Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded and also one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall. It has left a wake of destruction that still means families are dealing with a loss of shelter some nine months on. ShelterBox was quick to respond to the disaster and still has a presence in the region, working with partners to provide other types of aid that are more suited to the current need.
‘There is one photograph that, for me, best describes the work our supporters do to help families who lose their homes. It was taken ten days after Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines in November last year. At the centre of the photo is a mother called Marilou Morante. She is 37 and stands with her tiny two-week-old baby, wrapped in a cream blanket. To the right is the wreckage of her home – a slumped building with punches in the wooden walls and a gape in the crumpled tin roof. On the left, her new home, a ShelterBox tent.
Only a week before Haiyan struck, Marilou had given birth to Xianiel. After the typhoon, she was finding life more than just uncomfortable. As well as trying to raise her newborn child in what remained of her home, she also suffered postnatal complications. To add to it all, their kitchen, their only form of protection from the rain, still flooded regularly from ground run off. After her labour, in those first days of recovery, she remembers crying. ‘Everything was wet’ she recalls, ‘…not a single dry cloth.’
She was unable to join the rush for aid, and her vulnerable condition meant that queuing for any length of time was not possible. This was why she was so relieved when ShelterBox volunteers arrived at her village, gave her a tent and put it up next to her broken home.
In July 2014 I visited the Philippines as part of a ShelterBox evaluation trip. We were to be based in Bantayan, an island that took a direct hit from the powerful winds of Haiyan. Bantayan also happened to be home to Marilou and her family of eight. Her new baby boy was one of six children. Although visiting Marilou wasn’t the main focus of our trip, we wanted to find her and discover what life has been like for her since the typhoon hit eight months before.
Early morning on our final day on the island and we find ourselves driving along a mud track which runs alongside the airstrip in Bantayan. In the near distance the tops of roofs poke out from the sparse shrub and brush. Marilou lives somewhere nearby. We hadn’t had the opportunity to arrange this meeting and this is our only opportunity to find her and Xianiel. As we near a collection of houses Ramon, our driver, pulls in to a stop.
We cross our fingers as we watch our translator walk over to a group of Filipino ladies and introduce herself. After a short chat she beckons us over. Marilou is a part of the group and happy to talk. Everywhere we went on Bantayan we were greeted with genuine warmth. Marilou herself smiles shyly and nods in welcome before inviting us to walk with her to her home.
The scene differs from the original photo. Things look neater and, most obviously, the tent has gone. Her house is not yet back to normal and parts of it still let in light and rain but their bedroom has a new roof and recently constructed wall.
Marilou’s husband works in construction, but his pay is low and only covers essentials, so rebuilding has been slow. Despite that they have rebuilt enough to give themselves permanent shelter and move back into their home. She tells us of her experiences and the help she has received from various agencies; a cash grant to help her with her new baby, materials for the roof and walls, and the nails to fix it all together.
I ask which of the help she received was the most useful to her since the typhoon. ‘The tent’ she says, tears welling up. She begins to describe the feelings of suffering in the days and weeks after the typhoon. But with the arrival of the ShelterBox tent they had somewhere comfortable where they could rest, sleep and stay dry.
Marilou agreed to pose for a photo, similar to the one taken days after the typhoon. This time without the tent.
When her story is told in this way, summing up eight months into only a few words, we skip the details of life and daily routine. But Marilou had to endure each day, her family searching for enough money to survive, let alone to rebuild.
Thanks to the support of our generous donors, Marilou had a place to live, to stay dry and keep her family safe through that difficult time.
Today is World Humanitarian day, and I urge you to spend a minute thinking about all of the good work that goes on around the world daily. Give thought to yourselves as donors, and to the volunteers who carry out the work on your behalf. It is you that makes it all possible.’