accessibility & help

After an earthquake

What is going on? Why are these children in a field asking for help? When you ask the question, you feel it's your job to find the answer. That's the principle behind this creative way to explore an intriguing photograph from the Philippines.

Students take ownership of their own learning. Teachers feed in information as students need it.

By the end of this activity students will be able to:

  • identify what they don't know, and would like to know, about the help needed by people, including children, after a major disaster
  • construct concrete action steps for their own learning by devising and critiquing questions.

Download the powerpoint and show students the photograph. Don't ask any questions. Listen for a few moments for first reactions.

Give students the task of compiling their own questions about the photograph. Encourage them to list as many as they can, without judging and without trying to answer them. Use sticky notes, a whiteboard or whatever method of recording suits the group.

Ask students to review the questions they've devised. Which are factual questions to which there is a straightforward answer (even if they don't know it)? Which are more open questions, the kind where you may never know if you've got the full and correct answer? Which kind of questions do they find more interesting?

Give students the following summary.

The picture was taken in the afternoon of 16 October 2013 near Calape town, Bohol province, in the central Philippines. That morning a powerful earthquake devastated the area. It cut off roads and destroyed bridges. More than 200 people died and hundreds more were injured. Many homes were destroyed and many survivors were unable to reach their towns and villages. Some set up temporary shelters in empty rice fields, waiting for relief supplies such as food, water, medicines, clothing and shelter.

After discussion and reflection, provide the following information. It is taken from a rapid assessment made two days after the earthquake by humanitarian relief teams.

Non-food relief

People can't buy everyday things. This is partly because of structural damage or traders' fear of aftershocks.

Emergency shelter

Many families are living outside their collapsed homes in open spaces, roadsides, gardens and public spaces. They need emergency shelter materials such as tarpaulins, tents, tools, nails, wire and rope.

Emotional support

Some survivors are displaying signs of trauma. Many are scared to return home or even to enter concrete buildings. Some have lost close family members, friends or neighbours. Children need play therapy. Rescue workers, some of whom are directly affected by the quake, will also need stress debriefing and other support.

Health and hygiene

Hospitals and clinics have been destroyed. Remaining ones are overcrowded. Supply of medicines is disrupted. Evacuation sites, where over 100,000 people live, are overcrowded and without basic facilities, risking outbreaks of disease.


In some areas water supplies are disrupted. Electrical pumping problems are being fixed, but damaged reservoirs will take longer. Water purification systems and water tanks are needed.

  • How many of the group's questions do these summaries answer? What further questions do they raise?
  • Look at the questions that remain unanswered. Which do students think are most interesting or important? Ask them to choose the three most important questions.
  • Agree as a group what students would now like to do with those questions.

High-risk areas

Had students heard of this earthquake in the Philippines? List the sources of information about world events they normally use. Which would be likely to mention such disasters?

The deadliest natural disaster in 2012 was also in the Philippines. Invite students to research Typhoon Bopha which killed nearly 2,000 people in December that year.

Talk about living in an area at high risk of devastating natural disaster. How might it change the way you approach everyday life?

Messages of help

Ask students to imagine an emergency that might happen in the UK. You are with people who need help urgently. Think about the situation for a few moments. Then say how you would contact relief teams.

  • Do you know who to send the message to?
  • Do you know what information they need?
  • Can you describe where you are – exactly?

If the answer to any of those is no, what could you do now to get better prepared?

Sudden new world

Think about the children in the photograph. The earthquake may have deprived them of everything that was familiar – their home, their town, their school, even some friends and family.

Try to imagine how you would respond if that happened to you.

Write a timetable for a day or week. How would you hope to spend your time? There's plenty of it because there's no school. What would be your priorities? How would you cope with the strangeness of your new world?

This resource was written by PJ White of alt62 and published in November 2013.


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