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Stories of strength: voices of women survivors of Typhoon Yolanda

By Sandar Linn

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/Joey Reyna

Gale Paulette Macosa, 12
Student at Quinapundan Central Elementary School, Eastern Samar

I am Gale and I am twelve. I grew up here in Eastern Samar.

November 8 of last year is a day I don't want to remember. I had never experienced anything like this before. I was so scared.

My parents, my sister and I were at the evacuation centre. Around us, people were crying and praying. I was hungry but only one thought went through my head, "Are we going to get through this alive?"

When the storm stopped, my father and other men went to our houses. But nothing was left. Our house was completely destroyed. All we were left with was the clothes we wore that morning. I lost my school books, I remember thinking to myself.

Now we live in a tent. Even though I miss our home I thank God we are alive. Many people had lost their loved ones. Compared to theirs, my loss is bearable. And I’m sure my parents will find a way to rebuild our home soon.

I wanted to know how everyone from the school was. I found out the Typhoon had damaged my school, too. All trees were uprooted and where our classrooms used to be was now a pile of debris. It felt so empty.

Afterwards, when they told us that school would resume on November 19, I couldn't believe it. At first, I wasn't sure if I felt strong enough to go back after all that I’d gone through, and now that I was homeless. But our school principal and teachers had all worked hard so that we could go back to school, and I learnt that we received help from all around the world. When I saw my classmates again, I found myself believing our normal life was coming back. We all shared our stories with each other, with our friends and teachers.

Now, I am again a sixth-grader at Quinapundan Central Elementary School. I really enjoy going to school and I want to learn more. English is my favourite subject. When I grow up, I want to become a flight attendant and travel around the world. I believe anything is possible, if we've even survived Typhoon Yolanda.

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/Joey Reyna

Rhea Macawili Milado, 24
Barangay 48-A, Tacloban

I have a loving husband, Lumar, and a lovely four-year-old daughter, Althea. My husband is a fish vendor and he goes around on a bicycle to sell fish. We lives in a bunk house in Barangay 48 in Tacloban, which is on the coast of Can Cabato Bay. We had been living here since we got married.

I was four-month pregnant when Yolanda hit. At about 5 a.m. my husband sent me and Althea to a house we thought was far enough from the coast. But it wasn't far enough. When the big waves came, the house was instantly flooded. Althea and I struggled to get out but a big fridge blocked the door. Thankfully, one of the neighbours kicked the door in from outside, and we all fled to another, stronger and larger house. 

I saw waves 20 feet high, one after another. Inside, the water level kept rising. It was ice-cold. I took my daughter's hand, held it tightly and with all my energy I swam to the second floor. We stayed there for nearly 10 hours. People around us were crying, praying, begging for help… I don't know how I found the strength, but I remember telling myself, "Yolanda, you may be strong! But a mother's love is stronger." 

When the water receded, I found my husband. We were cold, our clothes were soaked. Children were crying, hungry and scared. My husband went to find some food and clothes. When he came back, he told me that our house had been washed away. We were left with nothing. But what more could I ask for when we were all alive?

It's been nearly four months since Yolanda. We now receive a cash grant from UNICEF with which we buy essential food and goods for our daily life so we can send Althea to school. This allows us to use our savings for the rebuilding of our house. I am also putting aside some money from the cash grant to help me safely deliver my baby in April. Salamat UNICEF! (Thank you, UNICEF!).

There are times when I worry about our future. But a mother's job is never done. I want to rise up again for my children. I want to help them get education and a decent job, so they are not poor and don’t have to go through hardships like we did.

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/Joey Reyna

Valentina Son, 41
District Nurse, South Guiuan

I have been working as a District Nurse at the Department of Education for nine years. I monitor students' heights and weights, administer deworming pills, and provide health education. I am responsible for 17 elementary schools, of which eight are located on islands. I visit each school six times per year. Typhoon Yolanda destroyed most of those schools.

My house was washed away as well. Never in my life did I think I’d be homeless. But I was thankful that all my family survived. So instead of grieving, I resumed my work immediately because I knew that children needed my help now more than ever before.

Most families here depend on fishing and small menial jobs to earn their livelihood. So when Yolanda washed away their boats and houses, of course the first thing they focused on was rebuilding their houses and finding jobs. Children’s hygiene was neglected. Thankfully, UNICEF provided us with hygiene kits for children so we can make sure at least basic hygiene standards are kept. 

Transportation is difficult here in south Guiuan. Yolanda destroyed most of the boats. But this doesn't stop me from reaching children in need to make sure they maintain good hygiene in this critical time. Good hygiene is essential to protect them from disease.

Sometimes I'm worried, not knowing when I'll be able to rebuild my own house. But I don’t want to be just a victim of Yolanda. I want to help. I want to help make sure our children are well and healthy, especially in a critical time like this. Yolanda destroyed my house and all my belongings but it also made the love I have for my family and my work stronger.


 

 
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