Picking up the pieces after going through traumatic experiences | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

ORMOC, Leyte—“Mama, mo-balik ba si ‘Yolanda’ (Mama, is Yolanda coming back)?” Michael asked his mother, his tiny body starting to quiver as the gentle rain began to fall on the tarpaulin sheet above their heads. His eyes darted back and forth between the skies and his mother who held him close.


Michael and his mother live in Kananga, an area near the mountain range where all the homes were blown away. His playmate, José, was inside their nipa hut when it was dragged by the wind from one side of the road to another. His father had left him at home in order to get some supplies. Mercifully, José made it alive but for now his left arm is in a cast, and his spirit is broken. He doesn’t like to talk much and often stares out into space.


Michael and José’s stories repeat themselves in the lives of many children who live in areas that line the roads leading to the mountains. These same roads are now filled with families living under the skies, with just a sheet of blue tarpaulin for cover.


Meanwhile, in the coastal barangays of Balogo dos and Lawis, peals of laughter mix with the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore. Strains of Regine Velasquez’s “Dadalhin” are carried by the wind from a group of young girls singing merrily by the breakwater.  Although most of the families in this community have lost practically everything, hope continues to float as they believe that God will provide for their new beginnings.


Peer counseling


In the neighboring sitio called Lawis, the children likewise ran for their lives, moving from one home to another as Yolanda lashed at their houses that fateful Friday. Some of them swam with the current until they were carried to an open field. Yesterday, they sat on broken fishing boats trading stories about their Yolanda experiences. Peer counseling at its finest, with the waves gently lapping at their feet.


Psychosocial services, both for children and adults, will be much needed over the next six to 12 months as people start to rebuild their lives. The impact of a disaster is wide and far-reaching, and an essential piece of the recovery process lies in providing these services to all who need them.


I would like to encourage you to fund both local and international humanitarian organizations who have well-researched and time-tested programs that address the need for psychosocial services. Unicef, World Vision and Save the Children are some of the international organizations now very active on the ground in Leyte, Samar and the northern parts of Cebu where services such as these are needed. However, let us not forget the areas in Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz and Palawan that were also badly hit.


Locally, the Philippine Psychiatric Association has its own programs, the MLAC Foundation, Museo Pambata, the department of psychology of UP, Ateneo and De La Salle universities have their own efforts in training and in reaching out to various communities in the Visayas. Please consider giving to their programs this holiday season and beyond.


High risk


Trauma resulting from wars and disasters such as Yolanda cuts long and deep wounds on the psyche, when it is not processed. The laceration is even deeper when the trauma is experienced as a child. What a child sees or experiences, when unprocessed, remains embedded in his or her body and may surface or manifest in non-compliant or undesirable behavior as adults. If there is a family history of mental illness or depression, the child exposed to a traumatic experience is placed at an even higher risk.


There are many myths about mental illness and it continues to carry much stigma in communities, and in our nation as a whole. Even among society’s upper classes, mental illness is  misunderstood, or considered a taboo subject in many families with members who suffer from a particular condition.


This was the chain we wanted to help break, and the story we wanted to tell, when my former colleague Kristine Bañez and I came up with the idea for “Mga Anino ng Kahapon” a finalist in the New Wave category of the 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival.


At that time, we were both working for a company whose founding father discovered the first drug made available for psychosis. Realizing that the best way to tell a story about families living with a member who was mentally ill was through the medium of film, we pitched the idea to our leaders in the Asia Pacific region and subsequently won a grant to produce it.


Several production companies made a bid for the project; it was awarded to the same team that created the Urian award-winning “Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa” by film director Vim Yapan, and Alemberg Ang.


Vim created a compelling story about a family’s struggle coming to terms with mental illness cast against the shadows of the Martial Law era.


In crafting the story, Vim and his team worked with several of the country’s noted psychiatrists to ensure that every scene portraying the ravages of mental illness would be accurate. Lead actors Agot Isidro and TJ Trinidad went on “immersion” sessions with psychiatrists, and families of patients who were living with the disease.


In “Mga Anino ng Kahapon” the viewer gets a ringside view of what it’s like to live with schizophrenia, and how proper, timely diagnosis and treatment, along with a family’s unconditional support and love, make the road to living with mental illness more navigable and filled with hope.


Agot Isidro shines in her role, breathing life into a woman’s slow and painful descent into darkness and back.


“Anino” will be screened at SM Megamall and Glorietta 4 cinemas on Dec. 18-24.