Psychosocial support for earthquake-affected women

8 May 2020

In shock after nearly losing their lives during the October 2019 earthquakes on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, Divina and Wawa are on the road to recovery today, thanks to psychosocial counselling delivered by Plan International to women living in evacuation camps in Cotabato province.

When the first earthquake struck, daycare teacher Divina’s sense of responsibility kicked in. “I kept on thinking, ‘be strong.’ I have all these children to save.”

Remembering her disaster risk training, Divina instructed her young students to stay calm, drop and cover. “I was scared, but I had to overcome it.”

After the earthquake, Divina was unable to talk about the experience and disengaged herself from everyone around her. She wanted to cry, but couldn’t even do that. “I just wanted to talk to God. Nothing else,” she says.

When Plan International launched an emergency response, we began to hold psychosocial sessions for women living in the evacuation camps. The women are encouraged to speak about their experiences, receive emotional support and take part in relaxation exercises in a group setting.

“The psychosocial sessions helped me open up and release my emotions for the first time since the quake,” Divina explains. “Before, you wouldn’t see us women. We had our own things to take care of. Now you can see us working together to rebuild our village.”

It took time for Divina to face her trauma and manage what she felt, but now she feels ready to help other people. “I received help, so I can also share it with others.”

34-year-old Wawa also took part in the psychosocial sessions, however being unable to speak, the facilitators had to take a different approach to encourage Wawa to express what she was feeling.

With 2 interpreters beside her, some paper and a stack of coloured pencils, Wawa drew pictures to represent her story of how she fled her village which was so badly damaged by the earthquake that it has become a designated ‘no build zone’.

“While we were having our sessions, Wawa could not wait for her turn to tell her story. I sat beside her. When the floor was finally given to her, she acted out all that had happened to her during the earthquake,” says Indah who is one of the trained counsellors at the psychosocial sessions.

Wawa was traumatised when the earthquakes happened. With her neighbours, parents, sister and child, they fled their upland community late at night. They walked for 7 kilometres before arriving in a safer village the following morning.

Her sister, Roxanne, who translates Wawa’s actions, explains that it was a very difficult journey. There were landslides that nearly trapped them and they had to dodge falling rocks and debris. “At that time, fleeing was the safest thing to do,” Roxanne interprets.

Now living in one of the evacuation centres, Wawa started having nightmares and was in a state of shock. Fearful that another earthquake would come, she became very anxious. But the psychosocial sessions are helping a lot.

Wawa and Divina regularly take part in the sessions that last between 2 and 3 hours along with 25 other women. They share stories and process their emotions.

“The value of what we are providing them with is more than what money can give. It is not an easy task for us as facilitators, but the sense of community and tighter relationships we are building among the women help us as well,” Indah says.

NOTE: The psychosocial sessions are funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). This disaster recovery project is a joint endeavour of Plan International and its local implementing partner, the Integrated Resource Development for Tri-People.

Emergencies, Child protection in emergencies