Yolanda’s First Year

Yolanda Rain Malate and her mother Marike (19). Yolanda was born on the night of the superstorm. Inset, mother and baby in December 2013. © IOM/Joe Lowry 2014

By Joe Lowry in Tacloban 

One a year ago, 18-year-old Marike Malate was swimming for her life, in the dark, debris-strewn water that engulfed her family home on Pampongo Street, Tacloban. Not just for her life, but for the life inside her, the life that burst out hours later in an abandoned building, with her mother and father as her birth attendants.  

The city was pounded by Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda). Thousands died, hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and a year on it, and all its 240,000 residents still bear the scars.

As Marike was giving birth, her husband, Johnel, also just 18, was swept away and never seen again. She christened her baby Yolanda Rain, “So I can always remember.”

Tomorrow night 50,000 candles will light up the route from the airport to the centre of Tacloban. IOM is supporting the event, which will mark one year since Typhoon Haiyan. © IOM/Joe Lowry 2014 

Yolanda is a year old now, a big-eyed, happy child, living among a chaotic family of 12, in a house made of salvaged material, metres from the sea. If there would be another Yolanda-style storm tomorrow it’s hard to see how they’d survive.

But survive they do, on the 300 pesos (USD10) a day that Marike and her father Juanito (46) make selling vegetables, as his father did before him. Yolanda joins them, a fourth generation of market traders. “People complained at first that I called her after the storm but they see why now and they love her”, says Marike.

Haiyan/Yolanda left four million people homeless across the central Visayas region of the Philippines. A year on, just a few hundred still live in tents. The vast, vast majority have received shelter materials through IOM and other organizations, and many have already moved back into their own, refurbished homes or into transitional shelters, either one-family homes made of locally-sourced material, or “bunkhouses” which can accommodate several families. IOM has completed almost 2,000 transitional shelters, and is committed to building almost 6,000 more in 2015.

There are massive challenges ahead. The much-vaunted “durable solution” of safe new homes for all in need is still some way off, and then jobs, schools, healthcare, and all the other infrastructure every town and village needs has to be put in place.

And while the recovery has been far from smooth, there is no doubt that it is happening, and happening fast. Tacloban’s streets are buzzing with traffic and shoppers. The Christmas lights twinkle and the carols blare out under the hot sun.

For Yolanda and her family, celebrations are on hold. “We can’t afford to do anything for her birthday, but we will light a candle, not only to mourn her father, but to celebrate her life and ours,” says Marike.

A view of some of the IOM-built temporary homes in San Isidro on the outskirts of Tacloban city. © IOM/Joe Lowry 2014 

The year behind has been a blur for the Malate family, full of struggle and sadness. As they, like millions across the Philippines, live on untitled land, the future is unclear. For the moment, they stay where they are, metres from the cruel sea.

Tomorrow night the family will join with thousands of Taclobanos in a candlelight vigil, which IOM is co-sponsoring. Organizer Jeff Manibay who runs an independent TV channel in Tacloban says it will be a time for the community to come together as never before, to show their grief, their determination, their gratitude and their hope for the future.

“We have moved on,” says Jeff. “We will never forget that terrible day, but we are stronger now than ever before. For Tacloban, this is humanity’s finest hour.”

The vigil will be live-streamed on www.livestream.com/cat8tvtacloban also accessible via www.facebook.com/catnetworktacloban