Faces of UNICEF - "I was talking to my 3-year-old son once and he asked what I was doing in Tacloban for Typhoon Haiyan."

"I was talking to my 3-year-old son once and he asked what I was doing in Tacloban for Typhoon Haiyan."

Q&A With Mike Gnilo, UNICEF Philippines 
Water, Sanitation, & Health Specialist; Tacloban


If you had to describe your job to a 5 year old, how would you explain it?

I get drinking water to people who need it most. I also help people who don’t have toilets have their very own toilet. I teach children and their parents the importance of washing their hands with soap especially before eating and after using the toilet. We do this because children can get sick when their water is dirty or when they don’t wash their hands with soap.

I was talking to my 3-year-old son once and he asked what I was doing in Tacloban for Typhoon Haiyan. I explained to him that I was helping people get drinking water and fix their toilets so they have a place to go potty. After explaining to him, he said, “Dad, are you a plumber?”  I said, “No, I am a doctor.” and he said, “Yes, but I think you’re also a plumber.”

Describe how you became a UNICEF employee.

I am a medical doctor. I was working for a medical NGO during the conflict in Mindanao (Southern Philippines) treating children with acute malnutrition in mobile clinics. During that time, the NGO was exiting the country and I was asked by UNICEF if I was interested to integrate the mobile outpatient treatment for acute malnutrition into the health centers. The challenge given to me was 14 community-based treatment centers and two hospitals in one year. In order to ensure that services continued, I accepted the offer and applied for the post. Since then I have done several posts with UNICEF ranging from Nutrition, Water Sanitation and Hygiene, and Communication for Development.  

What was the most challenging moment?

I would say one of the most challenging moments in UNICEF was during Typhoon Haiyan. I arrived with the assessment team on day three. The devastation was massive and all communication, electricity and water was down. I’ve worked in several emergencies in the past but nothing quite like this one. We flew in for the assessment without even a vehicle. We survived for several days on canned food and trail mix. We treated our own water, we slept in a building partially destroyed by the typhoon, we had to shower in the rain. But this was all worth it when we were able to deliver services to the children.   

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