Casimira's story: Building a stronger future after Haiyan

Philippines

May 7, 2014

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  • Casimira Amoren Isidto and her four children live in a village near Bogo, one of the areas most severely damaged when Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines last November. Photo: Skye Fitzgerald for Mercy Corps

“As the winds got stronger, I couldn’t move. We were on the first floor of the house because it felt like we would get blown away if we went to the second floor.”

Casimira Amoren Asidto, 33, was recalling the early morning, six months ago, when Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in her village near Bogo, in the Philippines.

As the storm approached, she was holding a wake for her husband, who had passed away from acute appendicitis just a few days before.

By 9 a.m. the winds were tearing through the village at speeds of 195 mph, and the walls of the house began breaking down around Casimira as she sat with her husband’s casket.

Most of her family, including her four young children, had already retreated to her sister’s house in search of safety. Fearing for their lives, Casimira’s father and brother, who had stayed behind with her, convinced her they must flee as well.

“Before I left my husband’s body, all I could say was, ‘I’m sorry, we have to leave you behind. We won’t survive this if we stay,’” she remembered.

As coconuts and debris whipped through the air around them, the three ran to her sister’s house, where more than 40 other people were taking shelter.

Facing the aftermath

When the winds finally subsided after many agonizing hours, Casimira’s family emerged to find their world turned upside down. Their home was one of more than a million houses destroyed by the typhoon.

Across the country, more than 16 million people were affected by Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to ever to make landfall.

In the days after the disaster, Casimira managed to bury her husband in the local cemetery and move into her parents’ house with her children. They survived on emergency water and food distributed by aid organizations.

But what lay ahead? Now a single mother of four kids under the age of eleven, Casimira wondered how she would support her family with only the sporadic income she earned selling fish at the local market.

On a good day she could earn as much as $13 USD per day — but she often brought in nothing at all. It wouldn’t be enough to rebuild her home and send her children to school, let alone expand her business or plan for the future.

So when Casimira heard that Mercy Corps would begin distributing cash transfers in her area, she traveled through the still-driving rains to the town center to learn more.

Reaching vulnerable families with mobile technology

In January, Casimira was one of the first people to register for our mobile-money transfer program, which is using mobile technology to provide recovery funds to the families who were hit hardest by the storm.

Many people across the Philippines’ 7,000 islands live on less than $2 USD per day, and 80 percent of them lack access to brick-and-mortar banking services. In such precarious financial circumstances, finding the money to rebuild after a massive disaster like Haiyan can be a daunting task.

That’s why we partnered with BanKO, the Philippines’ first mobile-based bank, to connect 25,000 families like Casimira’s with cash transfers through mobile savings accounts.

The transfers provide urgent funds to families working to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, and the spending boosts the economy, which helps the entire region recover more quickly.

The mobile-phone based accounts also give many families the first tools they’ve had to save money for the long term.

Planning for the future

Even while she struggled with profound loss, Casimira was thinking about that long-term future. She decided to use the first of her three cash transfers to make a down payment on a plot of land near her mother’s house, on which she will eventually build a new home.

“I kept thinking I really needed something I could call my own,” she explained. “Where we used to live, there were common owners of that land. It wasn’t our own land. I like to think that [my husband] is happy, because this has always been a dream of ours, to own land.”

Casimira plans to use her income from the market to make the remaining payments on the land. If her sales remain steady, she thinks she can have it fully paid off in a year.

And when she receives the remaining two cash transfers, she wants to leave them in her savings account to earn interest, pay her children’s school fees and save in case of an emergency.

Like so many Filipinos, this account is Casimira’s first experience with the security of having a bank account.

“My initial problem was that banks needed very high initial deposits to open a bank account. The good thing about my account with BanKO is that I can just give 50 pesos (about $1 USD),” she said.

We’re also providing financial literacy training to help vulnerable families make the most of these tools and build safety nets against future emergencies.

“We learned that we had to save in order to be prepared. In case something would happen again, we would have emergency funds to access quickly. It was nice. They taught us a lot of things we never knew before,” Casimira said of the training seminars.

As she talks about the future — a mere six months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated her country — she knows she has a long way to go. But she is also optimistic, and sincerely grateful for the support her family has received.

“Thank you that you have come into my life. You have helped me so much, helped me move on,” she told us. “Thank you for teaching me how to plan for the future, how to plan for my children’s future and for helping me put them through school. My life now has direction.”