Class Action: Philippines typhoon tragedy offers lesson in generosity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 9:20pm

My son learned in school about the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Our domestic helper's family in the Philippines was seriously affected by the storm and I'd like to teach him more about it. How can I build on what he has learned?

What a lovely thought at this time of year, when many children are focused on getting rather than giving.

Your first consideration should be to assess what he has already learned. Talk about what he knows and understands.

He may understand the events that have taken place, but not comprehend their full impact. Many children see a disaster's aftermath, and learn about the charities supporting the rebuilding, but may think the work is done.

A comprehension of time is often not fully developed in younger children, and the issues surrounding reconstruction are hard to grasp.

Show him pictures from immediately after the typhoon struck and more recent images. Discuss the changes you see. Consider what provisions are needed, including tents, blankets and water filters.

As the rebuilding of schools and homes begins, is there evidence of businesses restarting? Can you see children playing outside? All the indications suggest people are getting back to a more normal life, but they may need assistance.

Ask your son to think about all the things he needs to live for one day. Compile a list, if he is old enough, or, if he is younger, use actual items and drawings.

Separate the items into groups such as "needed to live" and "nice to have" by circling each in a different colour or sorting into piles. Order the items from the essentials to those that are not immediately needed.

Consider why he thinks these items are important. This gives him time to revisit his learning and build upon it , linking it to events in his own life. You can guide him to relate to the needs of people in the Philippines through his own life experiences.

Remember to space your "lessons" so your son does not become overtired.

When he has a better understanding, you are ready to consider a more narrow focus. Choose an area he would like to focus on. Your helper might connect you with a school near her family's home. Talk to friends working in healthcare. Some Hong Kong doctors have donated their time.

If you put together a food hamper, consider foods that are popular in the Philippines, perhaps by making a trip to a speciality shop with your domestic helper.

What dry goods are easiest to provide? What tinned goods will last the longest, and offer important protein and vitamins? Some delivery companies offer a door-to-door service for as little as HK$500 for a big box to be shipped across. Include a few holiday treats, too.

Back-to-school packs are also useful. Some aid agencies offer a list of items to pack. For example, plastic-zippered pouches filled with coloured pencils, pencils, rubbers, exercise books, protractors, rulers and scissors. Collect up to 30 of every item and you have enough for an entire class.

You could also ask your friends to cull their children's libraries and supply books to schools whose libraries may have been damaged. Box the items and deliver them directly to a school or make a donation to an aid agency that will distribute your goods.

There are also times when giving money is the most helpful thing that can be provided.

With Lunar New Year coming up, there are opportunities to develop your excellent idea of extending your son's understanding of disaster recovery and help develop his sense of generosity.

Giving is not a one-off event. When roads have been devastated, it is hard to rebuild quickly.

Through a longer-term involvement, and revisiting the latest developments through your helper's family, you are extending his understanding well beyond what the school can deliver and helping to develop his spirit of generosity towards those hit by disasters and your domestic helper, who has felt the pain of this disaster first hand.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international primary school