BBC News

Typhoon Haiyan: Charity helps heal emotional scars

By Tulip Mazumdar
BBC News, Guiuan, Philippines

media captionThe BBC's Tulip Mazumdar reports from the town of Guiuan on Samar island where people are "resilient but traumatised"

How do you cope when you lose absolutely everything in a matter of hours? Your home, your livelihood, your loved ones.

It has been two weeks since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and the death toll stands at more than 4,000. More than 18,000 were injured.

But aid agencies say a major challenge now, and for years to come, is helping people deal with the psychological impact of the deadly typhoon.

Lyn Zulieta, 26, bows her head and sobs as the rain beats down on her makeshift metal roof.

"Every time it starts to rain I get scared. I don't know how we are going to cope. Maybe we will die here like my father," she says.

When Haiyan hit she ran for shelter with her mother and brother and sisters. Her father stayed behind. They found his body the next morning, buried beneath the rubble of their neighbour's home.

"I have lost my father, I have lost my house. I don't know what to do and how I will live each day," she says.

image captionLyn Zulieta fears for the future

As the dust settles in Guiuan and people take stock and begin rebuilding their homes. Many are asking the same question.

"We don't know what the best thing to do is. Each night we still cry," she says.

We meet Lyn on a trip into the town centre with medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Its team of three psychologists is going to evacuation centres and makeshift medical facilities to try to get people talking about their experiences.

"At the moment the typhoon hits, people get a lot of adrenalin," psychologist Caroline Calwaerts says.

image captionBabies have been born amid the chaos of the storm

"You have a fight or flight reaction, your goal is to survive so people can do more than they can in normal situations. But then once things go a bit back to normal, that is when the adrenalin goes and more psychosomatic symptoms start to come up. You feel like an empty body with an empty battery."

Ms Calwaerts gathers people waiting to see a doctor at a makeshift health centre. She explains who she is and the concept of psychology.

"I'm a bit like a doctor but more for problems of the heart and problems of the mind," she tells about a dozen waiting patients.

Most of them stare at her vacantly. But then a heavily pregnant woman speaks up.

"I am scared," she says and bursts into tears.

"I am going to deliver my baby. I am afraid. I can't deliver normally because I need a C-section."

Ms Calwaerts reassures her that yesterday a beautiful, healthy baby boy was born at the MSF clinic and medics there would do their best to help her.

The woman looks reassured. But only for a moment.

image captionAid is getting through to those in need in Guiuan

Then she says: "Sometimes I have nightmares. I am scared because every time the rain comes down hard I am thinking there will be another typhoon."

People in Guiuan are starting to rebuild their lives. They are removing the debris from their homes and trying to find roofs so they can at least have some shelter from the weather.

This town of around 30,000 people now has a decent supply of clean food and water. Many, though, do not have any shelter.

At the moment, the rain continues to beat down hard on Guiuan. There is no electricity so the nights are dark, wet and frightening.

People in the Philippines are used to typhoons - they have around 20 a year - but Haiyan seems to have changed everything.

But they are worried because the government failed to predict the severity of the storm. They now live in fear of the wind and the water.

Back in Ms Zulieta's 1m-high shelter, she and her family cower from the elements. She is terrified, but she is defiant.

"I believe Guiuan can still recover," she says.

"If everyone works hard. I will work hard and look after my family. We will be OK."