Philippines: One in 15 million - Sarah, a volunteer midwife on Olotayan Island

1 December 2013, Olotayan Island, off the coast of Roxas City, the Philippines: 27-year-old Sarah is a volunteer midwife on Olotayan Island. Her family's house is right on the shoreline and was damaged when Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the small island home to approximately 1,000 people. Credit: OCHA/Eva Modvig
Typhoon Haiyan left many facing an uncertain future.

Typhoon Haiyan affected an estimated 14.9 million people, leaving many of them without family members, homes and jobs. Over the coming months, OCHA will be following some of the people affected by the disaster: the challenges they face; their frustrations; and their triumphs as they begin to rebuild their lives.

From a distance, Olotayan Island, an hour off the coast of Roxas City in the Philippines, looks like a photo in a holiday brochure: white sand beaches and green rolling hills. Stepping ashore, the reality is clearly very different.  Many of the island's basic houses have been razed to the ground or are badly damaged.

Close to the shore line stands a small house, which is undergoing repairs. Smiling from the second floor window is Sarah, a 27-year-old midwife and mother of two and half year old Hyacinth. The little girl is quiet, rarely smiles and never ventures far from her mother or her grand-mother, Adelfa.

As a volunteer midwife, Sarah helps pregnant and new mothers on the small island, home to 275 families, providing them with routine check-ups and healthcare advice. She refers women with complicated pregnancies to the hospital in Roxas, the provincial capital, as there are no health centres or birthing facilities on the island.

When she heard that a major typhoon was bearing down on them, Sarah advised all pregnant women on the island to visit the clinic in Roxas, and to stay in the city for specialist care if needed.

Fearing the waves would wash them away

Before Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) tore through the island, Sarah and her daughter evacuated to the local school, one of the more solid structures on the island, following warnings to evacuate by their Barangay captain. Many others sheltered at the local church.

The school however was badly damaged as the winds tore off part of the roof and one of the load-bearing walls came crashing down, killing a young man. Sarah and many other families sheltering there had to crowd into one of the other school buildings.

Sarah's elderly parents chose to weather out the storm in the back room of their small home. Both generations of women are anxious as they recall how they saw the water get pulled out far from the shore line and huge waves came crashing in. They feared a tidal wave would wash away them and their home.

"I just want a paid job so I can contribute to my family's recovery"

Speaking about the future, Sarah is hesitant. The situation for her family, like that of many of those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, is difficult. She does not know where she will find the money to repair their home. Her husband's job as a salesman in Roxas city will help, but it's not enough to cover the repairs and daily living expenses.

Sarah recently applied for a job as a paid midwife at the Hospital in Tacloban. More than anything, she wants to contribute to the recovery of her family; to support her elderly parents and to provide a better future for her young daughter.

More than 200,000 pregnant women were affected by Typhoon Haiyan and many of them are giving birth in extremely difficult circumstances: in makeshift clinics without the right equipment and medicines. Every day, there are some 865 births in the affected communities; on average, around 130 experience potentially life-threatening complications.

Communities on the many smaller islands off the coast of Panay Island were hit particularly hard by Typhoon Haiyan. They have also been among the hardest to reach with assistance, requiring boats or helicopters to transport aid workers, relief goods and reconstruction materials. Rebuilding and recovering will be a struggle for many. 

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