“My unforgettable experience. My nightmare.”
That’s how Vergie C. Ochia describes the day Typhoon Haiyan—also known as Yolanda—struck her home on the Filipino island of Bantayan. One month ago, on November 8, Ochia and her neighbors were crowded into their town’s community hall for shelter, listening fearfully to the rain and wind howling outside. “Everyone was crying. Everyone was praying,” she told Oxfam’s Jane Beesley. “No one was expecting to live.”
Ochia and those sheltering with her survived physically unharmed. But the 50-year-old single mother of two adopted sons suffered a loss of another kind.
“Very early the next day, 5 a.m., I went back to my house. It was gone,” she said. “I don’t know when I can start to rebuild … [The typhoon] destroyed so many homes.”
Ochia, who serves as secretary of her barangay, or district, of Mancilang, played a leadership role during the storm: she and other community officials helped make sure local families were safely sheltered and fed. Today, despite the loss of her home, Ochia continues to play that role, working with Oxfam to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.
“I’m here at the barangay hall helping Oxfam to organize their distribution of hygiene and water kits,” she explained. The hygiene kits contain soap, toothpaste, underwear, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, and other essential supplies. Water kits include both a jug to carry water and a treatment solution to disinfect it and make it safe for drinking.
“I’ve also received a hygiene kit. I cried when I opened the bag,” said Ochia. “There were so many items. So many things we all need.”