Climate Justice: A Gift to Every Girl Living in Disaster-prone Areas

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Posted October 1, 2019 from Philippines
Beautiful Bantayan Island in Cebu Province, one of the beautiful beaches in the Philippines

As a young girl, my happiest moments were those times when I was close to nature. That means swimming in the beach or a river, trekking in the countryside, walking on a hanging bridge overlooking a dam, playing outside in the rain, and climbing trees.

Being an adventure-seeker, I discovered I could also reach our roof by climbing to our mango tree’s branches. It was the closest I could get to be near the sky. I would watch the clouds float by as I laid down on the roof’s galvanized iron sheets. I was only ten years old.

Our neighbors thought it was dangerous. I thought it was liberating to feel the breeze of the air and the ray of sunlight. I marveled at the glory of the vast sky and the far view of the Mt. Apo, the highest mountain of the Philippines. I was simply blown away by the beauty of Mother Nature.

When my mother found out, she forbade me to climb to our roof. She cut the branch that gave me access to it. But I discovered another way to be there. Whenever she was away, I would be in that serene place. When I could see her coming home from afar, I would immediately climb down and act “normal”. Nobody could understand it, but being close to nature made me feel alive.

Years later, on June 29, 2011, our family experienced an unforgettable event. A few minutes after I logged out from my online English teaching class, there was a power interruption due to incessant rain. It was almost midnight, but my family was still awake. We could hear a loud sound of what seemed to be leaking water, far different from the pouring rain.

We went outside to check where the “leak” came from. It was dark. From the house, it looked to me as if there were a number of snakes swimming on the road. It was actually rushing water.

I remember thinking we were like in a scene from the movie Titanic when the water reached our front porch, we slowly moved back to avoid being wet, then immediately went inside the house. We didn’t think it was serious. It had never flooded in our village before. Eventually, water flowed inside our kitchen and living room. We hurriedly placed important things on higher shelves. The rush of floodwater increased too fast that it was already above our knees in a few minutes.

By the time we decided to leave the house, we discovered the current was so strong that we couldn’t open two of our exit doors. My father kept pushing the backdoor to open, but it was no use. We were trapped inside. Using her arms, my mother broke one of our windows, the only one without steel grills. One by one, my parents, my three younger siblings, and I passed through our broken window. We grabbed our dog who was howling in fear. The water was almost near my waist. The only solution I could think of was to climb up to the roof.

It felt like we were on the beach or a moving river as we walked towards the back of our house as we cleared the floating objects in front of us. Using a wooden ladder, each of my family members, including our dog, climbed up to the roof. My mother was hesitant. She was afraid. I had to guide her  on each step of the ladder until finally, she was safe on the roof, too. I climbed up after her.

We saw rescuers came around 4 AM. The flood began to subside.  They headed towards the side of the village near the overflowing river. As soon as we came down to our house, it was messy and muddy. It took a month to sort our things out, cleaned the house, and put the salvaged things back in order. Here's the news story.

It was our first flood experience. Later that year, on the month of December, a stronger storm visited the country. Typhoon Sendong  (International name: Washi) inundated Cagayan de Oro City, with more than 2,000 fatalities and $97.8 million in damages.

A year later, on December 2012, while our country was still in the process of rehabilitation for the Washi victims,  a fiercer typhoon came. Typhoon Pablo ( international name: Bopha) is the strongest storm to hit the island of Mindanao with almost 2,000 fatalities and $1.16 billion in damages.

A year after, on November 2013, the deadliest Super Typhoon in the Philippines arrived. Super Typhoon Yolanda  (International name: Haiyan) killed at least 6,300 people with $2.98 billion in damages. 

There were more destructive typhoons that came after the tragic Yolanda, stronger than Sendong and Pablo, always leaving a number of death, damages, and devastation. Our country experiences an average of twenty storms a year.

We survived another series of typhoons in 2017, I wrote about it here

Last year, another set of typhoons came that were as fierce as Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Typhoon Meranti and Typhoon Mangkhut.

This year, our country entered El Niño, a dry spell, causing water shortages across the country. According to the news update, the El Nino season has ended, but the temperature of our climate is still high. As of this writing, a typhoon is visiting the country, but we feel a heat index of around 40 degrees Celcius.

Back when I was a little girl, our country has only two seasons: hot or dry season and cold or rainy season. It was predictable back then. The climate now is not what it was used to be. The weather has become deadly. It is no longer as safe to swim in some rivers or play in the rain. Many of our waters are polluted. There are few trees to climb in urban places.

Seldom can you find children playing outside because together with the erratic climate, our health, in general, is affected. It is safer to stay inside the house to avoid mosquito bites.

The Dengue outbreak continues to claim lives as it has the highest number of patients this year. Studies show that the rise of dengue cases is linked to climate change.

Due to displacement and flooding, victims are vulnerable to communicable diseases. Colds, fever, flu are common. Diarrhea, too, because of water contamination. Last year, there was a measles outbreak. After 19 years of being polio-free, the poliovirus is now back in our country.

How does this affect the girls in our country?

One of the challenges of a girl child in the Philippines is the most vulnerable areas to disasters are the poorest. This means she has no access to digital technology due to limited electricity and telecommunication system. Her education is interrupted from time to time because of the damages to her home, school and even her accessibility. Her parents (if they survived) might lose their livelihood due to damages on farmlands or fishing ports. She could be a victim of sexual violence if she takes shelter in evacuation areas. She could be tricked to grab an opportunity that would lead to human trafficking just to escape poverty. She could be recruited to sell drugs or enter prostitution for easy money. She could be impregnated too early in the “name of (promised) love”.

On the International Day of the Girl, I am calling for Climate Justice. In any form of disaster that strikes our country, it greatly hampers the future of our girls living in vulnerable areas. I truly believe every girl in the Philippines has a resilient, strong spirit. We need nations to stand with her as we cry for climate justice. It is the best gift we can offer her as she plans to fulfill her dreams.




This story was submitted in response to GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.

Comments 29

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Tamarack Verrall
Oct 01
Oct 01

Dear Karen,
How to begin. From your first words I was riveted, reading your story. I hope that it is read, posted, picked up by national and international news. As women we feel and love the power and beauty of Nature, and I loved your description of what it meant to you, determined to get as close as possible to the wind and sky, defying attempts by your mother to keep you from daring to live in it so closely. But then as you described the shift to what climate change has done and continues to do to you, your community and your country, you bring it home profoundly. We hear of, and have heard of climate change damage to people but to know the story of someone so personally, of someone I love and cherish, and to read your extraordinarily written and documented account of the ongoing storms, pollutions and dangers, this is a piece of writing that needs to be known everywhere. What a message to humanity to pay attention and turn this around. Then, dearest sister, you bring it home to heart. How it affects girls. What a message of love to girls, as we approach International Day of the Girl. What a message to us all.
Deep love in sisterhood,

Hello, Tam,

What a valuable feedback you’ve given me! I treasure this so much. Yes, I love to be close to nature as much as I can. I’m more drawn to the countryside than to the urban city. Yes, I believe as women it is innate for us to love nature.:)

Yes, it is devastating how different the seasons we have today compared to my younger years.

What I experienced is not as worse as those who survived Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan and other deadly storms. You would weep if you’d listen to their stories. It’s tragic. My experience is nothing compared to theirs.

Thank you for your kind words, Tam. Love, love, love to you!

Dawn Arteaga
Oct 01
Oct 01

I stand with you Karen. This is a powerful call for global unity on this most urgent crisis. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you, Dawn! Standing with us for climate justice truly means so much. I appreciate you always!

Hope you have a great day!

Oct 01
Oct 01

Hi Karen,

Thank you for continually raising your voice with regards the implication of disaster to the most vulnerable people in the community. Kudos to you!

Hello, Mae Ann,

Thank you, sis. I couldn’t ignore the effects of climate change especially right now we are rationed water supply due to shortage. The source of water in Cebu is drying up.

I hope we could encourage our kababayans to add their voices to our climate change challenges. The more stories, the louder our voices will be.

Thanks again! Hope you’ll have a great day!

Tarke Edith
Oct 01
Oct 01

Hello Karen
What a long historic story of climate change and the girls child.You where futunate to have enjoy nature but you children can not just because of climate change.well dear this issue is face world wide . and I think it should be looked into seriously because it may wasser than this in the near future.l am also praying for this climate justice dear.may be our children can also go out and play.
Thanks for sharing sis.

Hello, sis Edith,

The storms I mentioned above were the recent ones. The effects of climate change can be traced longer that the events we experienced in different parts of the world.

I agree. I hope there will be actions than just global talks. The longer the global leaders delay their actions, more lives are at stake.

Thank you for your prayers, sis. Yes, I limit my children’s time to play outside because of the health risk especially now that there is dengue outbreak.

Thank you for your encouragement, dear. I appreciate you.

Jill Langhus
Oct 02
Oct 02

Wow, what a call to action post if there ever was one, Karen!

Great job!

I think Tam summed up your post in a wonderful way!

I love that you were a rebel, too. I could just imagine LK up on the roof...ha:-)

I do hope that climate change can be reversed so that your sons don't need to be on the roof one day, and that they can appreciate nature as you once did in all its glory without living in fear!! Eeek.


Oct 02
Oct 02

Dear Karen,
Sis. Jill took the word out of my mouth. " What a call to action post". It's so amazing post with attachment to nature.

I think we must all learnt to attached ourselves with nature as you.
Aunty Tam has summarized all beautifully for us. Karen, pls how are your kids doing?

Hope all the family members are kicking and doing great. My kind regards

Hello, Lisbeth,

Thank you for your encouragement and for being an active encourager. Yes, I love to be as close to nature. It breaks my heart that we were not able to take care of it so now it is suffering from climate change.

My children are still so young (firstborn is 6, has special needs; youngest is 2). They are staying indoors now because of the dengue outbreak and poliovirus. I wish they are free and safe to play outside.

Thank you, Lizzy. All is well with us.

Oct 02
Oct 02

Oh wow! There is Polio outbreak again too in your country? In July Ghana also identified an outbreak if the virus too.
Actually I was wondering what could be the cause. That is definitely not good news for us all.
My warm regards to them :-)

Not yet a polio outbreak. I hope not. But we have been polio-free for 19 years now, all of a sudden the virus is back and has affected a number of children already. Yikes!

Oh, sorry to hear about Ghana. I don't know what's happening with these viruses. I hope they die asap.

You're so sweet, dear. Thank you! Hugs.

Oct 03
Oct 03

Me too I hope there disappear. Wierd!

Thank you, sis!

Hello, Jill,

Oh, wow. Is this a call to action? I felt like we’re somehow getting used to these storms that talking or writing about it does not make any impact. But I do hope to add my voice for climate justice.

Yes, I really love what Tam wrote. :)

Haha. Yes, on being a rebel as a child. Now that I’m a mother, I don’t think I want to see my children climbing on roofs, too.

Thank you, Jill. We bring our sons close to nature as much as we can. They love the beaches here. Wow, reversed. I hope so.

Jill Langhus
Oct 04
Oct 04

Hello Karen:-)

Yes, it is! I think there isn't getting any used to it. I think some people turn a blind eye to it and/or justify it, but it's steadily getting worse to me. I just hope the affects of climate change will start reversing soon. That's my hope.

You're welcome, dear. That sounds lovely:-)

Hello, Jill,

I see. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it. I hope so, too. :)

Thanks as always.

Jill Langhus
Oct 09
Oct 09

Hi there:-)

You're welcome:-) XX

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Oct 11
Oct 11

Dear Sister Karen, happy blessed Friday to all of our wonderful brothers and sisters in the Philippines.
What a thoughtful meaningful post here. Yes truly if a disaster in weather, climate and environment erupts in our community and countries we are indeed going to meet many challenges and most will affect us for a life time with zero recovery.
The reason we focus on women and girls in this world is because they are the back and front-bones of society. If girls thrives the nations of the world will reap the good harvest they she sows from the ground up.
Together we continue to educate girls and women globally. The Philippines from what I am told is a country beautiful with many natural rich resources. I have never traveled there but have associates from the Philippines.
Blessed prosperity to our lovely girls and women in the Philippines.
Thank you for sharing Sis Karen,

Sis Queen

Hello, Sis Queen,

What a lovely greeting this is to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and insights. I agree with you.

Yes, the Philippines is a beautiful country that is rich with natural resources. The question is how come the many, if not the majority, are still living in poverty?

I remember one African woman visited here and said, " Why are you poor when you have a lot of greens?". One of the factors is the unending attack of natural calamities here. Even then, there are still beautiful places to go here. I hope you can visit us one day.

Thank you for speaking blessings to us here. I speak the same blessings to women and girls in your country, too! Hugs.

Oct 15
Oct 15

Dear Karen,
The first two paragraphs took me back to my childhood and felt nostalgic. whereas the continuation with the other paragraphs horrified me with the vulnerable situations you suffered along with family and pet, Definitely, the weather is not the same as in our childhood, it became more disastrous than before due to global warming In our country also dengue outbroke this year, which I never heard before in our country, Its the time for taking initiatives for preserving mother nature for our future generation, before it becomes too late.
best regards,

Hello, dear sister Anjana,

It's great to know that we can freely enjoy nature as a child. I'm glad this post brought some nostalgia to you. Yes, it's really alarming how our weather has changed today. I wish my children could enjoy the same environment we had before.

I agree, dear sister. Thank you so much for your uplifting words. You are an awesome encourager!

Oct 17
Oct 17

You are welcome my dearest

Nov 21
Nov 21

Dear Sis Karen,
This is a beautiful and well crafted piece. You pour your heart and humanity into every piece. I can relate to the shift in climate change as the weather which used to be just two rainy and dry season here has also drastically change to an unpredictable clime.

I am glad you and your family survived that first flood and the subsequent ones which followed. It warms the heart that your tree climbing skills were just as instrumental in helping you and family climb to safety.

Your last message is profound. Something that needs to be heard loud and clear all round the world. Climate change and injustice sure affects women greatly.

Keep on writing and inspiring.

Hello, Sister Arrey,

You are such a smart woman! You truly get what I was trying to convey in this post. Climate change does affect us all. I hope you stay safe there.

Yes, it was very instrumental to lead my whole family to climb to our roof. It was a memorable experience for all of us. I'm not sure if our dog remembers it.haha.

Thank you for always sending beautiful comments, dear. Have a great weekend!

Nov 22
Nov 22

Dear Sis Karen,
I am pretty sure the dog remembers lol
Thank you too for the ever ready kind comments.
Keep writing and inspiring.
Happy weekend to you too.
With Love,

Hahaha! I hope so, dear. You're welcome, and thanks again! Have a great week! Love and blessings!

Mojisola Adewumi

Hi Karen,
Thanks for sharing.
I quite agree with you that Climate justice is a clarion call for all, particularly its impact to girl child.