Philippines: The story of San Miguelay

19 Dec 2013
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In some remote areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, people have yet to receive the aid they need. Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are visiting villages well off the beaten track to run mobile clinics and distribute relief items. One of these villages is San Miguelay.

When the typhoon hit San Miguelay, a cluster of 100 houses near Santa Fe, in the east of Leyte island, 42-year-old Venia Gesola hurried with her children to the local school. Most people in the small community had gathered in the building, situated in the centre of the village, to seek shelter from the storm.

“We were very scared,” says Venia. “Trees were swirling through the air – some of them fell on the roof of the building. But when the wind finally stopped, it still wasn't over, because that was when the water came.”

A woman smiles as supply items arrive in San Miguelay. © Florian Lems/MSF

Everybody survived

The flooding that followed destroyed many of the buildings that were still standing. When the waters retreated, four out of five buildings in San Miguelay were in ruins. The death toll in the village, however, stood at zero. “Luckily, everybody survived,” says Gesola.

Venia is waiting in line at a distribution of relief items organised by an MSF team. Patiently the villagers queue until it is their turn to collect three packages, which are handed down from trucks.

One package contains enough plastic sheeting to build a temporary shelter, as well as mosquito nets and blankets. A second contains cooking pots, utensils and plates, while the third package contains a hygiene kit, including soap, hygienic towels and a bucket.

Like many other families in San Miguelay, Venia – a widowed mother of four – was left with nothing but the rubble of what had once been her home. She has found refuge with her parents, who live in a small hut that somehow survived the devastation.

Children watch as non-food items are distributed in San Maguelay, Leyte island. © Florian Lems/MSF

Reaching cut-off communities

MSF’s delivery to the villagers of San Miguelay is part of a larger distribution of essential supplies to some 6,000 households in the area. These include reconstruction kits – containing hammers, nails and other items – to help families rebuild their homes.

MSF’s teams are focusing on reaching remote, rural communities that are off the beaten track and have so far received little aid – places like San Miguelay, where the villagers received some food a week previously, but have received nothing since.

The MSF team has finished handing out relief items and is preparing to move on to the next village. Venia, like many others, thanks the team for assisting their village. Asked about her plans, Venia hesitates. “I don't know what the future will bring,” she says. “I hope I’ll be able to rebuild my house and my life, but at the moment I don’t know where to begin.”

Find out more about MSF’s response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines