Typhoon Yolanda stories: A Mother's Love
by Pam Pagunsan
Sto. Niño, Tanauan, Leyte, PHILIPPINES – 31-year-old mother of two Melissa Saño kissed and clutched six-month-old Chris Joseph tightly as she recounted how she and her family survived typhoon Yolanda.
"The water was up to my waist and the wind was so strong. I didn’t want us to die inside the house. We had to get out," she said.
Baby Chris was just ten days old when Melissa carried him and her five-year-old daughter April Joy through the flood and strong winds to reunite with her husband and other family members on higher ground.
"I lost my footing in the water and my baby fell in several times. He never lost consciousness. I tried to breastfeed him immediately."
On the first night after the storm, Melissa and her family moved again to a more secure shelter. With no food and water, she worried about her young children. Luckily, she found boiled eggs left on the floor and used rain water for drinking.
For weeks, Melissa and her family survived through rations from relief distributions and whatever her husband could find.
“I would save rain water for drinking and sterilize it through boiling. I would line up for relief distribution for hours under the sun with my children as their father looked for more food.”
Located just a few meters away from Melissa’s makeshift house is the barangay hall where the UNICEF-supported Infant and Young Child Feeding counselling sessions on breastfeeding and complementary feeding are conducted by NGO partners every Tuesday. Melissa makes sure to attend free health sessions for mothers and babies every chance she gets.
“I always go to the health center. I learned about breastfeeding, what kinds of foods to give him from six months onwards and to make sure that he’s always clean. It doesn’t matter if his clothes are old, as long as it’s clean.”
After an emergency, UNICEF’s foremost priority is to prevent death and malnutrition particularly in the most vulnerable groups: infants, children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
To date, UNICEF and partners have screened over 128,000 children for malnutrition and provided Vitamin A supplementation with measles immunization as part of the immediate response. UNICEF and partners also set-up mother-child-friendly spaces for pregnant and lactating women. These spaces offer counselling on breastfeeding and complementary feeding for women. As families are now moving to transition sites or back home, work is shifting to the community level, with UNICEF building capacity of partners on the ground to deliver micronutrient supplementation, deworming, screening and referral for children with acute malnutrition.
Melissa’s husband is continuously building their house from scraps of wood and plastic sheets. They don’t have money to buy raw materials but they are hoping to be included in the list of beneficiaries of building materials from the government and partners.
Despite their situation, Melissa makes sure that her house is clean and her children are never hungry. Using vegetable seeds from donors, she tends to her small vegetable plot growing sweet potatoes. She also has some chickens and a piglet in her backyard.
“I just want to raise my children with the right discipline and hope they will be able to finish school. I want to provide them with a proper house and maybe have a small store so that I can earn income and still look after them even if I’m just at home.”