Philippines: One Year On After Typhoon Yolanda - Assisting Persons with Disabilities

On November 8th, 2013, a super typhoon (in Filipino, Typhoon Yolanda), the 30th named storm of the 2013 Pacific typhoon season, made landfall in the central region of the Philippines. Immediately after the typhoon struck, AAR Japan sent support by distributing relief goods and repairing homes in the most devastated areas of Northern Cebu, and in Tacloban City and Palo Town on the island of Leyte. While carrying out our emergency relief activities, we gave particular attention to assisting persons with disabilities (PWDs) - in which we have accumulated extensive experience in other countries. AAR continued providing aid until the end of October, 2014.

Pursuing the kind of aid only AAR could give

After the typhoon struck, there was no survey carried out to confirm the safety or conditions of PWDs in the above target areas. At that point, AAR stepped in, going door-to-door and documenting where PWDs lived and what kind of disabilities they had to ensure that nobody was left out from receiving emergency relief. In total, we collected information from 5,687 PWDs, and submitted the compiled data to local government units. In addition, AAR provided food and other relief goods to households with PWDs. During the goods distribution and door-to-door survey, we discovered that many PWDs in the target areas had lost their wheelchairs - their only means of transportation - due to the typhoon and tsunami. Moreover, governmental support for PWDs is still insufficient in the Philippines, and discrimination is a very real issue. As a result, PWDs are more likely to seclude themselves in their homes.

Providing tailored “legs”

In response to the plight that PWDs faced in the Philippines after the typhoon, AAR provided 40 wheelchairs and 27 walkers to PWDs with mobility difficulties in Tacloban and Palo, Leyte. To the PWDs, these wheelchairs and walkers are their “legs”. Therefore, it was essential to ensure that the type and size fitted each individual. Together with a Filipino wheelchair specialist organization, AAR had a “measuring session” to measure the length of each individual’s legs and assess their balance and posture. A “fitting session” followed, in which we adjusted the wheelchairs and had PWDs practice using them. Once we ensured the adjustments and correct usage, the wheelchairs were distributed. Afterwards, AAR continued to provide comprehensive support by conducting “follow-ups” to check if any of PWDs were having difficulties using their wheelchairs.

At the “measuring session”. In order to provide wheelchairs that fit each individual perfectly, we measured the legs of the PWDs one by one. (May 24th, 2014, Palo)

At the “fitting session”. The PWDs and their families practiced going up and down stairs in wheelchairs. (July 21st, 2014, Tacloban)

Going to the beach, drawing pictures . . . wheelchairs enabling dreams

Due to cerebral palsy, Yuu (19 years old) has difficulties walking. “Thanks to the wheelchair, I'm glad to say that I can use the restroom by myself now,” she said. She smiled and continued, “My mother takes me outside in my wheelchair twice a day. Sometimes, she takes me to the beach and I draw pictures there. I hope to improve my drawing skills.”

 Yuu's (left) range of activities has widened, and her dreams have expanded. Next to her is AAR's Kazuya OMURO (right). (October 28th, 2014, Tacloban)
Crystal (11 years old), who has balance issues, had difficulty in sitting down on her own, and she was only able to eat if supported on her mother's lap. However, because of the wheelchair she received from AAR, she is now able to sit on her own for long periods of time. Her mother spoke of Crystal’s mental and physical improvements, and also mentioned that, “It feels like Crystal is now able to communicate better as well.”

Crystal used to spend a lot of time lying down. Now, thanks to her customized wheelchair, she is able to sit up (December 2nd, 2014, Palo).
In December 2014, another large typhoon struck the Philippines. In order to swiftly provide aid, AAR sent staff to the area beforehand. However, because the typhoon weakened during its course, and because people were now more conscious about preparing for disasters, the scope of the typhoon's damage was limited. As such, we deemed emergency assistance as unnecessary. 

In the event of any future disasters, we hope that the PWD data AAR compiled last year will help in ensuring adequate assistance to PWDs, as well as the prompt evacuation of those in wheelchairs.

Our Philippines operation came to a close in December, 2014. We sincerely appreciate your kind support.

Kazuya OMURO, Tokyo Office
Between April and December, 2014,  OMURO led the wheelchair operation in the Philippines, using his skills as a physical therapist. He says, “I know that PWDs are usually the most vulnerable in disasters, so it makes me happy to know if I have helped them become more prepared.” He is originally from Kyoto.

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Mariah Gomes
English editing by Ms Aline Thalong 

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.