Today I’m in Hilantagaan, a small island off the coast of Cebu, to monitor ActionAid’s distribution and learn more about people’s needs here after typhoon Haiyan devastated their homes. Whilst visiting the distribution centre, I met Marie Ann, who lives in her damaged house with her five siblings and her grandfather, and juggles school with caring for her family.
Marie Ann first heard that a big typhoon was heading towards the island whilst watching TV. Locals here are used to typhoons, but many pass by without causing major damage. This time, the local authorities repeated their evacuation warnings, so she knew it was serious. Knowing that her grandfather would struggle to evacuate to the school in a hurry, Marie Ann helped him and her siblings move early on to wait until the storm passed. The next morning as the typhoon grew nearer they realised her great uncle and aunt hadn’t joined them in the now crowded school building. The elderly couple were on their own and vulnerable, so Marie Ann decided to go and get them.
As she stepped outside the wind was overwhelming, ripping off roofs and whipping debris into the air. Marie Ann decided to brave it and go to help her relatives. She arrived to find her great uncle shaking violently, traumatised by the typhoon. As she guided them to the school, the only other people outside were women, many of whom had also ventured out to save loved ones, desperately clinging to each other.
I was struck by Marie Ann’s story and it was clear that her quick and heroic actions saved her family. Marie Ann’s story is one of many that show the crucial role that women play as first responders in a disaster.
As Marie Ann received her family pack of food, sanitary and hygiene items, and tools for fixing her home, she looked at me and gave a lovely smile and said
We have already received food aid, but this is the most comprehensive pack that contains what we really need
Our distribution is just the start of our long term support to communities like Marie Ann’s that have lost everything. Here we are working in cooperation with a university group, a women’s movement, the local council, two local NGOs and Caritas Switzerland. I am so encouraged to see everyone coming together in an organised and efficient way, working with the affected communities to select the people most in need and decide what to provide next the recovery pack. After disasters the emergency response can be very confusing for affected communities, not knowing when help will arrive and what that looks like can be stressful and frustrating. Here, people know exactly who is entitled to what, when, why, and are free to give feedback which is quickly acted upon. We put the communities at the heart of everything we do.