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A Survivor’s Story: Risa and How She Lost Her Mother

Stories like Risa’s are heartbreaking. However, they help bring us a little closer to understanding the trauma of those who lost everything in Typhoon Haiyan. Please take a moment to read and share Risa’s story. 

Rain beat down upon the tin roof of the tiny house in Tanauan, Leyte, and the wind began to blow through the trees and walls of the house. Risa climbed into her bed after a long school day and an evening spent doing chores with her parents. Her mother came and sat down on the bed beside her, and Risa said, “Mama, the wind and rain are so loud, I’m scared.” 

“There is nothing to be afraid of, my sweet little Risa, for I am here with you always”, her mother replied, as she ran her fingers through her daughter’s silky hair, and leaned over to kiss her goodnight. 


How could little ten year old Risa have known that this would be the last time her mother would tuck her in at night; that she would never again feel her mama’s soft, warm lips on her face or hear her soothing voice, telling her, “I love you, my sweetness.” Had she known that history’s most powerful typhoon would sweep away the joy of her life in the morning, she would have wrapped her arms around her mama and never let her go. She would have told her everything in her heart that she always longed to say, and told her over and over again how much that she loved her more than anything in the world. As her mother sang softly, Risa’s eyes grew heavy, and she finally drifted off to sleep.  

Early in the morning, she was awakened by the howling wind, and her parents running around trying to tie their windows shut and prepare their house for Typhoon Haiyan, which the Philippine news called Yolanda. Suddenly, a wall of water, eight meters high, slammed into her house, and Risa fought to push her head above the water. Her two brothers swam to her and the three of them grabbed a log floating by, holding on for dear life. In the distance, she saw her father up in a tree, and she screamed, “Mama … Mama, where are you?” Frantically, turning her head to the left and right, she finally caught a glimpse of her beloved mother, as a wave pushed her under and carried her away forever. 

Three weeks passed, and all of the bodies that were found in her town were buried, along with Risa’s hope and the pain in her heart. Now, she sits all day, her soul wrapped in trauma, and tries to remember her mother’s face. When her house washed away, so did all of her pictures and belongings. Now she struggles to keep the memories of her mama from drifting away too.  

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One day, as she sits near the road with her Auntie, a team from Just Projects International and ORA International comes to her neighborhood, bringing relief supplies and asking questions. They notice the sadness and pain written on the face of Risa and take the time to talk kindly with her and her papa, and listen to her Auntie tell her story. 

A week later, they return to bring food to her family and to bring her a big stuffed bear. As Risa hugs her new fluffy companion, she hears them telling her papa that they are preparing a new house for them to move in to, so that they can begin to rebuild their lives. Soon she will also learn that JPI and ORA will be establishing a safe haven for children like Risa; a place where they can go each day to learn, to gain medical assistance, to find help to overcome their trauma, and to play and restore some of the joy of their childhood.

Nothing will ever take away the pain and sorrow of losing her mama, but somehow, the love and kindness of these people, and the help that they are bringing to her and her family are renewing a spark of hope in her heart.  

Help us build more homes for families like Risa’s and establish additional safe havens.