One of the blessings this year is being able to fulfill my dream of being a freelance writer. Operation Compassion made my dream of helping out Typhoon Yolanda victims a reality.
Operation Compassion (OC) Philippines is an NGO helping disaster-stricken communities such as those struck by natural calamities. OC flew me to Leyte late May this year to see the rehabilitation programs they have begun since last year. Before flying down South, I did not know what to expect from the place. Much of what has been televised was the devastation, but now I go here to witness one thing the world has clamored over to give them: hope.
Right off the plane, we got to work immediately by visiting the preparations made for the banca-making training session in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Philippines).
Typhoon Yolanda destroyed thousands of traditional outrigger boats (bancas). In order to restore the source of livelihood of the fisherfolk, WWF donated resources to create fiberglass boats, which is more environmentally-friendly than donating wooden boats because it eliminates the need to cut down trees. The fisherfolk will not only be compensated for the boats they create after the fiberglass boat-making seminars, they were also educated about environmental sustainability and boat-making technology.
Families affected by the typhoon lost their homes to the winds of Typhoon Yolanda. During the first weeks, they lived in fear of looters and criminals, of more disaster coming their way, of depleting food provisions and even for the health of their young ones. Some families were forced to live in tents and evacuation centers for an extended period of time, packed closely with other families. Relief, mobilization and rebuilding of permanent homes take time.
The answer to this dilemma has been transitional shelters. OC collaborated with organizations in order to provide shelter for disaster-stricken communities. Using lightweight materials such as sawali, or woven split bamboo mats commonly used to construct nipa huts, and solar light lamps for lighting, a family of 7 can fit comfortably into a home before moving in to their permanent homes.
Transitioning families are encouraged to cultivate vegetable gardens right at their backyard to promote food sufficiency. Most of them do not have a background prior to planting, and have learned via trial and error and even sharing tips from NGOs and among their neighbors.
These greens have beautifully peppered the communities and families are able to source out their vegetables right outside their homes. The typhoon has also allowed the soil to be rich in minerals, making the plants grow faster and healthier.
In order to combat malnutrition among transitioning families, OC conducts a 6-day-a-week meal in the afternoon. Pre-school aged kids get to eat homecooked meals every 4PM to help assist their nutrition intake. Mothers are also involved in the food planning and preparation. This has become a regular meeting place for the kids to share meals with their neighbors and playmates.
The toughest times can truly bring out the best in people. When I roved around the transitional shelter sites in Mayorga and some areas in Tacloban, I have heard stories of hope and sharing not just from international organizations but among typhoon victims who by themselves are only trying to rise up from the effects of the disaster.
In one site, a landowner lent her land for free and for an indefinite period of time in order to house her neighbors who used to live near the coastal areas. Neighbors actively rebuild each other’s homes and livelihood, sharing with each other the provision given to them. And finally, kids are finally back to school and playing on the streets like they were supposed to.
The trip to Leyte was a surprise blessing for me. Like many others, I’ve planned on flying to Tacloban to volunteer or donate relief goods. Close friends have organized themselves to donate goods and cash to typhoon victims, we have even held an Ultimate for a Cause, a Bazaar for a Cause, and lots of other creative means to rebuild disaster-stricken communities. I was really lucky that I got to see the place where all these efforts go.
At one of the houses we visited, Kuya Ricky and I were able to minister to a home. Even though the visit was not planned, Tatay and Nanay served us with the best that they had — noodles, bread and some spread to go with it. We really wanted to refuse their hospitality, but they also ended up picking squash and upo from their backyard garden for us to take home.
Social Work stripped down
I am also blessed by the lives of the social workers who have dedicated their lives improving the lives of others. I used to think social work is easy because of the philanthropic high — the good feeling that comes from helping out. But in truth, social work is far from comfortable or convenient, but absolutely necessary in this country where apathy can take over.
It takes a lot of smarts, guts and drive to leave home and develop strategies day in and day out knowing that the living conditions of big communities depends on your work. I have huge respect for these heroes whose names may go unpublished but have served the country without second thought and much fuss.
I hope that true to MacArthur’s famous line in his famous landmark here in Leyte, that I will also be able to return to Leyte.