Philippines: return to Guiuan

Caroline Van Nespen, MSF communications officer

Thursday 20th November; less than a week after leaving, I return to Guiuan.

As I fly in to the heart of the city, I feel a profound sense of sadness. This place has probably not changed, but I feel as if I am seeing it for the first time. How can this city of more than 50,000 people, and many more if you count the surrounding villages, overcome the stigma created by Yolanda?

We’ve scarcely landed when hundreds of people gather around the helicopter, empty bottles in their hands.

“They expect fuel”, says Alexis, an MSF logistician. A few drops will enable them to get around the island – those whose mopeds were spared by the typhoon. As for the others, they can barter with those who still have transport.

 

Their demands are insistent, but not threatening. I feel that people were more desperate a week earlier. In this city, they are still waiting for aid, though other NGOs are slowly beginning to arrive. They are increasingly in need of shelter, clean water, medical care and psychological support; still so much to do!

 

Arriving at our hospital, I’m so impressed by what MSF has managed to set up! The basketball court in front of the old hospital has been replaced by eight 45-square-metre tents: there is an inpatient department, a maternity unit, a delivery room, a pharmacy, an isolation room, a sterilization unit…

 

Everything is here and the 25 beds are almost all being used! I learn that the team is performing forty operations and delivering five to six babies a day! Among these deliveries, was baby Simone, who was born just a few hours earlier:

“When the typhoon came, I was very worried, I was already having strong contractions. I was afraid that the labour had started but I just wouldn’t be able to give birth in the typhoon. I spoke to him in my belly, telling him ‘Don’t come now, it’s too early.’ In the end my baby was born yesterday in the hospital. I am so happy that everything went well.”

“Without any pretention at all, we can say that we’re saving lives here,” said Greetje Torbeyns, an MSF doctor.

 

“If we were not here, these women would be forced to give birth at home, with all the risks that that entails. They do not have shelter, it’s cold and wet for their baby, they are large risk of infection when the umbilical cord is cut with scissors or a non-sterile knife … and added to that are the further risks of complications at birth; there is little chance that mother and baby would escape injury under these conditions. ”

Even though it’s very testing, I love being here, there’s an insane energy coming out of this project!

 

Around sixty expats and many more Filipinos are working hard, in and around the temporary hospital. Meanwhile, MSF has already started reconstructing the original hospital, Felipe J.Abrigo, of which there was almost nothing left after the typhoon.

“It will take between three and six months to put all the infrastructure up ! We’ll start with the first half, and as soon as it’s functional, we’ll start on the second. The goal is to return it to the state it was in before the typhoon .” Says Anna Halford , project coordinator in Guiuan.

I’m impressed by the energy of this young 34-year-old woman who manages the whole team masterfully and with a great sense of humour. I must say that humour is in great demand in this kind of context! Its a big relief to be able to smile again after a hard day .

I mentioned earlier, that on my first night in Guiuan there were only five other expats working for MSF. Well here we are now, with over 65 from all over the world ! The cabin that served as our room now serves as a common room for all these people as we’re all sleeping in tents now. At night, everyone comes together to share their experiences of the day – the highlights and the frustrations – and unwind with a meal. People crack jokes, there’s always a great atmosphere…


Read more from our team on the ground in the Philippines

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