Happy World Humanitarian Day!
This day is celebrated every year on August 19 to thank aid workers for their selfless service, as well as to raise awareness about the plight of innocent civilians affected by conflict.
In any crisis, children suffer the most.
Children lose their homes, schools, loved ones, and at worst – their childhoods.
For this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we put the spotlight on humanitarians working with children displaced by conflict.
We want more people to know what these children are going through.
We want to inspire and encourage everyone to care and to do something to put an end to the suffering of thousands of Filipino children.
The first step is to listen. We must listen to the stories of these children.
Witnessing children living in fear
Save the Children Philippines is fortunate to work with a pool of passionate and hardworking humanitarians detailed across the country.
Among them is Jerome Balinton, our Humanitarian Response Officer.
At only 29, Jerome has been at the frontlines of various emergency situations in the Philippines.
He was first deployed during the 2013 Bohol Earthquake. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake affected more than 3 million people, including children and infants.
Save the Children found that several kids experienced heavy stress, “A lot of them, after the main quake, still cry and run every time an aftershock occurs.”
This was the first of the many instances where Jerome – while on the job – witnessed children living in fear.
Over the years, Jerome has met hundreds of children. He says he has learned a lot from them.
“The Filipino children are resilient,” Jerome said. “And it is evident in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.”
“You just have to guide them on how to cope positively to the developing context or developing situation in their area.”
Always on the go
In the same year, Jerome was deployed to Visayas in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
Haiyan destroyed millions worth of properties and claimed the around 6,000 lives.
Thousands of children lost so much in just a matter of days. Their suffering did not end once Haiyan left; for some, it continued for months and even years.
In Jerome’s line of work, he gets to really know the people.
He doesn’t just go into a community and leave within the day or week. He stays with them, learns from them, and works with them to rebuild their community together.
Deployments can last months, with responsibilities lasting years.
“In 2014, I became involved with the diarrhea and cholera outbreak in North Cotabato,” Jerome narrated. “Then Typhoon Rammasun (Glenda) in Quezon Province and Metro Manila.”
“In 2015, Typhoon (Hagupit) Ruby,” he continued. “Then Typhoon (Haima) Lawin and Typhoon (Koppu) Lando.”
“And most recently, I’m the Operations Lead in response to the Marawi crisis.”
Save Marawi’s childen
It doesn’t matter whether the sun was up or not; Jerome would hear bombs at random hours of the day.
During a streak of bombings, Jerome mistook it for a thunderstorm, “But that wasn’t thunder after all.”
“At first, I got quite scared,” he admitted, “because it was my first time to be deployed to a conflict response.”
The ongoing Marawi crisis has displaced around 360,000 people. Overall, it has affected over 80,000 children. (WATCH: A boy forced to leave home)
Some of the displaced are staying with relatives in nearby towns, while others are living in evacuation centers. The latter are usually hot and overcrowded.
“We were deployed here in Mindanao for the Marawi response in June 6, 2017,” said Jerome.
“And it is nearly two months of being in the field, responding to the needs, and leading the team in providing assistance to the children and schools with urgent needs.”
Jerome’s accounts of the Marawi crisis highlights how children receive the biggest blow in times of conflict.
Children are witnessing and hearing things that no child should ever experience.
These children will carry these experiences with them as adults, hence the need for immediate psychosocial support. (WATCH: 'We can't hear anything but gunshots')
Why I still choose this work
Every day in the field, humanitarian workers strive to deliver services to those in need – regardless of the terrain, weather, or risks ahead.
They work hard to engage, empower, and uplift communities. In the process, they encounter tragic stories, many of which coming from young children.
Aside from physical exhaustion, humanitarian workers like Jerome also experience emotional and mental stress.
“One of the most challenging parts of being involved in humanitarian missions is to keep yourself emotionally, psychologically, and physically healthy,” Jerome said.
“Children keep me going,” he added.
“Yes, we do get tired. We’re just mortal beings,” Jerome quipped. “But I see myself continuously doing humanitarian work in the years to come.”
For Jerome, his most memorable experience at work is “the satisfaction and fulfilment you experience in working with communities.”
Happy World Humanitarian Day. Keep on saving children! Donate today, save lives.