Nerissa Cumpio is one of the bravest women I know. She is loved by all who know her for her ready smile and cheerfulness. Everyone who has worked with Nerissa can testify to her dedication, industriousness, and eagerness to learn new things. Even after an exhausting night with many births and no sleep, Nerissa was always ready to make the rest of us laugh with her quick sense of humor. And the fact that Nerissa was there in Leyte and working at the birth camp at all is evidence of her incredible courage and resilience.
Nerissa didn’t originally plan on becoming a midwife, but went back to school at her mother-in-law’s urging in order to be able to work together with her in the family clinic. The family property in Tanuan (just south of Tacloban) includes a beautiful strip of beach and used to house both their home and Cumpio Clinic, a PhilHealth accredited birth center. The night before Typhoon Yolanda was due to make landfall, Nerissa and her two young daughters evacuated to her grandmother’s home, 2 km inland. Her husband Alex and her father-in-law had planned to stay at the house but around midnight they changed their mind and decided to join the others — a decision that saved both of their lives.
When the storm surge came, it was worse than anyone had imagined or predicted. The grandmother’s home that the family thought would be far enough inland to be safe was swamped and they were trapped for hours in cold, filthy water, holding their children to keep them above the surface, in terror for their lives. After the water receded, the roads were so blocked with debris that it was impossible to return to their home for three days. And when they reached it, nothing was left of the beautiful house and clinic but tile floors covered with rubble. Everything they had owned, from furniture to fruit trees, was gone. When the Cumpios searched the rubble they discovered that their surviving neighbors had already taken anything of value that had survived the storm.
After a desperate week — without communication with the outside world, waiting in relief lines for food and water — a brother-in-law came from Manila to find the family and evacuate them. At that time, they were certain that there was nothing worth coming back for in Tanuan because nothing they owned had been spared Yolanda’s fury. Their lives there had been destroyed by the storm, and they would start over again in Manila.
But when Nerissa was offered a job at the birth camp, she and Alex came back to Tanuan — ready to endure hardship to provide much-needed care for others who did not have the option of leaving Leyte. They came back to live in a UNHCR tent surrounded by rubble and debris and work to rebuild their home and community. They came back to a place where they would be surrounded every day by reminders of all they had lost and endured.
When I met Nerissa, she and Alex and their children were still living in the tent and there were as yet no immediate plans, and no source of funding, to rebuild her Tanuan clinic. Then Mercy in Action (the organization that initially started the birth camp in December 2013 before turning it over to Robin Lim at the end of January) was given a significant donation for Leyte relief work and decided to dedicate it to rebuilding Cumpio clinic. Plans were drawn up and approved, and a Mercy in Action volunteer came to oversee the purchase of materials and the hiring of construction workers. There was only one problem… the funds available from Mercy in Action were enough to buy the building supplies, but not sufficient to see the project through to completion or even to pay the construction workers to begin building.
Before I left Leyte, I was able to give Nerissa money to cover the salaries of the construction workers for the first month of the project. I also committed to find the funding to complete the project — an estimated total of $5000USD. (Matt’s jaw dropped a little bit when I told him about this. I replied that after staying in Leyte and working with Nerissa for a month, I was going to make sure her clinic was completed even I had to use every penny of our personal savings to do it. She deserves this.)
This project will only rebuild the birth center, not the Cumpio’s home. (Nerissa insists, “I really don’t mind living in a tent.”) As I discussed in Part 2 of this series, the Cumpio’s new clinic will be able to provide free care to local residents under PhilHealth’s post-disaster “all-avail” policy. An investment in this birth center (and this inspiring young midwife) will bless the community in Tanuan for many, many years to come. Please consider helping with a donation to our special project account.