Imelda's courage

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 16:02

So many of the stories I heard in San Joaqin village were heartbreaking. Stories of grasped hands slipping away, and loved ones being carried off by the storm. Of grandmothers holding onto uprooted trees for dear life, and of family members who have still not been heard from.

But many of the stories were breathtaking too.  Stories of true heroism – of saved lives and brave battles against the storm, of rescue efforts and hard found relief.

Many of the women I spoke to had taken refuge in a solid concrete house that withstood the storm. Crowded in amongst dozens of others, they found themselves there because a 28-year-old woman named Imelda Bama led them out of their bamboo shacks and battled with them through knee-high water to safety.


The determination in Imelda’s voice and the smile that she gave me as she told her story made my heart swell. She and I are the same age. I listened to her tale in awe. I don’t think I have ever been as inspired by anyone as I was by her.

Imelda saved seven families that day, but when she got home, she looked out of her window and saw her mother 50 meters away, her arms wrapped around a coconut tree. She called out to her but there was nothing she could do. The storm had already hit.

"In time I couldn’t see her anymore," she told me.

Because the storm was so heavy. The rain and the seawater was so heavy that you couldn’t see a metre ahead of you. Everything was grey.

When the storm passed, Imelda found her mother. Miraculously, she had survived. But her six baby cousins hadn’t been so lucky. "I can’t believe they’re gone," she said.

The morning after the storm, Imelda got up and faced the devastation that surrounded her. At 7am, she walked 11 kilometres to Tacloban airport, determined to get to Manila to bring back supplies to her village. The walk took her five hours, as she had to make her way around the debris that was heaped all over the road.

She had pooled all the money she had, and once in Manila, she collected more money from the relatives of those back in San Joaquin. Armed with four boxes of food, Imelda boarded a bus back to Tacloban. Two days later, she arrived in San Joaquin, and was able to feed the seven families now residing in her house.

'There is so much to do here'

With an enormous smile on her face, she told me how relieved she is that help has arrived – that ActionAid and our partners WeDpro have come to her village to support the community-led relief effort.

There is so much to do here. People don’t have houses. They don’t have enough food, and they need medical attention. The people in my house are getting sick because there are so many of us now living together. We can only do so much – we need support to recover.

ActionAid is working with WeDpro in San Joaquin to support the community to rebuild their homes. We’ll be supporting them to rebuild better, so that if another typhoon hits, families aren’t so vulnerable.

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