When a Mother’s Love is not Enough

By Amy Rhoades for IOM
9 Jan 2013

Mercy Del Rosario hugs her children at Pontevedra Rural Health Unit. Photo: Mark Blanco. 

IT WAS easy to see the worry in her eyes; hers was a look of concern and sleepless nights that only a mother knows. She had tried visiting different clinics in her hometown of Capiz in the Central Philippines, but so far there had been no progress – her children were still losing weight.

Mercy Del Rosario arrived to Pontevedra Rural Health Unit with three of her children, ages 8, 6 and 2, in tow. They had been referred there by Action Against Hunger (ACF) for medical assessment. At the time, 8-year old John Ryann weighed 12kg and 6-year old Mary Grace weighed a mere 6.9kg. Both were having difficulties breathing. Mary Grace’s lips were pale.

IOM Medical Doctor Gilbert Paul Distura provided a medical consultation and referred the two children, John Ryann and Mary Grace, to the hospital for urgent medical attention. The IOM emergency response team brought the family to the Bailan District Hospital in Capiz.

“Sometimes I would catch my children eating soil mixed with coals. They would put it in plastic chip bags and candy wrappers and pretend as if they were eating junk food,” Mercy recalls.

Mercy works seven days a week washing clothes at several homes in her neighborhood. She earns 200 pesos (approx. USD 4.50) per day which she stretches as far as possible to cover expenses for their household of seven – Mercy, her husband and their five children who live with them – but it’s never quite enough to make ends meet.

 Her husband is a sugar cane farmer and earns 100 pesos a day (USD 2.25). “But,” adds Mercy, “he keeps the money for himself and his vices.”

Her oldest son, 24-year old Warren, also works on the sugar cane farm, earning the same as his father. Of his earnings, he remits 100 pesos each week as his contribution towards household expenses.

“Each morning my husband wakes up at 3 am and makes chocolate milk or suam [drink made from excess rice water] for the youngest children’s breakfast. Afterwards he prepares a heavy meal for our breakfast and to pack as his lunch,” recounts Mercy.

Mercy leaves their tiny two-bedroom home at 7am daily to begin her work. Twelve-year old Joey stays with his three younger siblings.  

Every afternoon when she returns from work at 3pm, Mercy prepares lugaw [rice porridge] which serves as lunch and dinner for the younger children. “John Ryann consumes about a half of a small bowl and Mary Grace consumes about three table spoons, but sometimes they throw it up afterwards with worms,” Mercy explains. “I was so worried and didn’t know what to do, but thankfully my family received help.”

Both John Ryann and Mary Grace are now in the hospital for deworming and thereafter a blood transfusion. John Ryann has gained 8kg and his sister, 4kg. Their breathing difficulties have improved.

Health services and medical referrals for families like the Del Rosarios have been a critical component of IOM’s response since super typhoon Haiyan hit the Central Philippines on 8 November 2013. By providing healthcare and other vital services IOM helps to stabilise communities and prevent unnecessary displacement.

Concentrated in the heavily-hit provinces of Capiz and Iloilo, IOM health programs have reached a total of 3986 patients thus far including immunizations for 545 children and over 2900 outpatient consultations.

The look of concern has not left Mercy’s eyes, but as she hugs her children tight, she smiles. And seeing their mom smile, the children smile back. Tomorrow looks brighter already.

Further reporting contributed by Mark Blanco of IOM.