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Maricel's choice


After Typhoon Haiyan, Maricel had to choose between keeping her children in school or putting a roof over their heads.

Two children work intently in the humid night, pens flying across paper to create an anime warrior, a biped tiger with a smug grin. Above them, walls of thin bamboo are covered with intricate, hand-drawn family portraits, and row upon row of school prizes - art, honesty, obedience, punctuality.

Their mother Maricel stands in a corner, observing with quiet pride. "Every day I thank God I've been given such gifted children," she says.

Like most families in the small villages of San Isidro, Maricel lives on the extreme edge of poverty. So when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through her village in November 2013, it took almost everything her family had.

"We were getting ready to go to school when the wind became really strong, so we all went and hid in [our aunt] Mama Dulce's house," recalls 11-year-old Mary. "My mum started to cry because she was afraid we might lose our house. We kept on praying that the typhoon would stop."

Maricel was devastated by what she saw. The winds had torn off the roof of their small home, collapsed one of the bedrooms and shaken the very foundations, leaving the house tilted.

In the months that followed, Maricel's husband, a carpenter, tried to replace the missing roof with tarpaulins and salvaged iron sheeting. His income dropped as employers abandoned new projects to cover expenses incurred from the typhoon, so they were never able to afford new materials.

Today, Maricel's family received shelter repair assistance from Red Cross. Along with 1,770 families in San Isidro whose homes were damaged in the typhoon, they collected 10 sheets of high-quality corrugated iron to mend their roof, as well as cash grants of up to 10,000 pesos to purchase other housing materials.

It's not much, but it's quite literally a roof over their heads. The family of five can also rebuild their second bedroom and, through Red Cross, have learned how to reinforce the roof so it is far less likely to be blown off by a future typhoon.

"It is a really great help because now we can repair our home," Maricel says. "I was ashamed when the children's classmates came to our house, because it had no proper roof."

For the last nine months, Maricel has been forced to choose between repairing her home or sending her children to school. She never wavered in her choice, even when the rain poured into their bedroom every day. "School is expensive but they deliver good grades so I really want them to finish."

Today, her long wait is over. She can finally have a house that feels like home again.

 

Photos: Australian Red Cross/Noel Celis