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A humanitarian’s life: In the eye of the storm

World Vision
7 December 2014 by Cecil Laguardia
A humanitarian’s life: In the eye of the storm

Joy Manaba, 47, cooks dinner at an evacuation center in Tacloban City. Joy said they have not even rebuilt their house and now they are faced with another super typhoon. Photo by Cecil Laguardia, World Vision

For the first time in my over 10-years of humanitarian emergencies work in World Vision, I would literally be in the eye of the storm. Yes, right on Typhoon Hagupit‘s path if fate would have it. After 13 months of braving Typhoon Haiyan, I am unbelievingly faced with another super typhoon.

Last night I talked to Grace, a hotel staff who was worried about her family in a nearby town. She said she is going home to make sure her family moved to the evacuation center and are safe. There was a mix of sadness and worry in her eyes. I tossed and turned and slept intermittently. Grace’s worried face crept several times in my sleep. Did I hear the winds howl outside or was that my imagination? It was. When I opened my door, the night was quiet and calm.

As soon as I woke up today, I immediately went outside to check the situation. Several pedicabs (manually operated bicycles with side-cars usually used as transport here in Tacloban City) were hauling belongings of families in nearby coastal area. Most of them were accompanied by mothers and small children. I was told they were headed to the nearby church and gymnasium converted as evacuation centres. As a mother, it was a difficult sight. How hard it was to let your children spend undetermined number of nights at the public area with an impending disaster?

As the day ended, we visited several evacuation centres around Tacloban City. A local church was gradually filling up with people. Some were milling around checking on family members. At the local high school, over 200 families (1,200 people) were packed in the gymnasium. Joy Manaba, 47, was cooking dinner on a makeshift stove. She decided to bring her son to the gym-turned-evacuation centre as soon as they heard the warning. “I barely rebuilt our house in Barangay (village) 39 and now we have to go through it again,” she said, referring to Typhoon Haiyan that damaged their house.

She smiled with sadness as she lamented on the difficulties of life and how her family hardly make ends meet. “My husband is a fisherman but his income is not stable,” she added. She said she will have food to cook only until breakfast on the following day. As I stood up, she requested shyly, “Please help us pray Hagupit will not land tomorrow,” and thanked me when I said yes. Throngs of people were headed to the school to spend the night as we went out. Many of them acknowledged us with a sad smile. One girl with two bags of rice stopped to greet us. Starting tonight, 200 families will have the school gym as their bedroom.

Even before Typhoon Hagupit makes a landfall, the fear and worry among thousands of families in Tacloban and expectedly around several provinces in the country have already started. Each time I cover a disaster, the same feeling of dread is inside me. This time the level is up from Typhoon Haiyan that brought so much pain and has made so much change in my perspective as a mother and a humanitarian worker. Life is too fragile for many of us, but these people have double vulnerability – going through one super typhoon to another. One mother’s words today never left me. “It is very traumatic. We have not healed and now we are faced with another trauma.”

All I can think of to appease my fears is that I am with these people and I am privileged to be of help. We all have a purpose why we were brought to where we are. Mine came very clear again tonight. There was fear to take on the duty to serve – but that was quietly superseded by being an instrument to reach out and serve. For that I am thankful.

World Vision staff are on the ground across the Philippines, ready to respond to Typhoon Hagupit with prepsositioned emergency relief supplies. Keep up to date with the emergency on our Typhoon Hagupit emergency page.

Cecil Laguardia Cecil Laguardia

Cecil is a communicator with World Vision in the Philippines.


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