5 lessons from Yolanda women survivors

Monalinda Cadiz
'Looking back at the images after working for Typhoon Haiyan relief response, I reflect on the lessons from people with the instinct to nurture - women'

SHARING. Women survivors share their experiences and lessons from Typhoon Yolanda. All photos by Monalinda Cadiz

MANILA, Philippines – Sprawled in an orange and pink colored mat are a couple of diapers bundled with colourful, bulging eco bags. Excited hands are untying plastic bows, and female chatter is thick in the air. 

Looking back at these images working for World Vision’s Women and Young Children Space as part of the relief response to Typhoon Haiyan in North Cebu, I reflect on  the lessons from people with the instinct to nurture-  women. So, I venture into listing five of the most wonderful images I could think of while responding at the disaster aftermath.

1) Hope is alive in the eyes of a child

Roger Haiyan was born 11 days after the typhoon terrified his mother Abigail. 

“It was 7:00 in the morning, and I was so scared of the typhoon that I couldn’t help but cry. We were surprised because we did not expect it would be that strong,” recalls 20 year-old Abigail. Her family attempted to evacuate at the height of the typhoon itself, where her foot got punctured in the process.

As the first-time mother speaks, there was no trace of the ordeal in her face. Instead, her eyes were on Roger Haiyan as he breastfed, partly covered by the bright orange breastfeeding scarf that Abigail received from World Vision’s Women and Young Child Space.

BREASTFEEDING. Together, mothers bust myths about breastfeeding.

2) Aha! moments happen where you least expect them 

Carrying her 5-month old baby Daniel, 33-year-old Marilou looks surprised listening to a lecture on proper breastfeeding at the Women and Young Child Space tent.

“Honestly, it’s my first time to hear that it’s alright to breastfeed another baby other than your own.  I’ve always thought it was not good. Older people in my neighborhood said that if you breastfeed especially a baby girl, you will become malnourished and your milk would dry up. Your own baby would suffer…”

Marilou is happy she attended the midwife-led session because she was able to bust a myth she have always considered the truth. 

Myths and legends frequently pervade rural settings, unintentionally distorting proper caring practices, to the detriment of many children. Even breastfeeding practices has its fair share of age-old myths, which continously prompts health workers and partner organisations like World Vision to do health education.

Rossan, a 29-year-old migrant from Pampanga province which is some 630 kilometers off Cebu, says, “I heard lots of beliefs here in this village when I got married and followed my husband here. But I knew that breastfeeding is the best way to feed my baby. Also, breastmilk saves a lot of money because we don’t have to buy those expensive powdered milk, right?” 

To which other mothers nod in agreement.

3) In the end, only you can decide how you react

“Her family is actually in crisis, which is why she had been acting rudely,” apologetically explains Maribel to me when I gave feedback about her colleague who was apparently behaving in a threatening way to new facilitators. 

“But it’s not right to be reacting that way against the world, even when you are in trouble.  I for instance am in a crisis too,” she starts to share.

Maribel is a volunteer nurse in Tabogon town and was a dedicated facilitator of the Women and Young Child Space in two barangays. Maribel is the current family breadwinner to 5 children including a 6-month old baby and a husband recuperating from major liver surgery.  After Haiyan damaged their house, the whole family momentarily moved to a sibling’s house.

Maribel confided that her family missed the validation process to be eligible for relief goods. She was facilitating a session at the Women and Young Child Space when validation happened.

“I don’t regret leaving my house to facilitate the opening of the WAYCS in the barangay and discuss the importance of breastfeeding to almost 100 mothers.  What I ask for from God now is to allow me to pass the RN Heals exam so I can continue to work for my community and support my family,” says Maribel.

4) In a state of chaos, rely on a woman for crowd control

To a young mother she’ll do an inquest, “I hadn’t been seeing you bring your kids here for immunisation.” And to a woman nearly in full term, she’ll probe, “When did you last visit for pre-natal checkup?”

More than 300 mothers would troop to the women and young child space beside Marjorie’s health centre in Barangay Bagay during the first two weeks after it was set up, but she didn’t flinch. Marjorie commands authority and respect, which came in handy in crowd control especially during the distribution of breastfeeding and infant kits.

“I’ve been working as a community midwife for three decades, but I don’t see myself not reaching ripe retirement age,” confessesd the grandmother of two. 

During the first few weeks after typhoon Haiyan passed by Northern Cebu, Marjorie and her 11 village health workers who are all mothers as well, worked everyday, even on weekends. 

“I don’t want to thank typhoon Yolanda, but this is the first time that many NGOs especially World Vision came to help our village,” confessed the veteran midwife. 

“We don’t have the heart to turn help away for our village people,” continues Marjorie even when she does not reside in the same village but in a nearby city. “These opportunities like the WAYCS do not stay here forever- but we stay behind when everybody else who came to help have gone home,” says Marjorie.

5) Generosity is best served with some sacrifice

At first, I didn’t know that my team mate Flor, a new staff, was supposed to be getting married at the same time she was deployed for Haiyan. 

“It was only when I was already on board the plane bound for Cebu that I realised that postponing my wedding could damage my relationship with my fiance.  But still, I didn’t regret going, and trusted God he wouldn’t let my relationship suffer because of my decision to extend my hand, time, and effort to the children,” reflected Flor.

Working with Flor in Cebu allowed me to watch her visit children and interact with community volunteers. Her face didn’t reveal the pressure and stress of relief operations, but instead radiated a bride’s glow one could immediately see.  And while Flor wasn’t a mother yet, her generosity to children was exactly that of one.

“I did not want to miss the opportunity to see the children’s sad faces turn into happy ones.” And how could she miss a moment of that happiness, when she made sure she brought it to the children herself?

Flor and her fiance walked down the isle 4 days after ending her deployment.

In remembing these images of mothers in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan, I fumble to recall Greek words kronos, the “tick-tack time” of the moment,  and kairos,  God’s time. 

Kronos and kairos intersected in the emergency mother and baby tents when I saw mutual life-giving moments between a mother and her baby breastfeeding; when women shared their stories of survival and hopes; and when health workers served their community 24/7, even when they themselves and their families needed help after the disaster. Indeed, the gift of nurturing gives womanhood its essence. – Rappler.com

Monalinda Cadiz is an adovcate of children’s health. She is a development worker and communicator for the Child Health Now Campaign, World Vision’s first global campaign on a single issue: decrease child deaths from preventable causes. 

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