The U.S. Fund for UNICEF is making an urgent plea for help after witnessing the post-typhoon lives of children in the Philippines.
U.S. Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl M. Stern described heartbreaking situations.
"What people need to understand is that children are the most vulnerable whenever there is a disaster," Stern told Metro.
Stern said the U.S. Fund for UNICEF estimates 100,000 kids under the age of 5 and 60,000 pregnant and nursing mothers have been displaced.
She said these children are "often left on their own, wandering."
"That's the scariest thing for us," she said. "We've seen photographs of kids in the water."
She said some of these children recount heart-wrenching stories: standing beside their parents one moment, only to be separated from them the next; returning from a short trip to the market to find their home vanished.
She pointed out that many of the typhoon victims were vulnerable populations to begin with.
"For many of the families, these are kids who were in high-risk poverty areas to begin with," she said. "They were struggling to survive before the typhoon."
An estimated 4.5 million kids have been impacted by the typhoon, Stern said.
And the risks these lost and wandering children face are high.
The children are sometimes kidnapped and forced into trafficking, Stern said. People "will take children that are not theirs," she said pointedly.
So UNICEF sets up "child-friendly spaces," Stern said: "spaces where children will be held, protected, cared for, until they can be reunited with a family."
UNICEF also provides emergency school supplies, with a little package they call "School-in-a-Box." The box comes packed with notebooks and pencils, and unfolds to reveal a blackboard-lined interior that can be used by a teacher.
While UNICEF normally only works in developing nations, the U.S. government enlisted their help after Hurricane Katrina: they supplied Schools-in-a-Box for shelters in Houston and Louisiana.
An estimated 2.8 pre-school and school-age kids in the Philippines may have been driven from their homes, Stern said. She emphasized the importance of normalcy and routine for a child's psychosocial recovery.
At the moment, Stern said, UNICEF needs financial assistance more than anything else. It is far more cost-effective, she explained, to transport supplies from local warehouses than it is to ship donated goods from the U.S.
Stern hopes American adults can empathize with the needs of these children.
"Imagine what it's like to be a child who doesn't know what [happened]," Stern said. "Who only knows that yesterday they were safe, and today's they're not."
HOW TO DONATE
• Call 1-800-FOR-KIDS
• Text RELIEF to 864233 (UNICEF) to donate $10
• Donate online at www.unicefusa.org/philippines
For credit card transactions, 97 cents of every dollar goes directly to the support program. The support program receives 100 percent of all check or cash donations.
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