As international NGOs and funding agencies rush to provide more and more temporary and “transitional” shelters across Samar, Leyte and the regional hub Tacloban City, the people are living a life that could be considered as “the new normal”.
Only about a week prior to the first anniversary of Yolanda’s epic devastation, President Aquino approved the rehabilitation plan for typhoon-stricken areas. That’s the first thing about everything in “the new normal” — the people have to patiently wait for the terribly slow pace of official rehabilitation efforts and would have to live longer in tents and in “transitional” shelters of various types.
After seeing a meters-high storm surge in their neighborhood, dozens of residents of Barangay 62 have since signed up to be trained as Emergency Response volunteers.
“The new normal” is also positively more coping with the situation well over a year after Yolanda. For example, in Tolosa, Leyte, hometown of the Imeldific, over 30 women’s associations have sprouted eager to do business, endlessly organizing and training themselves but still yearning for needed capital for businesses such as peanut butter-making.
The Women-Friendly Space set up by Plan International Philippines, with help from various donors, has helped empower Tolosa women’s first steps towards emancipation: Discovering their common situation and common aspirations. Only time will tell how and how soon they would succeed. In a space of a year, the WFS has graduated from a tent structure to a semi-permanent one at the town plaza.
Tolosa’s WFS also cradles a community organization of teens to likewise empower themselves through collective efforts and indirectly keep traffickers and prostitution syndicates away as well as to keep them preoccupied and not think of premartial sex which has made Tolosa one of the province’s hotbed for teenage pregnancies.
Elsewhere, Child-Friendly Spaces have sprouted to help take care of children as parents tend to rebuilding what remained of their shattered homes.
We were told that students of Taytay Integrated School (TIS) in Guiuan, Eastern Samar were ecstatic and excited over the unveiling and opening of their seven new classrooms.
By the time we got there, we didn’t know they were this excited: Marjorettes and a drum-and-bugle choir, clad in garish pink, greeted us as we arrived in TIS.
Our visit to TIS is easily one of the highlights of the media tour and my own #RememberHaiyan Diaries because the students were obviously the stars. Students ran the event program and literally and happily ran to their new classrooms when authorities and donors declared them officially open.
TIS students together with friends from two other schools also collaborated for what could be their first book project, which featured their own artwork on each page, telling the stories not of resilience but of rising again and rising beyond the wait, the want and the neglect.
The long travel from Tacloban to Guiuan was worth it seeing the students sign their autographs on my copy of their book and to pose for photos as they showed their art work.
Deliberately skirting Tacloban, President Aquino went to Guiuan days later and announced that the new deadline for the repair and reconstruction of schoolhouses and classrooms has been reset to June 2015. No word as to how the the pupils and students would have to cope between now and June 2015. The implication is that it would be seven more months in temporary classrooms for many of the brightest sons and daughters of Samar and Leyte.
We also met new, truly admirable friends in one of the barangays of Burauen town in Southern Leyte, situated a kilometer away from from the main road and hidden from view by lots of trees. Barangay is home to a caboodle of Young Reporters who, armed with handheld video cameras, have come up with their own reports of what Yolanda meant to them and how they are coping with the situation months after.
The Youth Reporters of Barangay Villarosas have attended trainings this year, and have used their new skills and their innate talents to produce short videos on how Yolanda affected them and their friends, and their dreams moving forward.
A new normal: Making do, coping with
The Plan media tour gave me snapshots of how the good people of Samar, Leyte and Tacloban – especially women, kids and teens – are coping with what happened to their region a year after Yolanda. They are really just like all of us: Scarred but always with a ready smile, easygoing but tough, devastated but quickly on their feet. Very Filipino, as every Filipino is a survivor of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
The new normal they live is one where they find daily reminders of what happened to them, and the need to get on with their lives and live a better life. Compared to most other areas though, Eastern Visayas is peopled mostly by landless farmers and fisherfolk, market vendors, minimum-wage earners. It was a situation of want even before Yolanda, and so we could only guess what they went through in the first few weeks and months after the supertyphoon hit them.
Most of them are gracious in giving thanks and compliments to all those who helped them – just like any Filipino. We were told and we saw actual signs from many places I saw how they thanked those who provided emergency relief. Well, that is our duty and the good people of Eastern Visayas and other devastated places don’t actually owe us anything except a round of thanks. On the other hand, we owe them our full, continuing support as they build a new life.
Let us continue to speak for them in Manila and other places, tell authorities to speed up the rehabilitation, provide the necessary funds for the building of new homes, schools, roads and other important infrastructure; as well as initial capitalization for small businesses and entrepreneural projects. Let us press for an explanation why many good folks in Eastern Visayas have been deprived of permanent shelter. These are not doleouts. These are essentials in a place we sometimes forget to have been among the poorest in the country even before Yolanda. If they get going and get the basics, it is good not just for them but for all of us. When they rise up in a big way, it carries the whole country. If they are deprived and made to only cope with official incompetence, lack of empathy, ugly and vindictive politics, well we all get deprived of something as important as national recovery.
(Acknowledgment: Thanks to Plan International Philippines for inviting me to join its media tour. The international NGO provided airfare, airport transfer, accommodations, land transportation, meals, and the itinerary for this media tour. The view expressed in my posts are my own, except for the quotes directly attributed to spokespersons of Plan International Philippines and other possible sources.)