The story of Yolanda, one month on

18-year-old Marike Malate with baby Yolanda, born the day after the Typhoon. Photo by Joe Lowry

By Joe Lowry, in Tacloban, Central Philippines
06 December 2013

On 8 November, 18-year-old Marike Malate, heavily pregnant, was at home with her parents and her husband Johnel Loreta, also 18, in Tacloban, Central Philippines. They knew a strong typhoon was coming, but were unprepared for the full fury of Haiyan (local name Yolanda.)

Marike was picked up by the water, and somehow swam up the deluged Pampaya Street, to the main road. Dazed and confused, the young couple made their way to the Tacloban Convention Centre, where thousands of people were taking shelter.

“There was a crush when the water started pouring in” she remembers, “and I lost my husband in the basement.” She never saw him again.

The next morning, in a corner of that fearful, overcrowded place Marike, an 18-year-old widow, gave birth to a daughter. She has baleful, beautiful brown eyes like her mother.

And her name, is Yolanda.

“I decided to call her Yolanda, so I can always remember.”

She doesn’t say what she wants to remember, whether it’s the loss of her husband, of her dreams, of her happiness. But she is determined that Yolanda will be smart, will get an education, and have a good life.

A month after the storm, yards away from where Yolanda is quietly sleeping in a ruined guest house, her grandfather is salvaging nails and lengths of wood, and building a small shack where the family home once stood. He’s a got a decent sized frame ready; now he needs some tin for the roof and wood for the walls.

“The government says we can stay here for a few months but we don’t really know what will happen after that,” says Juanito, a 44-year-old unemployed market trader and father of seven. “We’ve nowhere else to go and anyway this is our home.”

Juanito Malate rebuilding on Pampaya Street, Tacloban. Photo by Joe Lowry

All around him is massive, tumultuous destruction. Their house was metres form the sea, and had no chance. Thirty neighbours perished.

It’s hard to see a future for Tacloban, one month on.  But look beyond the shattered buildings, the piles of rubble, the smashed-up cars and you can see Tacloban rising.

Everywhere, men like Juanito are hard at work, clearing up and making good. Women are cleaning, washing, buying and selling, keeping their kids busy and happy. And there are Christmas decorations.

Seasons greetings from Tacloban. Photo by Joe Lowry

Tacloban is not Times Square or Oxford Street, but it’s all the more joyful and seasonal in its defiance, it its refusal to give up.

Yes, Tacloban is rising. And one day, baby Yolanda will take her place as a proud Taclobaño. Those beautiful brown eyes will look out with pride on her city and understand just what it means to be Yolanda, in a risen Tacloban. 

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Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM