By Meldred Matol as told to Rhonda Hirst, Illustration courtesy James Dimanarig
Joey caught my eye because of his contagious smile and positive attitude; and the fact that he walked on his elbows and knees. For the last 25 years, this is all he has known.
My name is Meldred Matol and I am 34. I grew up in Tacloban City as an active member of the local community. I have worked for World Vision for nine years.
When typhoon Haiyan thrashed my hometown, I was in Bohol responding to the needs of earthquake survivors. As soon as the typhoon hit, I was desperate for news regarding my family. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I found out they were okay, but at the same time, my heart was heavy understanding what had happened to my town; to my people, my friends.
I left for Tacloban the very next day and have been at the Haiyan response ever since. I met Joey in 2014, as World Vision was providing shelter and livelihood support to many members of his community.
As I saw him walking along the rough terrain of his community, I could see by the smile on his face that he was not disempowered. But when I got to know him more, I found out how much he missed out on as a child because of his disability.
As a child, Joey would go to school carried by his little brother. By grade six he was independent and couldn’t face being carried. He is strong-willed and proud. He no longer attended school, but started weaving coconut leaves as means of contributing to his family’s income.
In my line of work, I meet many people that need assistance. When I met Joey, I was reminded of the statement, ‘Let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God’. I just felt compelled to help him.
I began coordinating with the Local Government Unit of Dulag, Leyte through the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office. I was campaigning for Joey to be considered as a recipient of a wheelchair, as I knew that they had budget to help those who were differently-abled.
I kept calling and visiting their office to follow up the assistance for almost a year. Sometimes I wanted to give up, but I was reminded that Joey needed the help.
Late July, 2015, Joey left his village for the first time. He hopped in a van, and drove past the main town that his family and friends spoke of. Accompanied by his grandmother, they drove all the way into Tacloban City, passing a brightly lit shopping centre and passed through the town area, bustling with activity. He was on his way to receive his wheelchair.
He couldn’t believe this day had come. He told us that his heart was pounding from happiness.
The wheelchair doesn’t only provide Joey independence, but it is a symbol of hope, opportunity and promise.
Now, I have encouraged Joey to pick up his studies where he left off. He has the means to travel to and from classes, get a good job, and one day start a family.
I asked him what he plans on doing, now that he has wheels, and he was telling me about being able to attend the local disco. It reminded me of how limited his options were before.
I am really happy that Joey now has the freedom to independently roam around his community and beyond. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him.
About the author | Meldred Matol is a response worker from Tacloban who has spent the last year and a half responding to the Typhoon Haiyan disaster.