infants and older children who might accompany the mothers. The spaces are also monitored and managed by trained volunteer health workers who provide the mothers with necessary training, knowledge, and support.
“World Vision trained us in psychological first aid, how to debrief with mothers and young children, and how to support in the infant and young-child feeding,” says Annafe Masecampo, a volunteer health worker. “The training helped us refresh our knowledge and learn new things ourselves.”
Emergencies like Typhoon Haiyan can seriously disrupt breastfeeding practices, consequently threatening child nutrition, health, and survival. Research indicates that nearly 95 percent of infant and child deaths in disasters result from diarrhea due to contaminated water and an unsanitary environment.
“Some mothers confessed during our sessions that they had been too stressed to breastfeed after the disaster and they had been feeding their children water,” says Annafe.
“The result was these infants suffered diarrhea, and [the mothers] were very thankful for the knowledge and the assistance the space provides for them. Now, they give only breast milk to their infants.”
World Vision’s WAYCS facilitator, Marijo Gomez, adds that workers at WAYCS also assess the nutritional status of incoming children, who often lose weight after a disaster. “Depending on the status, we refer them to the city nutrition program coordinator for further treatment and care,” says Marijo.
Through the WAYCS, World Vision provides high-energy biscuits to pregnant and lactating mothers, along with breastfeeding kits that include scarves for privacy, water bottles, feeding cups, and lunchboxes.
“Mothers need to be in good health so that they can breastfeed their children, especially during calamities,” says Marijo. “Breast milk is the best food for babies during a disaster.”
Breast milk not only provides the infants with nutrition required for growth; it also contains antibodies that fight infection, including diarrhea and respiratory ailments common among infants in emergency situations. It is always clean, requires no fuel, water, or electricity to provide, and is available, even in dire circumstances.
Additionally, breastfeeding releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety among both babies and mothers and provides a natural protection to the infants who are the most vulnerable in any disaster.
The WAYCS locations are part of World Vision’s long-term response to the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which made landfall in the Philippines on November 8 as one of the strongest storms ever recorded. The organization’s relief efforts have thus far reached more than 311,000 people out of a goal of 400,000.
In addition to the WAYCS program, World Vision operates 34 Child-Friendly Spaces in the Philippines, benefiting nearly 8,600 children affected by Typhoon Haiyan with a safe place to learn, play, and talk about their experiences in a supportive environment.