Woman carries her baby across an area damaged by Typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday Nov. 12, 2013.
"This is the worst disaster I’ve ever seen," said Maria Angela Villalba, former Global Fund board member and executive director of grantee partner Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation in the Philippines.
"Women are very much burdened with keeping the family together, looking after children who are getting sick, and finding food to feed their family," said Villalba.
According to Villalba, communication and cell signals are so bad that people who moved to the cities for work don’t know if family members in affected areas are alive. Those seeking shelter squeeze into one of the few crowded and unsafe evacuation centers.
"At least one evacuation center where mothers, children and the aged - reportedly about 100 of them - was repeatedly hit by the storm surges and all of them died from drowning," said Gigi Francisco of grantee partner, Development Alternatives With Women For a New Era in the Philippines. "We are so distressed; the number of dead people is climbing exponentially as each hour goes by."
Local women’s groups are best positioned to help survivors because they know what women and their families need during a crisis, according to Villalba. They also provide relief support to women with small children, pregnant women and lactating mothers long after the big aid agencies leave.
"When relief assistance is trickling down, that’s when we come in," said Villalba. "It’s a more effective way because right now everyone’s clamoring into relief piles; even the Department of Social Welfare is not distributing relief goods because they don’t have enough. They are afraid of a stampede once they are able to distribute the few items."
Working with migrant organizations and other women’s groups like grantee partner, Women’s Legal Bureau, Villalba and her team go to under-served areas to assess needs and deliver relief packages of food for children and infants, medicine, sanitary napkins, and underwear. After that, they begin the long road to recovery including trauma healing and providing seed funding to those whose businesses have been destroyed.
The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters. During Typhoon Pablo in 2012, Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation was one of the only organizations providing sanitary napkins and milk for lactating mothers.
"Women who were lactating had hardly any milk in their breasts. The regular agencies told us 'we have a standard package and milk is not included.' We told them it was important and included it in own packages," said Villalba.
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