Five years after Typhoon Yolanda

A woman cradling a baby stands amid debris and other destruction caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban City on 12 Novermber 2013. ©UNICEF Philippines/2013/Jeoffrey Maitem

When I was 13 years old, I experienced the wrath of typhoon Haiyan. I remember, we were evacuated in a school when it happened. I was clinging to the window grills during the storm surge. I got separated from the rest of my family so I was only by myself that time. Afterwards, I climbed up the ceiling of the classroom and I can still remember how freezing cold it was.

After the storm passed, my father reported to us that the upper half of our two-story house was wrecked by the tower behind our home. We spent the days after sleeping in wet clothes on wet floors. We’d have to stay indoors at night because it was dark outside. No streetlights, no light bulbs. Every home was dependent on candle lights. My family would also share on one plate of food. I even remember my father telling us to stock food as much as we can because it would take approximately ten years for Tacloban to recover.

Five years later, I am now a grade 12 student. And Tacloban hasn’t just recovered. We’ve stood up and we’re running in this life’s race again. Presently, I’d face each day with a hopeful heart. We went through devastation, yes. But we were never alone in recovering from it. The time when people assumed we’d be sad the most was the time we were most grateful. Grateful for being alive, primarily. And also, grateful for all that we’ve been given after losing everything. Food when we were hungry. Clothes to keep us warm. Medical help when none was locally available. School supplies to help us still attain the privilege of education.

For us, it meant so much. For us, it meant like the world telling us that we are not alone. For us, it was hope. That is why, in every Taclobanon’s heart, is hope. Because the world has lit up that hope in all of us. In every relief operation, in every smile, in every programs they’ve conducted, in every visit and in every “How a͞re you?” and “Is your family all right?”.

The author, Kiana Gualberto (second from right) attends class at Leyte National High School in 2014. ©UNICEF Philippines/2014/Joey Reyna

Today, electricity isn’t just back in Tacloban but we can even access the internet already. Education is definitely back to normal. Most of us students are actively participating in school activities and even serving in organizations outside. We are also more conscious with our actions and are aware of the environment.

I’ve been to numerous environmental seminars and activities here myself. And it’s such a good sight to see the young people of Tacloban gathering to educate themselves of environmental awareness and doing measurable actions about it. Because of Haiyan, ‘nature’ now has a personal and deeper significance to us.

The government of Tacloban on the other hand, now emphasizes more children’s safety. Whenever the weather gets bad enough to prompt danger, classes are suspended. Knowing what it feels like to be in need, Tacloban also engages itself in relief operations for other provinces.

On 10 November 2013, two children walk past downed trees and other destruction caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban City — one of the areas worst affected by the disaster. ©UNICEF Philippines/2013/Jeoffrey Maitem

Five years ago we experienced living in a compromised lifestyle. Some of the privileges we used to have weren’t available. Our everyday was a question of ‘how to get back up’. We’d linger in the discomfort of the situation. We’d anticipate on the aid to suffice our necessities. But today, we’ve risen above the calamity. We live in a mindset of a hopeful future. We’d reply “We’re fine now.” to every “How is Tacloban?”.

And that is because of every help and prayers sent for us. God knows how grateful we are. Haiyan is part of us that made us stronger, that left an identity to Tacloban, that united us as a city and the world, as a rock that may have stumbled us along the way. And the world and organizations who have helped us, were the ones who told us to stay strong, who embraced our identity, who assisted us standing up after stumbling down.

The author, Kiana Gualberto, speaks at a UNICEF event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and marking one year after typhoon Haiyan. ©UNICEF Philippines/2014

We, the children of Tacloban, were minors during the devastation. We could’ve lost hope. We were unfamiliar to what we were experiencing and we could have expected it to carry on till forever. We could’ve thought there is nothing more to our situation than the chaos in our environment. We could have. But we didn’t.

So thank you to everyone. Especially to UNICEF, because you made us realize how special we were. How we, were vulnerable yet capable. You taught us to keep going. You taught us, to dream. And most especially, you believed in us.

Now, we believe in ourselves too. We do everything we can for our future. We act. We utilize our capabilities to make an impact to our families and to our communities.

When I was 13 years old, I experienced the wrath of Haiyan. Today I’m 18 and headstrong I face life with a hopeful heart.

By Kiana Gualberto