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Super Typhoon Rai, the third-strongest storm ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere, touched down in the Philippines in December 2021. Thousands were forced to flee their homes, and to this day, many remain in dire need of necessities, including food, water, electricity and sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services.

UNFPA has been on the ground in the Philippines since the typhoon struck, working with partners to support women and girls and provide critical services in the aftermath of the crisis. Kai Jimenez is the Gender-based Violence Coordinator and focal point for the hard-hit province of Southern Leyte. Learn more about her journey to UNFPA and what it’s like to walk in her shoes below. 


Meet Kai

About 10 years ago, while researching the topic of women’s economic and political empowerment for her Master’s thesis, Kai visited urban and rural poor communities in the Philippines, her home country, and came to a critical realization.

“I learned two important things: that believing that women have the right over their own bodies is the first step to believing they deserve a fulfilling life of political, economic and social empowerment,” she says, “and that these higher forms of empowerment cannot be achieved if the most basic rights of women and girls - their right to life and to live free of violence - are not even guaranteed.”

This line of thinking helped bring Kai to UNFPA’s doorstep. And when an opportunity to work for the organization presented itself, Kai jumped at it. 

For more than three years, she functioned as a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Programme Officer with UNFPA Mongolia. Then, earlier this year, she transitioned to a new role in a new place. Now, as the GBV Coordinator and Specialist for the Super Typhoon Rai Humanitarian Response of UNFPA Philippines, Kai is coordinating and overseeing UNFPA’s GBV interventions in Southern Leyte.

Addressing the aftermath of Super Typhoon Rai 

According to Kai, instances of GBV began to increase soon after the typhoon struck.

“The high number of internally displaced people left many vulnerable to violence, and we were hearing stories of GBV happening in overcrowded multi-family homes and evacuation centres,” she says.

To make matters more complicated, the destruction wrought by the storm made essential services such as psychosocial counseling - already difficult to access - even harder for GBV survivors to reach. With psychologists and psychiatrists in short supply, patients were sometimes forced to travel two to four hours and wait up to three months for an appointment.

Knowing survivors needed better access to these life-saving services, Kai and her team helped set up three Women and Children Protection Units (WCPUs), with support from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, which cut wait times considerably for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS).

UNFPA’s response to Super Typhoon Rai has also included the deployment of emergency mobile maternity modular facilities, dubbed Women’s Health on Wheels (WHoW) clinics. These women-led facilities are designed to reach remote areas and to provide rapid response services to women in dire need due to climate disasters and other emergencies.

Kai remembers visiting a local health station in the Municipality of Saint Bernard - one of the only edifices in the village to remain standing - that was still running labour and delivery services, despite suffering damage from the storm and lacking resources. To augment this care, UNFPA stationed a WHoW clinic at the health centre for weeks, offering women from the area maternal health care and information and services related to family planning and GBV.  


On mission in the Philippines in March, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem toured a WHoW facility in Southern Leyte. There, she spoke with a new mom, Mariel - the first to give birth at the clinic - who gave her newborn a name with particular resonance for UNFPA. 

“Mariel beamed as she showed me her healthy one-month-old,” Natalia said in recent remarks at the Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS. “She proudly told me she named her daughter Heart Eunne Faye - Heart because she was born on Valentine’s Day, and Eunne Faye in honour of UNFPA.”

What it takes 

Kai says that working in the GBV space - especially amid a humanitarian crisis - and maintaining the objectivity and emotional compartmentalization required to do her job can be taxing. She relies on candid and informal debriefs with colleagues to help her process complex experiences and transform feelings into actions.

And to stay motivated, Kai heads into the communities she works with as frequently as possible. 

“These interactions help me remember the very real human lives behind the numbers and aggregates we see on our screens,” she says.

Six months after the typhoon’s landfall, communities across Southern Leyte are rebuilding. But Kai says that while UNFPA has made great strides in providing women and girls in the province with critical services, longer-term issues - such as a rise in adolescent pregnancies and continued barriers to care for more remote populations - still need attention.  

In the meantime, Kai calls on colleagues to share resources, good practices, innovations, and lessons learned to help UNFPA improve its interventions. She also points out how important it is for staff to work towards a sustainable future. 

“Taking our commitment to ‘Green the Blue’ seriously is another way to show support for many Country Offices providing humanitarian response to natural disasters, [like Super Typhoon Rai],” she says. “We need to do our part to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to improve the climate resilience of the communities we work with.”