A postscript to faces of living hope
Sprawled in an orange and pink colored mat are a couple of diapers bundled with colorful, bulging eco bags. Excited hands were untying gray, plastic bows, and female chatter was in the air.
“Wow! There’s also a baby dress set in our pack, I got a blue one...do you like this color for your baby boy?” “Sure, thanks! Here, I’ll exchange with you this pink one- suits your baby girl better.”
It was while observing these moments, amidst my frantic implementation of World Vision’s Women and Young Children Space (WAYCS) at the relief response in North Cebu, that I was reminded it was in fact the festive month of December. Although the scene wasn’t kris-kringle, it appeared that Christmas wasn’t suspended afterall. Not even in those parts, bulldozed just weeks earlier by typhoon Haiyan. Surprisingly at that moment, seven mothers who were victims of an historic natural calamity would remind me not only of festivities to look forward to when I get home for the holidays after my deployment. Marie, Myrna, Rossan,Shirley, Cris, Fe, and Marilou- these women wore a burst of a refreshing aura in the aftermath of the Haiyan disaster- the human face of living hope.
Inside that WAYCS tent in the village of Bagay of Daanbantayan town, breastfeeding babies succumbing to sleep were oblivious of their mothers’ excited remarks and frequent giggles. If not for a breastfeeding poster behind one of the moms who was nursing her baby, the scene wouldn’t immediately appear to be an emergency tent put up to help mothers and their babies recuperate from the terrors of the calamity that had striken. At that moment, there was hardly a trace that these women and their young ones were in a life-threatening situation just weeks earlier.
“I hid under the sink holding my baby tightly. I was so scared watching our house stripped of the whole roof over our heads, and the glass window smashed. We were all rain-soaked and trembling of fear and the cold, but I held on to my child,” recalls Rosann.
She invited us to see the house later on, a two-story structure seemingly skinned to the bone, with the family’s meager possessions inside piled up in mud and rubble. Rossan picks up a baby shirt covered in mud, saying it’s good there was a replacement inside the infant kit she received from the WAYCS. Pointing at a bed suspended on a door, she continued, “my baby and I were lying on that bed when the typhoon came. We had to move the bed to seal the door from the angry wind; my husband went up to hang on to the roof, but the wind was stronger and lifted it,” says Rosanna, pointing to the open sky over head.
“But my baby did not get sick even after being soaked in rain and the displacement. I believe it was my breastmilk that saved him- my baby Edson has been purely breastfed until six months,” proudly shares Rosann. The other mothers nod in agreement, as if hearing the talk of the village midwife again, which emphasized on the life-saving potency of continued breastfeeding of babies.
Amidst what they went through, these mothers were among some 300 who would regularly troop to the WAYCS tent put up in Rosann’s village, on invitation by health workers. They listened to the midwife or the local nurse discuss basic practices to ensure that proper nutrition and care of their young children is continued even in disaster situations.
“Honestly, it’s my first time to hear that it’s alright to breastfeed another baby other than your own. I’ve always thought it was not good. Older people in my neighborhood said that if you breastfeed especially a baby girl, you will become malnourished and your milk would dry up. Your own baby would suffer because you won’t be able to feed it anymore.”
Marilou was happy that she attended the WAYCS when the midwife discussed breastfeeding because she learned that what she believed in was just a myth- now she knows the truth. “Now I can help breastfeed the baby of my neighbor if its own mother cannot do it herself. I have to tell my old neighbors about it,” continues Marilou.
It still amazes me to this day how these mothers managed to become attentive to new information, and think of others to whom they could share what they learned, considering their situation that time. How can someone stripped of the comforts of normalcy, of life-long earned material belongings, perhaps in extreme situations- even loss of loved ones- live at the hard moment and look forward to a happy tommorow where they can’t wait to share what they newly acquired?
I remembered these raw images in the communities where World Vision responded in Cebu at the turn of the new year when I was already in the midst of holiday revelry in the comfort of home and family, when I received messages about hope for a new beginning. It was not new in fact, but a rehash of that seasonal message theme. Just like what Marilou experienced from the village WAYCS, it was as if I heard the information the first time in my life.
|A burst of gold in the horizon never failed to light up my way back to the city after a day at the community.|
I fumbled to recall those Greek words I last re-learned from Darrel Johnson- kronos, the reality, tick-tack time of the moment, and kairos, the spiritual-level time, God’s time, and how they concretely met in the Haiyan response in the community. I saw both the kronos and kairos times intersect because of the face of hope I saw in mothers and babies as their eyes locked at each other while breastfeeding, giving life to each other. I could visualize the promise of a new beginning in mothers sharing their stories of survival and plans for the future. Living hope is also materialized in village health workers working 24/7 to serve their community even when their own families were also victims of disaster.
Take Maribel, a registered nurse volunteer in Tabogon town in Nort Cebu, dedicated facilitator of World Vision’s WAYCS in two barangays. She has five children, including a six-month old baby. Maribel is the current family breadwinner because her husband recently underwent a major surgical operation of his liver. Her house was also damaged by the typhoon and the whole family had to momentarily move to a sibling’s house.
When Maribel rode back with me to Cebu City where she was scheduled to take an exam with the Department of Health, she confided that her family
did not receive relief goods. She apparently missed the validation process because she was facilitating a session during the opening of the WAYCS in Somosa village and there was no one in their house.
“It’s alright, I don’t regret leaving my house to facilitate the opening of the WAYCS in the barangay and discussing the importance of breastfeeding to almost a hundred mothers. What I ask for from God now is to allow me to pass the RN Heals exam so I can continue to work for my community and support my family,” says Maribel.
At that instance, she’s my living hope- that despite her real-time struggles, she’s living up to her role as a nurse to bring the good news, like in reminding a distraught mother that she is naturally endowed with the capacity to nurture her baby. Just like the seven mothers inside that WAYCS tent I spent some moments with as they exuded happy aura, reminding me there can be happiness at the core of gloom. They all remind me that my vocation is like theirs, and everyone else’s- to be a living hope, just as Christ Jesus was.###