Philippines: Six Months After Haiyan - From WFP Beneficiary To Store Owner

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the Philippines, provided cash assistance to the most vulnerable families affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan. Noemi Kho, a widower and a mother, shares her story on how the money she received helped her family rebuild their lives.

PALO, LEYTE – Noemi Kho is a sari-sari store (mom and pop store) owner and a mother of five children. Like most people living in Leyte Province, her life drastically changed when Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as "Yolanda", devastated the area. The 37-year-old can still vividly recall the events of that morning. 

“My brother, who lives in Manila, was watching the news closely. He called me a day before Yolanda was supposed to make landfall. His warning gave my family and I enough time to evacuate to my cousin’s two-story house,” Noemi says. “Unfortunately, the arrangement embarrassed my husband, Jaime, so he decided to leave with our two sons. I thought they left for the convention center.”

To Noemi’s horror, her husband and their sons decided to return to their house instead - something Noemi only learned of when one of her sons sent her a text message that their neighbour’s house had just been washed away. 

“I was so worried for them! And it grew to fear when I could no longer contact them. My son showed up a few hours later at the doorstep. He was wounded and barely clothed.” 

When Noemi asked her son where his father and brother were and what happened to them, he couldn’t answer. He just didn’t know. 

“He told me that they were washed from the house and sought refuge by a tree, where they held on for their lives. The strong waves had separated the three of them. He told me that he thought that was it for them, that they would see heaven soon,” Noemi recalls. It was at this moment that Noemi left her cousin’s house to search for her loved ones. “I didn’t care if the rain kept pouring, if the wind kept blowing! I needed to find my family!” 

Noemi came across her other son in the same state as the other. But there was still no trace of her husband. They kept searching for Jaime until night crept in. “He was a good swimmer. I kept thinking that if my children survived, so would he. But as the days passed, it slowly began to sink in. I might never see my husband again.” 

Noemi found Jaime’s lifeless body the next week. 

“I couldn’t muster the strength to look. I just didn’t want to remember him that way. I wanted to remember his smile and his laugh, not like this.  It wouldn’t be fair to both of us,” the widower says, tears forming in her eyes. 

Life after Yolanda was initially very hard for Noemi’s family. “I had to live with the passing of my beloved husband. My children truly missed their father, but there was little time to dwell and grieve for our loss,” explains Noemi. “We had lived with my cousin for three weeks until we moved into a makeshift house. But when strong rains returned, we decided to move into the bunkhouses provided by the government.” 

Like most families during the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, Noemi and her children were living off relief goods provided by WFP and DSWD. “We were grateful for the food assistance we received. There were no markets open at the time. If there were goods available, the selling prices were too high. Getting the food when we did allowed me to feed my children,” Noemi says. “Being a normal Filipino family, we consume a lot of rice, and I have 5 mouths to feed. I was able to save a lot of money thanks to the relief goods.”

Through DSWD’s 4Ps Programme, WFP was also able to conduct cash assistance activities and reached about a half a million beneficiaries. Through these cash assistance projects, families across the Haiyan-affected areas of the Visayas Region were able to purchase vital food and non-food commodities to help them rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the super typhoon. 

Noemi and her children in front of her store

Noemi's sari-sari store.
Photo: WFP Philippines/ Anthony Chase Lim

“I’ve been under the DSWD’s 4Ps for 3 years, and it has greatly helped my family throughout these tough times,” Noemi smiles. “I was delighted to find out during a barangay (village) orientation that WFP would be providing an additional PhP 1,300 (approximately US$30) through their Cash Assistance Programme. It’s through this additional amount that we’ve been able to purchase my family’s needs as well as reopen our sari-sari store for additional and steady income.”

From relying on relief goods, Noemi is now a proud owner of a newly reopened store. Typhoon Haiyan may seem like it was only yesterday, but the six months that has passed illustrate how the people of Leyte have been able to get back on their feet and are now making new memories.