Inspiring Women Long After the Tragedy

22 March 2016
Through the voluntary work of these women and with support from local government, the Women-Friendly Space in General MacArthur, Eastern Samar continued to exist long after Typhoon Yolanda. (UNFPA/Arlene Calaguian Alano)


Disasters often leave pain and grief to survivors, especially for women who bind families and communities together. But for some, the way to recover is to focus on the lessons learned from the experience and use the learnings to help other women in the community recover from tragedy.

This is how many women survivors of Typhoon Yolanda look back at the tragic experience more than two years later.

Marie Guareno, 43, and Rica Matiga, 22, both from the municipality of General MacArthur in Eastern Samar, were recruited to support the work of Women-Friendly Space (WFS) that was set up in their town in the aftermath of Yolanda.

The WFS was among the UNFPA-supported interventions of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) which ensured that women had access to services and information on the prevention and management of gender-based violence during the crisis. The WFS in General MacArthur continues to exist long after Yolanda through the voluntary work of its facilitators and the local GBV Watch Group, with support from the local government.

Marie was president of a local women’s group and was tapped to become one of the facilitators for the WFS in 2014 because of her capacity to organize women in her community. She dealt not only with domestic violence cases but also human trafficking.

“I saved a 13-year-old girl from being trafficked by an illegal recruiter. I am happy to see the girl in school now. We don’t have enough for my family’s expenses but when I have small amounts to spare, I give her some to make sure she goes to school,” says Marie, who has seven children.

“I am proud of myself because I was able to help a lot of women in our community. My awareness on GBV has also improved my relationship with my husband and children,” she adds.

Rica, on the other hand, became a part of the GBV Watch Group in her village. As such, she supports activities of the WFS to raise awareness about GBV and joins other watch group members in conducting foot patrols in villages to provide additional security for women and girls even at night.

“Women are comfortable approaching the watch group members when it comes to GBV issues because we are visible in the village, they know us and, most of all, we are also women,” Rica says.

Her involvement in GBV awareness made an impact not only on the lives of women she has helped but also on her own.

“I used to be invisible, nobody listened when I said something. I stayed home and did not care about anything else but my husband and child,” Rica recalls. “But now, women would compliment me for being so young yet able to handle GBV sessions. Self-confidence was a skill I learned from the trainings I attended.”

In fact, her work to empower women has led her to make the major decision to go to college this year so her family can have a better chance of living a quality life.

“I am 22 and already a mother but it will not prevent me from going back to school. I can speak better about empowerment of women if I am able to demonstrate it and be an inspiration to other women,” she explains.

Being part of the system that protects women and children during the Yolanda crisis and beyond meant many things to both Marie and Rica. But if there’s one thing they would agree on, it would be that the experience was life-changing for them and other women.