#AfterHaiyan: Putting health at the heart of healing
As I watched the news about the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), I – together with the rest of the Philippines – followed the unfolding stories every day by watching videos, reading articles and looking at photos of the devastation.
I knew I wanted to be more involved in helping my fellow Filipinos, so when an opportunity arose to accompany the staff of the World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines and to support their work across Yolanda-affected areas, I jumped on it right away.
Having been a pre-med student, I was able to connect with the work of WHO. I also found that this was God’s way of guiding me to help people and to pursue my passion in health.
Destruction in Eastern Samar
While driving through the countryside towards Hernani, Eastern Samar, I got my first glimpse of the typhoon's destruction - the very few trees that remained standing and remnants of destroyed houses.
The scale of the damage was evident as the same scene kept repeating itself as we drove on across the affected areas.
But I sensed some normalcy being regained seeing the organized piles of rubble and new homes being built.
It felt very overwhelming and I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like during the storm and its immediate aftermath.
Driving on, my thoughts turned to people’s lost livelihoods, homes, and loved ones.
I began to see how vulnerable communities must have been and the desperation and helplessness they felt after losing everything they had.
When we reached the town of Hernani, I was able to talk to many of the town's children. I read them stories, sang, danced, and taught them about proper hygiene practices such as washing their hands well.
Many of them were the same age as my son, Thirdy.
I realized that Yolanda left a great impact on the lives of these young children. Their houses were still being rebuilt, while their schools lacked walls.
Despite these problems, the smiles on their faces gave me so much hope. (READ: Yolanda children and schooling)
There is hope for these communities. They have the strength to bounce back.
Working closely with WHO taught me that outreach activities like this can have a positive impact on the health of communities because of the support they feel.
While saying goodbye to my new young friends, I had the privilege to visit a rehabilitated rural health unit where I meet some mothers from the community.
It was a wonderful experience. The mothers shared stories about breastfeeding. It was wonderful to hear their experiences and how strong and nurturing they’ve been for their families. (READ: Lessons from Yolanda women survivors)
As a mother myself, it felt amazing to establish a connection with these brave and resourceful women.
Balangiga's health workers
My last stop was at Balangiga, where I had the opportunity to meet health workers.
Hearing how they carried on helping people - when they had also lost so much – left me in awe of their dedication.
When I spoke to the provincial health team leader of the Department of Health (DOH) in Eastern Samar, Dr Jean Egargo, I was able to appreciate how much effort the DOH and the WHO are putting into restoring the community health systems.
Going to Eastern Samar and meeting all these inspiring people taught me so much.
I feel so blessed to meet community members and international and national experts - all working together to get the health system back on its feet.
It may take time, but with the grace of God, the help of the international community, and the resilience of the Filipino spirit, I’m optimistic the region will rise up if we continue to put health at the heart of healing. – Rappler.com