Helmut Kutin Award winners 2015

Merlina Sabela from the Phillipines

On a cold and rainy November day in 2013 Merlina Sabela got up at 05:00 as usual to prepare breakfast for her nine children. Two hours later they were huddled together in the ceiling of their house while Typhoon Yolanda raged around them and flood water rushed through the rooms beneath.

photo: © SOS Archive
Nanay Merlina, as she is affectionately known, made the escape hole in the ceiling herself. But her commitment to and love for her children go far beyond her courageous behaviour during Typhoon Yolanda. If anything, it only highlighted the special qualities of this former day care teacher who has raised 21 children during her 16 years at SOS Children’s Village Tacloban in the Phillipines.

With the sound of the howling wind and the pounding rain in their ears, Merlina encouraged her children to stay calm and prayed with them. When the rain finally stopped, she was the first to leave the ceiling with her oldest son, Nestor, to make sure it was safe for everyone to go down.

While Merlina never cried during their ordeal, she did cry when her children left without her to find temporary shelter in SOS Children’s Village Calbayog. The heartbreak only inspired her to work extra hard to clean and fix her house. It was no surprise that hers was the first to be ready for her children to return. Upon their return Merlina helped them overcome their trauma by speaking to each individually about their experience and assuring them that life will return to normal. She paid special attention to Chloe, a younger girl, who was particularly affected by the disaster.

Read more about the other winners of the Helmut Kutin Award 2015: