8 November 2014

Courage after the storm: Survivors cling on to each other a year after Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines and one of the strongest storms ever recorded, made landfall in the Philippines. It destroyed thousands of homes, schools and businesses in the Tacloban region alone, and over 6,300 people in the Philippines lost their lives.


Nico, a young boy who lost both of his parents to Typhoon Haiyan.
Photo credit:Sebastian Posingis

When 14-year-old Nico was asked about his memories of his mother, he answered how his Mom used to give him his daily allowance before going to school. “Every morning she would give me money…most of the time, it would be 10 pesos [approximately $0.20], sometimes even 20 pesos,” Nico says with a sad smile.
Nico lost both his parents and an older brother to Typhoon Haiyan. Now, he has his grandmother, 65-year-old Asela Villegas, who makes sure he has his daily allowance. “I call her ‘Mama,’ because she is my mother now.”
Asela has indeed become Nico’s mother — in all the ways that count. Three of her children died because of Typhoon Haiyan. Yet almost a year after the tragedy, we don’t see someone defeated by sadness or loss—we see a survivor in the truest sense of the word: strong, courageous and hopeful.
“It’s all about finding a reason to laugh,” Asela explained. “It’s easier to give up and just be sad…  but this is what fate gave me.  At 65, I am a mother again. And I choose to see it as a blessing – something I can laugh and smile about.”
Asela is now the legal guardian of five orphaned children who are actually her grandchildren. One of them is 14-year-old Nico. “I asked them to call me ‘Mama’ and I’m lucky because somehow it feels very natural. And coming from the children, it feels extra special.”
She admits that while she can support her augmented family emotionally, it is an enormous challenge financially: “I am a senior citizen who didn’t get to finish high school; of course, no one will hire me. My husband does the odd bit of carpentry work and he helps out in the market,  but this isn’t enough to support five children, all of whom attend school.”
This is where the unique assistance from SOS Children’s Villages comes in. Nico and  Asela’s other children are provided for under the organization’s Kinship Program. Oscar Garol, Village Director of SOS Children’s Village Tacloban explained that the initiative is primarily for children who have lost both parents and are now living with their relatives or guardians. “The goal is for these children to get the same kind of support that our children inside the Children’s Village receive —free education, allowance for everyday expenses, medical assistance and the like. It’s really about supporting their guardians – who are supporting them.”
The SOS Kinship Program has grown from supporting 3 children in its pilot phase last January to supporting 124 children today.  Each child, through the guardian, is given a monthly stipend – enough to cover their expenses for education, clothing, healthcare, day-to-day transportation, and a food allowance for lunch and snack during the school day.
Among the conditions of this program are that the child continues living with the caregivers and that the caregiver takes charge of the protection issues of the child. The SOS Kinship Program also recognizes the importance of giving support to the caregiver, childcare training and other activities for them.
Asela described the SOS Kinship Program as a “godsend” and admits that taking on the care of five children would have been a lot more challenging without it. “It’s the kind of help that we need…probably the kind of help that people in our situation needed the most.  And we are more than thankful to SOS for it.”
SOS Children’s Village Tacloban Director Garol said, “More than anything else, we want the children to realize that there is a future waiting for them – they may have lost their parents and their loved ones, but there are people willing and ready to help. They have their relatives in addition to organizations like SOS.”
Meanwhile, children like Nico can look to the future again. “One day, I want to become a soldier because I want to help the country. I want to protect the Filipino people.” 

Click here to read more about the work SOS has been doing in the Philippines.