Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Where's Mavie?

Post by Angela Singh, Press Officer, Plan International

On her recent trip to the Philippines, Press Officer Angela Singh heard of Mavie, a young girl who was introduced to Plan through her participation in the child-friendly spaces created after Typhoon Haiyan. With a keen interest on learning how adolescent girls with disabilities fared though the storm and its aftermath, Angela set out to find Mavie.

It’s been raining for days in Hernani, Eastern Samar, Philippines, yet the community is out in full force today. They’re excited about Plan International’s Cash for Work program, which will provide tools and a wage to community members who want to help clear the streets of debris created by Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to ever make landfall.


With so many people milling about, I am hoping it will make my task somewhat easier. I’m here to talk to Mavie, a 16-year-old girl from Hernani. I’ve been told she lives here, somewhere; I just have to find her.

Hernani is trying to get back on its feet after Typhoon Haiyan tore it apart, yet it’s still a struggle. A stone’s throw from the beach sits the shell of the high school. All that remains are four posts and a crumbling concrete floor. Classes started on January 6, but when it rains, school’s cancelled. Again. With today’s incessant rain taunting us, it seems that’s one less place to look for Mavie.

Arnold Peca, also known as Pykes, has been drafted in to assist with my search. Pykes is a jovial Community Development Facilitator from Plan Philippines, who is warmly greeted by the community wherever we go. Pykes lived in Hernani before the typhoon struck, so I am sure he will be able to help.

One by one, he asks community members, “Where’s Mavie?”

“She’s in the field,” someone says, so we agree to come back later. An hour passes and we’re back.

“Mavie’s in school,” says another lady, clad in a red T-shirt. I say that classes at the high school were cancelled for today.

Instead of answering, she motions up the hill to the yellow elementary school – one of the only buildings still intact after Typhoon Haiyan and the same building where many fled when the storm surge hit. As we venture further into the community, weaving our way between the makeshift huts – crooked refrigerator doors the welcoming point to many of the patched up houses – we reach a vast wasteland of debris. Wood, corrugated iron, televisions, and felled trees surround us, while Pykes tells me bodies can still be found here.

“A mother and baby were found just two days ago – their hands were intertwined,” he says.

It’s heartbreaking to hear, as we make our way up the steep set of steps to the school. Atop the hill, we’re greeted by a rambunctious group of children. “Where’s Mavie?” we ask. “Mavie, Mavie? She’s not here,” they say. “She’s not been here for some time.”

Baffled, we make our way back to the community. She’s not in the field and she’s not at school. As we reach the bottom, we finally find someone who knows Mavie.

We wind our way back through the makeshift village, ducking under clothes that have been hung out to dry, yet are still sopping wet thanks to the rain, until we finally reach a wooden hut, patched up with blue tarpaulin sheets provided by Plan, tiny in comparison to the towering wooden house that now sits precariously at a permanently windswept angle due to the sheer force of the storm surge.
Mavie sits in the doorway of her temporary shelter

“We’ve found Mavie,” announces Pykes.

With a bright red lollipop in hand, Mavie offers a shy smile, slightly bewildered by these two people who have descended on her. We ask her uncle if we can speak to her about the typhoon. “But Mavie can’t speak,” he says.

Momentarily we falter, as Pykes repeats his words, “Mavie can’t speak.”

We discover Mavie was born with a short tongue, so she hasn’t been able to speak since birth. We ask if she would be happy to write down her answers instead and, together with the help of her Uncle Joseph and her best friend Jessalynn, we are able to communicate with the teenager.

Through a combination of sign language and writing she explains what happened when the storm surge hit. As Mavie makes a swimming motion, Jessalyn explains how she was caught in the typhoon. She tried to swim, to fight the wave, but it smashed into her chest and threw her up onto the hill, where the elementary school sits. Mavie points to her feet, with a stabbing motion. Her feet were punctured by nails and she was covered in bruises. She indicates that her grandmother was taken away by a wave, but all she could do was watch.

What happened to Mavie’s parents? Her Uncle Joseph shakes his head as he reveals that Mavie’s mother died of cancer when she was little, while her dad moved to Manila and is seldom in contact.

I am told it took Mavie four hours to locate her uncle. She couldn’t shout or scream for help, she just had to wait until she saw him amid the rubble. I ask how Mavie feels now and it’s clear the typhoon has emotionally affected her. She points to the roof, where the rain can be heard drumming down. When the rain comes, Mavie races up the hill to the elementary school. “It’s the only place she feels safe,” says her uncle.

Speaking of school, why is Mavie at home and why is she still at elementary school? “It’s because she can’t speak and she has to wait until March before she can graduate to high school,” we’re told.

School is a difficult issue for Mavie. She’s a bright girl who can write, yet she’s held back because she can’t talk. Her uncle says she’s been back to school once since it reopened, but it’s not just because of the typhoon. Jessalyn says Mavie is bullied by the younger children, who kick and punch her because of her disability.

As for her future, her uncle says he’s worried as he doesn’t know how she will ever be able to work. But what about Mavie, what’s her dream for the future? For a moment she smiles and picks up her pen to write something. A few minutes pass, as a shadow falls across her face, and she passes the paper back to me. “Hindi,” it reads, the Tagalog word for "no". Mavie’s saying she doesn’t have a dream.

Yet, we’re told Mavie will graduate from elementary school in three months. When we remind her of the prospect of going to high school, she vows to finish her studies – a promise I hope she’ll keep.

As part of its emergency support to communities affected by the typhoon, Plan has provided rice, jerry cans, and hygiene kits to Mavie and her family, essential items to see them through the hardest time immediately after a disaster of this scale. Mavie also visits Plan’s child-friendly space in Hernani, run in conjunction with UNICEF, where she has a safe space to play and receive psychosocial support.

As a young woman living with a disability in a disaster-affected community, Mavie faces even more challenges than most. Plan works hard to ensure that the rights and needs of children like Mavie are taken into account when planning for, and responding to, disasters like Typhoon Haiyan.

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