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
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.