Movements That Heal The Soul, Part 1

Nonfiction by | February 11, 2018

Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

Dance music blasts from a loudspeaker in the evacuation center at the edge of Marawi City. Children between five and fifteen years old sing and move along to the beat. Nobody among them smiles; they look like robots with blank faces and stiff movements. On stage, a woman speaks into a microphone. Based on her Meranao intonation, she sounds like she is asking the dancing children some questions. The sound of her voice in the microphone is grating to the ears. She follows up with more questions while the children continue to dance, perhaps thinking they would get some candies from her for their “performance.” There was none. Instead, three mascots appear on stage — a water droplet, a bar of soap, and a faucet. That’s when I learn it is International Hand Washing Day.

Minutes later, I find the leader of the relief workers standing below the stage. She is facilitating a giant board game similar to ladders and snakes. Someone throws the giant dice and everyone shrieks and laughs. The audience jostle each other to get the first chance at it. Onstage, several teenagers compete to make the most colorful drawing on an extra large bond papers.

After a little while, everyone is being ushered to the bleachers. A relief worker takes out his camera phone. “Smile,” he says, and snaps a groufie. Juice and cookies with strawberry fillings are passed around. This is probably the reward that everyone has been waiting for. In seconds, the floor of the evacuation center covered is littered with empty tetra packs and plastic. Their mission accomplished, the relief workers pack up and leave. I wonder what their mission is about, and if a hand washing activity has taken place.

As soon as the relief workers leave, everything returns to the way it was. Kids play, hang around, and eat junk food while adults visit each other, stand by the food stalls, talk, cook, wash, and watch everyone else. Some play chess. Out of nowhere, a big, flat-screen television is carried bayanihan style and placed at the corner of the stage. It is the men this time who claim the covered court and hog the television. What they are watching must be interesting because they are glued to the screen and hardly move. After an hour, the TV set is removed.

Moments later, eight of Creating Sinag Within’s volunteers descend from the barangay hall to the stage and down to the covered court below. Imad, Suli, Nora, Hannah, Kim, Audi, Dayang, and Aliya spread out and call the children to join their circle. Hovering at the edge are some curious onlookers. When they realize that there are no giveaways from this group of relief workers, they move away, uninterested. Some linger and watch as the volunteers start singing and forming circles with the children.

Imad takes out his recorder and starts playing. The most energetic little boys are drawn to Imad’s music and follow him around like his fans club. Imad stops playing, and on cue, Suli invites everyone to join their games. “But first,” she says in Meranao, “let’s all help pick up as much trash as we can and put them in garbage bags.” The children promptly follow her example. When the covered court is clean, the circle is formed again but this time the younger children are asked to step forward and make an inner circle. The inner circle follows Hannah to another part of the covered court. There another inner circle of the youngest children is created and follows Audi and Kim to the stage. More circles are created until each of the volunteers has her/his own circle of children.

The volunteers of Creating Sinag Within then sets out to provide the children in their respective circles with Emergency Pedagogy (EP). These are healing activities that help stabilize traumatized individuals psychologically and socially by supporting them in their efforts to process the traumatic events and integrate them into their own biography. EP’s goal is to activate the body’s self healing powers and minimize or avoid possible long-term post traumatic stress disorders. EP’s use of drawing, painting, storytelling, movement games, and music helps children affected by a natural disaster or armed conflict, to move and relax their bodies shocked and hardened by the trauma. However, because CSW lacks many materials like crayons and paint, its volunteers stick to activities that don’t require drawing materials:

The Turon Wrap. Kim: “To make a giant turon, we put a malong on the floor and wrap one child in it. The children around press the turon-wrapped child’s shoulders, arms, and feet each time they add an ingredient. They then let the ‘turon’ rest for three minutes while singing, “O papanok ako bo na playo-layog ako, na sii ako dn tana ko katataguan ka.” (If i were a bird, I would fly around and land where you are.) Everyone wanted to be the ‘turon’ and experience being in the center and receiving everyone’s warmth and nurturing. It’s remarkable how little boys’ hard firsts can suddenly turn into soft gentle hands during the Turon Wrap!”

The Paper Ball. Aliya: “I gave a piece of paper to each child in my circle and taught them how to fold it and turn it into a ball. Everyone — including those who liked to punch — was so focused in following the instructions. For one hour, there was no punching. At the end of the activity, everyone asked for five pieces of papers each and I agreed because this is an evacuation center where there is no paper at all.”

The Giant and the Gnome. Audi: “I translated the giant and gnome story into Meranao. I didn’t change my voice like I was taught to. Keeping my voice at an even tone allowed the children to follow the story with their imagination.”

Body Geography. Hannah: “I was surprised to find out the children didn’t know left from right. So I asked, ‘where is your – kawanan – the hand that you use for eating?’ They understood that and could then follow when I said, ‘Put your left hand to your right knee’ and ‘touch your nose with your right shoulder’ and ‘put your right hand over your left ear.’ The children had fun following instructions and getting into crazy positions.”

As much as possible, emergency pedagogy uses resources available in the environment instead of using foreign materials. In communities where there are not even ropes and paper available, however, it’s good for facilitators to always be ready with these in tow.

Finger knitting and making origami are great ways to instill focus and perseverance. Skipping rope, stomping and clapping activities are outlets for pent up energy and help calm down children. It’s amazing how there’s an activity for every age and need of the children.

Our time at the evacuation are not without challenges. There was no room to hold the children so they wouldn’t be distracted – just the vast open covered court. Using puppets during storytelling to portray human characters is frowned upon in very conservative Islamic communities. Moreover, rubbing citronella on children may help ward off mosquitoes but to rub citronella on grime-filled children might aggravate their skin diseases.

To get around these challenges, EP facilitators did the following: They used an open tent and hung cloth from the ceiling to help calm down and focus the children. They used cloth instead of puppets. They put out bowls of water with lemon and let the children wash themselves first before putting citronella on their skin.

Indeed, culture and context always need to be considered and prepared for in order for an EP intervention to be successful. I am impressed by how the young Marawi facilitators are always ready to change and improvise on the spot and find a way to give children what they need. In private though, the facilitators share they struggle to maintain a calm and controlled demeanor seemingly unfazed by the lack of resources and the hyperactive children around them. It’s therefore inspiring to see that on the third day of working with children, the facilitators succeed in obtaining every child’s trust and respect by being firm but loving authorities.

Author’s note: Creating Sinag Within’s Mission 1 in August 2017 and Mission 2 in October 2017 focused on giving holistic and integrative healing modalities – including Emergency Pedagogy (EP) or healing movement activities based on conceptions of Waldorf education and closely related therapeutic instruments. EP methods are very varied ranging from musical rhythm exercises, to songs, verses, rhythmic games, going on hikes, jogging, swimming, playing puzzles, pick-up-sticks, memory games, mandalas, playing with stuffed animals or dolls, resting while listening to a story, handicrafts, handwork, gardening, and many more.These methods have been used with children in various “disaster” situations around the world since 2006 when the EP impulse first appeared as a response to the Israeli-Lebanese war during the UNESCO Peace Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. Freunde der Erziehungskunst, the organization that pioneered EP and that supports Steiner/Waldorf schools worldwide, sent its staff to the Philippines to train Filipinos in EP in the aftermath of super typhoons Yolanda and Pablo. In 2016, Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc, asked Freunde to do the same training, this time, for humanitarian workers addressing needs in environments of violent conflicts. The graduates of all EP trainings through the years went on to participate and head relief missions around the Philippines – including Creating Sinag Within in Lanao which has incorporated some basic EP. For more information about how to support the next activities of Creating Sinag Within, visit or contact the Founder and Director, Rosan Aliya Agbon at

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