Going the extra mile

By Meldred Matol, Typhoon Haiyan Response Worker, World Vision

Two years since Typhoon Haiyan came to the Philippines, response workers like Meldred have been working hard to restore normality to people’s lives. The typhoon destroyed homes and livelihoods, and for many people with disabilities, it has also left them feeling even more isolated. When Meldred met Joey, a young man struggling to lead an independent life despite his disability, she knew she could make a difference...

My name is Meldred Matol and I am 34. I grew up in Tacloban City, an area of the Philippines that bore the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan.

When the typhoon came to my hometown, I was in Bohol, one of the neighbouring islands, working with survivors of a recent earthquake. As soon as the typhoon hit, I was desperate for news of my family. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders when I found out they were safe, but at the same time my heart was heavy when I realised what had happened to my town, my people, my friends. I left for Tacloban the very next day and have been with the World Vision Haiyan Response ever since.

I met Joey in 2014; we were providing shelter and livelihood support to the community where he lives. He caught my eye because of his contagious smile and positive attitude; and the fact that he walked on his elbows and knees. For the last 25 years, this is all he has known.

As I saw him attempting to navigate the rough terrain around his community, I could see by the smile on his face that he was happy in spite of his disability. But when I got to know him more, I found out how his difficulty walking had made him miss out on school.

As a child, Joey’s little brother would carry him to school. But by year six he felt frustrated and couldn’t face being carried every day. His pride took over, and he stopped going to school, but instead started weaving coconut leaves as a means of contributing to his family’s income.

In my line of work, I meet many people that need assistance. When I met Joey, I was reminded of the statement - ‘Let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’

I just felt compelled to help him.

I began working with the local government and applied for Joey to be considered for a wheelchair. I knew that they had budget to help.

In late July last year, Joey left his village for the first time in his life.

He hopped into a van and drove past the main town that he’d heard his family and friends speak so much about. Accompanied by his grandmother, they drove all the way into Tacloban City, passing a brightly lit shopping centre and through the town, a bustling hive of activity. Joey was on his way to receive his wheelchair.

He couldn’t believe the day had come. As he sat in the van with his grandmother, his heart was pounding with happiness and excitement.

The wheelchair not only gives Joey his independence, but it is a symbol of the hope, opportunity and promise that is visible as Tacloban rebuilds.

Now, I’m encouraging Joey to pick up his studies where he left off. He has the means to travel to and from classes, get a good job, and one day, start a family.

I asked him what he plans on doing now that he has ‘wheels’, and he told me that he couldn’t wait to attend the local disco. It reminded me of how limited his options were before.

I am really happy that Joey now has the freedom to independently roam his community and beyond. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him.

In disaster situations, people with disabilities often find their lives disproportionally impacted by disruption to vital health services, breakdown of social support networks and increased physical barriers. World Vision and other NGOs are working with communities to reduce the impact of disasters on vulnerable people. For more information about World Disability Day, click here.

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