Stories from Haiyan Survivors

The most recent blog from director Allison Todd

The team ready to set off

After three long days out and about we returned to Cebu to visit those who have been evacuated from their homes to this bustling city. Having heard the numbers involved I was expecting to find the gymnasiums and community centres full to bursting and was surprised when this wasn’t the case.

The first place, a huge concrete gymnasium had only 50 people with perhaps 15 of them children. It was clean and orderly and they were in family groups, separated only by rows of bags and boxes. We had to wait our turn as so many individuals and organisations  have turned up to help. We were impressed to see a politician arrive with a bus full of aid. He went in followed by his cameraman and an assistant carrying  a sack of rice, five minutes later he emerged and disappeared to his next stop.

Once in, the team set up and began songs for the children. They very quickly joined in apart from one boy who came to each of us and said loudly, “look at me, I’m a survivor!” It turned out both his parents had died in typhoon Yolanda and he was waiting to be given a place in an orphanage. Before long a man arrived and took him and his new meagre  belongings away to begin a new life with people he’s never met in a strange city only two weeks after his life was torn apart. Our social workers are trying to discover where he is now to see if we can help him at all.

Some of the devastation in the area

Five of six siblings who live in a cemetery






As a non Cebuano speaker, these occasions are difficult. I didn’t want to go around asking how people were. Just then a lady caught my eye and smiled, so I walked over and admired the tiny baby she was holding. Alma immediately poured out her story.

She lived in Tacloban with at least fourteen members of her extended family. When they heard the typhoon warning they locked up their home and fled on foot to the hills with the 7 day old baby and other small children strapped firmly to their backs. They didn’t once allow the children down. She said they stayed up there three days because they were afraid and also they could see their city was flooded. No one had food or water all this time but were happy to be alive. Eventually they returned, hoping for the best and desperate for water and food. She wept as she told me her home had disappeared, just a pile of sticks left behind. There was worse to come though. Her neighbours had come down earlier and their house was still standing. When they entered it they were ambushed and murdered by prisoners escaped from the city jail who had broken in. Alma was distraught and bewildered by the injustice and futility but relieved her house had been washed away as it meant she was still alive.

I asked Alma what the future held for them? Her reply was that they would return as soon as possible. They own the land and will somehow rebuild. Also that there was no other option. Already they’ve been told they must move on quickly. If they’ve no one to stay with they can have a ticket back to Tacloban, even though other families are still being evacuated to Cebu! There is no water, no power, no home,  convicted criminals on the run and the smell of death hangs in the air. Their jobs have gone along with all they owned. “But it’s home.” My next question was ” would you like to stay here for a while, just until things are a little better?” “Of course, but how?” I told Alma how much their tragedy had touched hearts all over the world and that because of the kindness of strangers Mercy in Action could help.

And so we’ve seen part of the way Mercy in Action can best steward the monies donated and that is by helping families like Alma’s to cope in the interim and long term. They are clearly a capable hardworking family who will in time find or create employment. They are not looking for charity or pity, they count themselves the lucky ones. We’ve already identified a rented property which will accommodate this extended family and hope to have them in within a few days. We will take care of their needs for as long as it takes.

More stories from our Haiyan relief can be found by clicking the ‘Blog’ tab at the top of the page. You can also donate to our work with victims of the typhoon here

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