Clean water for Baby Yolee's first birthday


November 7, 2014

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  • Baby Yolee and her mother Hazel miraculously survived last year's devastating Typhoon Haiyan, which hit just hours after her birth. We've given them and thousands of families on their remote island new sources of clean water since the storm. Photo: Doddy Suparta/Mercy Corps

It’s been one year since Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines. And on tiny Kinatarcan island, Baby Yolee is celebrating her first birthday.

She was born just hours before the storm hit the island with winds over 190 mph and destroyed nearly everything in sight. Her mother, Hazel Giducos, ran for shelter with her newborn in her arms and both miraculously survived. Read their survival story ▸

The typhoon was called Yolanda in the Philippines, and when Hazel was reunited with her husband and older daughter, they began calling their new daughter “Yolee.” And the nickname stuck.

Hazel holds newborn Yolee last November, with big sister Danica Grace, then 3 years old. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

“She is healthy and active,” says Hazel of one-year-old Yolee. “She loves to eat biscuits and milk and plays with plastic cooking toys with her sister.”

While the young family survived the terrifying storm, their home was left in shambles — a pile of loose debris. A year later, they are still living in a makeshift shelter, but they’ve made progress on the long road to recovery.

“We are cooking, eating and doing laundry in an unfinished house, but we are slowly improving it,” says Hazel. Her husband found work again as a pump boat laborer, which brings the family a small amount of money.

Rebuilding their home may take some time, but the family has seen immediate benefits from Mercy Corps’ work to improve the water and sanitation resources on Kinatarcan over the past year.

After the storm, one of the most urgent needs for people stranded on the remote island was clean water. Our emergency response team distributed food and bottled water in those first days and immediately began looking for ways to help the vulnerable communities rebuild.

Even before the storm, there was no water treatment and distribution system on the island. Families drank untreated rainwater or had to buy clean water, which was a burdensome expense for Kinatarcan’s poorest residents who live on less than USD $2 per day.

So we provided ceramic water filters to help the Giducos and nearly 12,000 others turn rainwater into a free source of safe water for drinking and cooking — saving families money and keeping them healthy. The ceramic filters require little maintenance, making them an easy and long-term solution.

Hazel and Yolee with the ceramic water filter that now provides the family a free, daily supply of clean water. Photo: Doddy Suparta/Mercy Corps

“Before, we drank the water directly without any treatment or bought distilled water from the village,” says Hazel. “Now, we are saving [money] since we can use rain water and the ceramic filter as our drinking water.”

Mercy Corps is also helping build water and sanitation facilities for the island’s schools, so children like Baby Yolee and her sister are safe and healthy while getting their education.

Separate restrooms for boys and girls will encourage more girls to stay in school, hand-washing stations will prevent the spread of illness in the classroom, and water catchment and storage systems will ensure the youngsters have enough to drink. We are also providing hygiene and health training to school teachers and volunteers.

Water is just one part of the recovery process — and everyday is an opportunity for more progress.

People have mostly returned to their normal lives: fishermen are out at sea, farmers are planting, children are back at school and playing in the streets. But families still need to rebuild their homes, and job opportunities are hard to find. Financial services and health care are major concerns for the people of Kinatarcan.

The scars of a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan will never disappear completely. So we’re continuing to work with communities in the Philippines to help them emerge from tragedy on a path to building stronger futures.

Mercy Corps partnered with BanKO, a local mobile savings bank, to give vulnerable families unconditional cash transfers after the disaster, helping them purchase food, building materials and household supplies.

We’ve reached more than 100,000 people with $2.3 million in emergency cash assistance. Now, the program is continuing to bring financial services to low-income areas that have never had access to bank accounts before.

With the ability to save money through a financial institution for the first time, families in the Philippines can be better prepared to recover the next time a disaster strikes.

Learn more about our Typhoon Haiyan response and ongoing work in the Philippines ▸