David Lewis is currently seconded from cbm Australia to cbm’s emergency response in the Philippines. He is sharing with us how people with disabilities he met in the typhoon area, taught him a great deal about human courage.
I woke up very early this morning and walked along the beachfront at Concepcion, Paney Island. The beautiful, soft, early-morning sunlight created a huge contrast to the destruction which remains after Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocious winds and storm surge ripped through Concepcion. All along the coast, endless piles of debris still lie scattered from destroyed homes, schools, health clinics and other buildings.
As I walked, many people were just waking up, and lighting small cooking fires with broken timber. Even now, several weeks after the typhoon, people are still trying to make sense of all they have lost – loved ones, homes, livelihoods, public facilities. What people seem not to have lost is a sense of community and supporting each other. Our work with communities in re-building is perhaps one of the most rewarding and moving parts of my work with cbm.
During my walk I met Vera and her family.
Vera is in her mid sixties and suffered a stroke in 2004. Despite paralysis, Vera has lived a full and happy life over the years, caring for her grandchildren. However I could tell the typhoon has taken a very heavy toll on her. She sobbed continuously, as she introduced me to her grandchildren and showed me her broken down home, and the make-shift shelter, where more than 20 family members now pass the nights and heat of the day.
Vera’s son told me how helpful the support from cbm and our partner organisation, the Association of Disabled Persons, Iloilo (ADPI) has been. Together with essential food, the family has been able make a shelter using the heavy-duty plastic tarpaulins and the children sleep under the mosquito net we provided.
Along with provision of these essential food and non-food items, cbm and ADPI are now working with government, other organisations and communities to set up ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ to further work with people like Vera.
These ‘focal points’ are the initiative of Valerie Scherrer, Director of the cbm Emergency Response Unit. They have been successfully used after other emergencies, including in Haiti.
The ‘focal points’ will link people with disabilities and older people with mainstream opportunities providing food, shelter and livelihood opportunities, and also with specialist opportunities, e.g. creating access to assistive devices such as wheel chairs, crutches, walkers, prostheses, spectacles and to eye, ear, orthopaedic and mental health interventions.
I have found the courage and faith of people in the typhoon zone very personally moving and encouraging. Our initiatives with people like Vera and her family are only possible, with thanks to cbm’s wonderful supporters.
Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to work with communities like Vera’s for long term of recovery.