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Supporting community heroes in earthquake-affected North Cotabato

06:44 PM March 05, 2020

“It’s good I was home that night, or else I don’t know if my family would have survived.”

Reyland Pepito was cooking dinner for his family the night of October 16 when the first in a series of strong earthquakes rocked Makilala, North Cotabato. He remembers running from the kitchen to the living room while the doors and walls of the house crumbled, burying his wife and two children inside.

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“It was completely dark, so I used my phone as a flashlight. I tried to find my wife and children. I found them buried under the debris and got them out. We were trapped, I couldn’t open the door. but I managed to get them out somehow,” Reyland continued.

Once he managed to get them outside, Reyland realized the extent of his injury. His right foot had been badly hit by a door and he could no longer stand. His family shouted for help and his neighbors used the very same door as a stretcher.

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Neighbors to the rescue

Sto Nino, Purok 2 Barangay (village) captain Glenn Romero was the one who helped Reyland get to the hospital and facilitate financial support for his medical expenses.

“My neighbors and I carried Reyland to the hospital. In this community we do bayanihan (community spirit). We’ve all lost our homes. The families here need all the help they can get,” he says.

Reyland was able to get the medical care to mend his leg, all the while worrying about how he can provide for his family. His employer at the rubber plantation allowed his wife to take his place while he watched over the children. His children, even at their tender age, bring him comfort and support.

“My children tell me, Papa, be strong and don’t let sadness get you down, you’ll get well soon. Despite everything that happened to my family, there are many people who didn’t abandon us and continue to support us until now,” he adds.

No build zone

The village has been declared a no build zone, so the families are now living in an evacuation camp. Living in an open space in tents presents many challenges to the families, especially when it comes to keeping themselves healthy and free from sickness.

To help families like Reyland’s through this period of recovery, UNICEF, through support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), responds to needs in Child Protection, Health & Nutrition, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, and Education (WASH) and Education. For WASH, apart from establishing water points in camps, UNICEF also provides children with three liters of water a day for drinking and handwashing. Hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels and sanitary napkins are also distributed to the families. To prevent diseases, UNICEF conducts hygiene promotion and focus group discussions to help keep communities healthy. Families whose toilets were damaged are given hardware supplies such as toilet bowls, cement, doors, steel bars and nails.

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So far, UNICEF has reached 4,123 families with hygiene messages; provided 3,000 families with hygiene and dignity kits; gave 552 families access to sanitary latrines and hand washing facilities in evacuation centres; provided 232 home-based with household latrine repair kits; and reached 400 families with improved access to safe water.

“People affected by disasters are more at risk to diseases especially diarrhoea which can be life threatening for children. We need to make sure that risks of water-borne diseases are reduced and give this high priority as part of our emergency response,” Rasul Abdullah, UNICEF WASH Officer says.

Bayanihan spirit

In Purok 2, residents are now benefiting from 14 toilets, a bathing facility or laundry area, and a water point. As the community waits for their relocation, they help each other recover and rebuild their lives.

“We appreciate the help that UNICEF has given us. We like the toilet because it is well constructed. This is a big deal for us in Purok 2. We want to thank all the people who helped us,” the village captain said.

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TAGS: community heroes, earthquake, north cotabato, PEP
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