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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Sendong flood survivor Chita Sabinay, 17, was on the verge of tears and at a loss for words when she received a college scholarship for her two-month-old son who was born inside a UNFPA vehicle.

Although it will take at least 16 more years before her son, Carl Wyne Limen, benefits from the scholarship sponsored by the Asian College of Science and Technology (ACSAT), Chita is already thankful that her son will have the opportunity she didn’t have.

Chita’s schooling was interrupted when she got pregnant at age 15 with her first child. She was then in second year high school. She decided to stop not only because of her difficult condition but also because she did not want her pregnancy to be the subject of hushed talks in school.

When she gave birth, her hopes of going back to school dimmed further because of her new responsibility. All the more when she found out she was pregnant again with Carl Wyne just after her first child turned one year old.

Chita’s family was among those who lost their homes to the massive flooding brought by tropical storm Sendong (Washi) in December 2011. She was seven months pregnant then.

Last February 10, Chita had her very first prenatal check up when UNFPA and its partners conducted a reproductive health medical mission for pregnant and lactating women at the Xavier Heights evacuation center in Barangay Upper Balulang, where Chita’s family was temporarily living in makeshift tents.

Because she never had a check up before, Chita was uncertain how far along the pregnancy was but she told the doctor she was eight months pregnant. The next morning, Chita experienced labour pains. By an unfortunate twist of fate, the barangay health station at the evacuation center was closed on that day, a Saturday, and the community midwife was away on a mission.

Xavier Heights is a remote area and far from the main road, so transportation is not easily accessible. Fortunately, a UNFPA staff and a youth volunteer were doing coordination work at the evacuation center. Upon learning of Chita’s precarious condition, the UNFPA staff immediately got her onboard the UNFPA service vehicle to bring her to the nearest hospital.

Chita, however, gave birth along the way – at 9:55 a.m., to be exact – assisted by her mother who came with her, and the UNFPA volunteer who happens to be a nurse, inside the vehicle. Mother and baby were immediately given proper medical attention as soon as they reached the hospital.

Chita’s experience proves once again the importance of providing vital reproductive health services during a humanitarian situation since women do not stop getting pregnant or giving birth under such circumstances. In fact, reproductive health services are even more critical in a humanitarian setting as the medical care is disrupted and risk of deaths from infection and complications become higher for both mother and child.

During a recent visit to Cagayan de Oro City with Ambassadors Stephen Lillie of the United Kingdom and Ivo Sieber of Switzerland, UNFPA Country Representative Ugochi Daniels met Chita and her baby and presented gifts to both mother and child for providing a special meaning to the UNFPA humanitarian response to the flood survivors.

ACSAT Registrar Juliet Maurin, NSO Region 10 Director Salvador Aves and UNFPA Country Representative Ugochi Daniels present their gifts to Chita Sabinay (3rd from left) and baby Carl Wyne (carried by Chita's sister) in a simple ceremony in Cagayan de Oro City.

In a simple ceremony, the National Statistics Office (NSO) also presented to the mother the official birth certificate of her child. “This is his passport to life,” NSO Region 10 Director Salvador Aves said as he awarded the birth certificate and a well-baby package for Carl Wyne.

The ceremony was highlighted by the awarding of the four-year college scholarship to the baby by ACSAT, represented by Juliet Maurin, the school’s registrar in Cagayan de Oro City. When Carl Wyne is finally eligible for college, he can enrol in any ACSAT campus of his choice.

Chita could only mutter “thank you” but the sound of her voice and the tears that welled up in her eyes expressed the rest of the words that she wanted to say for the overwhelming shower of blessings her child received.