Children of Yolanda battle malnutrition, disease
TACLOBAN CITY -- During a routine check, health worker Nilda Castil plucked a 7-month-old malnourished baby girl from a hillside community here that survived one of the world's deadliest and most powerful storms 6 years ago.
The infant, weighing just 2 kilos or half the healthy level for her age, was given vitamins at the nearby barangay hall. Castil, 63, oversees some 300 children in the village, who are battling malnutrition and diseases as their parents rebuild from Super Typhoon Yolanda.
"You have to do rounds all the time. Many children here get sick because they don’t have food and the surroundings are dirty," Castil told ABS-CBN News.
Nearly 1,500 of the 2,000 residents of Barangay 43-B are informal settlers. Since the storm's onslaught, they've been earning a living from selling metal scraps, said village chief Teresita Malquisto said.
"You have to really watch out for the children and monitor the parents. Usually, the parents can’t do anything too because they have no money," Castil said.
About 20 to 29 percent of children in the Eastern Visayas suffered from malnutrition in 2017, the National Economic and Development Authority said in its 2017-2022 development report.
This was due to the "poor caring capacity of parents or caregivers, food insecurity due to poverty and presence of infectious diseases, among others," the agency said.
Over half of Barangay 43-B’s children are either underweight or malnourished due to lack of food, said Malquisto.
"What would you expect of their health when most of the parents here earn by selling garbage and working in junk shops?" she told ABS-CBN News.
Two more of Castil's ward's—6-year-old Rainiel Cardona and his 3-year-old brother, Roniel—live just a few steps away from a pigpen.
Their mother, Maria, said she has broken up a fight between her sons because of food.
When Yolanda hit Tacloban, Rainiel was only a 4-month-old baby, Maria said, recalling how she placed her son inside a plastic bag so that he wouldn’t get wet.
"It was really difficult back then because I was still breastfeeding him. I had to drink rainwater to survive," Cardona said.
On a good day, the P150 that scavenging brings home will be enough for 3 meals. On bad days, they make do with as little as P20.
"It’s difficult but we get by. When there’s no food, my sons just go around to ask from our neighbors," she said.
The children in the village also suffer from dysentery or bloody stool, scabies, and leptospirosis, aside from malnutrition, said Castil, the health worker.
"The children get sick either because they have no food or because the surroundings are dirty. It’s poverty," Castil said.
In 2018, nearly 4 out of 10 people or 38 percent in the region were classified as poor, with not enough money for basic needs, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.
Malquisto, the village chief, holds feeding drives every 100 days to help the children gain weight. Parents are also encouraged to plant vegetables, like malunggay, in "food gardens."
The backyard vegetable gardens help wean parents off the habit of feeding their kids P5 bagoong (shrimp paste) with rice, said Castil, the village health worker.
"The food that the children eat here have no nutritional value. The parents’ priority is simply to feed their children to stop them from crying or going hungry," she said.
In the coastal village of San Jose, 35-year-old housewife Mavic Villalino ties the hair of her 5-year-old daughter Angel while her 3-year-old son Kyle plays inside a home they built out of wood scraps and chicken wire.
She gave birth to the two children just after she lost two others to Yolanda in 2013 — Jefferson who was then 5, and Trixie Mae who was 2 years old.
"It’s like God gave them to me as a replacement for the children that I lost," she told ABS-CBN News.
The family usually makes do with P150 a day from her husband Jeric’s income as a multicab driver, not enough to treat her son’s scabies and daughter’s cough.
"I feel sorry for him because it doesn’t look good. I don’t know how he got it. But the medication is too expensive so I just bought it once," she said.
In 2018, a family of 5 in Eastern Visayas needed at least P7,110 per month to meet the basic food needs, the PSA said.
For the Villalinos, the amount is nearly impossible to produce even as the wife sells hotcakes and accepts laundry jobs to earn extra.
"I didn’t even manage to save enough money for a tombstone for my dead children," she said of Jefferson and Trixie Mae who were buried in a mass grave.
Despite hunger and poverty, mothers like Mavic and Maria remain optimistic, saying life became better in some aspects because of Yolanda.
"Yolanda brought more good than bad. Life became better because we were noticed," Maria said of foreign donors who flocked to Tacloban after the storm.
Donations from foreign governments and non-government groups totaled P41.8 billion according to the United Nations Office for Coordination.
Most of these donations were not touched by the government and went directly to the UN or non-government organizations, former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said.
“I’m still grateful. We still have food to eat and I can still care for my children. God still provides,” Mavic said.