To mark International Women’s Day (Sat 8 March), CBM, the overseas disability charity is highlighting the plight of women who risked everything to care for people with disabilities during the catastrophic storm in the Philippines more than 100 days ago. By Julia Ajayi, Director of Programme Development at CBM UK.
Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the lives of more than 14 million people across the Philippines – over 3.5 million of those were women. During the aftermath of the utter destruction, CBM came across a woman named Flora Piel, a single mother who carried her two sons to safety during Typhoon Haiyan. When we met Flora, she was sitting in the shade with Jesson, one of her children, among the rubble and mud of what was once their home. She greeted us warmly and her friendliness remained for the time we spent with her.
Both her sons, Jesson 14 and Jeboy 17 have intellectual disabilities. Their disabilities require full-time care. Flora, a single mother, supports them alone.
“When the typhoon came I was afraid for my children. I knew I had to get them to safety. They cannot talk and can only walk very short distances. I was afraid that if the water came, they would die”, she said.
The evacuation centre was one kilometre from her house. “The only way was to carry one child at a time.”
“When I came back the second time the water had begun to rise. I was scared that my children would not be safe” she said.
Flora’s family live in Barotak Viejo, a small town next to Iloilo and Concepcion. The extent of damage was not as widespread as neighbouring communities, yet for some, they lost everything. Flora is one of those people.
We stood atop the rubble of Flora’s house with her youngest son Jesson.
We could only spend a short time with Flora and her two sons, but the brief time we had with her had a profound impact on the team. Flora’s smile radiated, her spirits were high and her outlook was positive. “I am so grateful that my children survived.” She said.
It is hard to imagine how terrifying and challenging the evacuation would have been for Flora and her two boys. Most disasters place an undue burden on women and girls, who account for over half of the 200 million people affected annually by natural disasters.
CBM Emergency Response Unit flies into disaster regions to deliver emergency supplies direct and ensures people with disabilities are included across emergency aid. In the Philippines, we provided food and survival packages to 3,000 vulnerable families, including people with disabilities and women-headed households. Long after the news crews returned home, we continue to provide follow up practical help so that people can put their lives back on track.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is to honour and inspire change. Our focus is on supporting remarkable women like Flora and their families as they begin to try to put their lives back together.
CBM is the world’s largest disability charity, transforming the lives of people with disabilities and those at risk of disability in the some of the poorest countries across the world. CBM works with partners on the ground to deliver medical services, education and employment opportunities. CBM’s holistic approach and long–term sustainable solutions helps to integrate people with disabilities back into society, with the knowledge and skills to allow them to lead full, productive lives.