By Anton Mari H. Lim Published permission Rappler This is part of why I volunteer for the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation . . . Judy Vorfeld As efforts in areas hard hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) now slowly take a turn from delivering immediate relief to putting in place mid-term recovery and long-term rehabilitation plans, help is much more needed from all of us. It was only a month after Yolanda devastated the islands of Central Visayas that the gravity of destruction and the rehabilitation tasks became clear. And with attention fading, the worst that could happen is for everyone to forget that our countrymen in that part of the Philippines are still pretty much in crisis and need our continued support. Hope sails My heart was gripped with sadness when I saw two fishermen in Bislig, Barangay Tanauan, Tacloban City, paddling off the shore with so much effort on a boxy banca (boat). Upon closer look, it appeared to be a refrigerator. Apparently, the loss of others became their treasures, at least for a moment. One fisherman said, “ When you lost everything, the worst might just be the best.” Cryptic as it sounded, looking at the refrigerator banca, he made a valid point. The ravaged fishing village was left with 90% of its fishermen with damaged or lost boats. One of the fishermen recalled that the storm surge came so fast and strong, they did not have time to move their boats to a safer place, “I did not think about our boat anymore. I just wanted to save my family and move to a higher ground.” Another tragic story is that of Ferdinand “Nick” and Doris Quita’s family. The Quitas have four kids. They lost all of them to typhoon Yolanda. Doris emotionally recalled the conversation she had with one of her daughters the night before the super typhoon made landfall. According to her, while the family was gathered in the living room, her second child Megan cheerfully approached her with a drawing she herself made. It was a sketch of a happy family of six. Then out of nowhere, Megan asked her mother: “Ma, what if all of us your children die? What will you do?” Doris, caught by surprise said, “What are you talking about? Please don’t say that. If I lose all of you, I’d rather die. There’s no point of living without you. I might as well just commit suicide” Megan interrupted her mom saying, “Don’t do that mom. You are not going to be in heaven with us if you commit suicide. We will not be complete. Don’t worry mom, I’ll take care of my siblings and we will come back.” “Those were the last words of Megan,” Nick said. “My heart breaks every time I wake up, realizing that all of my children are gone. But my wife and I need to be strong for each other,” Nick added while struggling to hold back his tears. With so many people still missing, the couple said they are still blessed to have recovered all 4 bodies of their children. For the fishermen with similar stories, what makes it even harder for them now is to survive when the boats they rely on to put food on their tables and to earn a living are also gone. It must really take a courageous heart to wake up everyday to a vast view of destruction that reminds you of what’s taken away from you. But to many of the survivors of Yolanda, life has to go on. That is exactly the situation in most of the communities including in Tinagoan, Basey, Samar, where we met Jimmy Palagar. Help is still very scarce in many areas and these people are fighting hard to survive every single day. Jimmy, for example, recovered two refrigerators, tied it together and turned it into fishing boat. I tried to understand the strength they’ve shown after a tragedy of such magnitude. Perhaps it is not because Filipinos are naturally resilient, but maybe because to be strong is the only option left, for them and their loved ones to survive. Adopt-A-Fisherman Project The people were a little unenthusiastic when I told them that we came to help and replace their lost or damage boats. They lamented that most of those who came and promised them help did not actually come back. I understand their hesitation but we let them know that the world cared about them. After Typhoon Pablo smashed Davao Oriental in December of 2012, Yellow Boat Of Hope (YBH) Foundation through a Davao-based NGO (KINSABA) launched a project called Adopt-A-Fisherman. Its aim is to help fishermen by providing them with boats so they can go back to fishing and provide for their family. We have since turned over 168 boats in the province. In the aftermath of Yolanda, an estimated 120,000 fishermen lost their boats. The number did not come as a surprise considering that most of the affected communities are in the coastal areas where fishing is the main source of livelihood. Through the generosity of donors, YBH continues to provide boats to severely affected families. So far, more than 200 yellow boats of hope are now under various stages of construction and project partners around the world already committed another 200 boats. The cost of a self-paddled boat ranges from P8,000 to P15,000 ($200-$350) depending on the community. A motorized boat costs between P20,000 to P30,000 ($470-$800). While hundreds of boat will soon be ready for turnover, thousands of fishermen still need boats. Let’s rally together to restore their dignity as fishermen, one boat at a time. Like all the yellow boats that bear the name Bagong Pag-asa, all the fishermen need is a spark of hope that the fishing boat represents. For them, a boat is hope and hope is a boat that will sail them through this phase of their lives. To learn more about the Adopt-A-Fisherman Project and how you can help and support this endeavor, please visit the project’s website. It is a no-brainer that efforts must focus on helping these families bounce back to eventually rebuild their communities. Perhaps, if we become one not only as Filipinos but also as citizens of this world, and stand together for those who are weak yet able enough to pick themselves up after a fall, moving forward may not be as hard after all. Debriefing In my second trip to Tacloban City, I felt anxious. The first time I came to Tacloban to assess the situation a few days after the destruction, I went home with indications of downward spiral depression. According to a family member, I became very reactive and impatient with things and, in a few instances, I raised my voice at home and at work. I admit that after that trip, I become so anxious about so many things and with what I witnessed. The difference from watching it on television and to actually be there and see the amount of destruction first hand is unthinkable. I can’t imagine what it was for those who actually came face to face with the wrath of Yolanda. I remember seeing people walking aimlessly with nothing but a backpack or a plastic bag on their hands during my first trip.They were like “walking dead,” it is so heart-rending to witness. I was so overwhelmed that I often stare blankly at random moments. As a veteran calamity responder, I have not seen anything of this gravity. I looked around and found nothing left to build upon on, no pieces to pick up. What troubled me the most was the fact that what we have is so big of a problem I didn’t know where to start and how to get help for these people fast. It is like a knock out blow after the Zamboanga crisis and the earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu, which we have not fully recovered from yet. After finally admitting to my self that I needed help, I underwent a debriefing. On the side, I went to work with foundations I am involved with - Tzu Chi and Yellow Boat Of Hope. The debriefing sessions did not really make me feel any better because my mind was somewhere else. I was hearing them but actually not listening. It was all a blur and a buzz. I was even offered a prescription for anti-depressant but I refused. Surprising of all, after a few days of visiting communities and talking to people who displayed tremendous amount of faith, the heaviness I felt for several days was lifted. I realized that these people have all the reasons in the world to be depressed, yet they are fighting back hard with determination everyday even if there is not much left to fight for. Most of them are homeless but they are definitely not hopeless. In the end, what I really needed was to see the glimpse of hope that sparkles in the eyes and smiles of the kids, the courage of a mourning mom who lost her children, the ingenuity of a father who paddles a refrigerator banca and the resilience of the people whose spirits are not shattered. Truly hope radiates in their midst which shows that the Filipino spirit is stronger than typhoon Yolanda. As I watched the fishermen paddle off the shore in refrigerators-turned-boats, I thought that these people have not given up hope. We should never give up on helping them. Find original Rappler article at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/46612-the-ingenuity-of-the-filipino-spirit
By Joan Cybil Yao November 13, 2013 at 2:17am I need to tell you: The typhoon was worse than any of us could ever have imagined. The Philippines receives 20+ typhoons every year; floods, landslides and partly-blown off roofs are par for the course. Believe me when I say we have never before seen the likes of Yolanda / Haiyan. I need to tell you: Everyday, I read the news and reports from the field, thinking we’ve reached the bottom of suffering and despair, only to find new depths. Just when I think my heart can’t break any further from the stories of loss and tragedy, something new turns up to break it all over again. I need to tell you about the bodies decomposing on tree branches, under piles of rubble from collapsed houses, in churches, on the sides of roads, wrapped in blankets or straw mats. I need to tell you that the news cameras cannot show their faces – features frozen in fear as they died. I need to tell you about the storm surge – the 6-meter wall of water that rose out of the sea, rushed several kilometers inland and crashed over every building and house by the coastline. You need to understand that our nation is made up of 7,107 islands; nearly everything is by the coastline. I need to tell you how the storm surge swept in and out four times during the typhoon. Imagine the tremendous force of the sea, surging forward, crushing walls and foundations – and then that same force, sucking everything back in with it. I need to tell you how children were pulled from their mothers’ arms; how people clung desperately to rooftops or tree branches as friends and neighbors sped by, drowning or screaming for help; how today, bodies are still washing up on shore. I need to tell you about the woman who had to bury 9 of her family members after the typhoon; about the man who lost 30 of his family members to the storm; about the husband and wife who lost their three daughters, and have only located the bodies of 2. I need to tell you about the man who told his wife to stay in their house because it would be safer there. He found her body after the waters had subsided, embracing their dead son with one arm, and clutching the rafters of their one-story home with the other. The water had risen too high. I need to tell you how the smell of death permeates the shattered cities and towns all along the Visayas islands. How relief workers cannot reach people quickly enough due to destroyed roads, airports, bridges. How even to this day, we do not know the full extent of the damage – communications are still down, particularly in the more remote islands and areas of the Visayas. I need you to understand how helpless we feel – how our boxes of mineral water, biscuits, candlesticks and matches seem like such a weak salve against the brutal violence that nature has unleashed upon our brothers and sisters. I need to tell you I am driven to distraction, wishing there were more I could do. *** At the same time, I need to tell you about the amazing NGOs, universities, corporations and individuals that launched into action immediately after the typhoon. I need to tell you about the telcos that worked around-the-clock to restore connectivity to at least the main hubs in the Visayas. I need to tell you about the large international NGOs that opened their websites for donations and began mobilizing relief services, the day after Haiyan struck. I need to tell you about the universities and schools that have launched various initiatives to raise funds and supplies for the victims; I need to tell you how, from 6am-12mn, there are students and volunteers tirelessly packing bag after bag of relief goods to be sent to the survivors. I need to tell you about the restaurants that have offered to donate their profits for this week to relief efforts; the shipping and transport companies that have offered to pick up and deliver relief goods for free; the various corporations and rich individuals that have made sizeable donations, even without public announcements. I need to tell you about the millions of OFWs whose hearts are bleeding for their countrymen right now; who are almost constantly monitoring the news and social networking sites for the latest developments; who are organizing fundraisers and benefit concerts for the victims and survivors back home. I need to tell you about the generosity of the whole world – millions of dollars in aid, military or medical support from the governments of the United States, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, the European Union, and even our neighbors, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. A pair of young girls in the US set up a lemonade stand to “help typhoon families” – these acts of kindness give us so much comfort and hope during this tragic time. We are immeasurably grateful to be in your thoughts, prayers and hearts. I need to tell you about the Philippines’ negotiation team to this year’s UN Climate Talks in Warsaw, which is pleading with the global community to wake up to the effects of climate change and take preventative action, while there is still time. I echo the words of lead negotiator Yeb Sano, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” I need to tell you about our government officials – yes, I know, some of them are corrupt, and yes, perhaps they have not handled this crisis as well as we would have hoped – but I need to tell you, there are good people in government. There are people who have slept very little since the typhoon hit; they have been coordinating aid efforts; they have been trying to fix roads, assess the damage, restore order, and channel goods/services to where they are needed most. They may not be doing a perfect job, but now cannot be the time to criticize them. They are our government officials, just like the people in the Visayas are our countrymen and women – we must help one another right now; the fingers we use to point blame are better used to pack relief goods or click on the “Donate” box. *** Finally, I need to tell you about Filipinos: We are a happy, easygoing people, who can find reasons to smile, sing and be grateful – even in the humblest of conditions, even in the direst of circumstances. We care a lot about family; that is why 10 million Filipinos spend years living far away from their loved ones, remitting money that will hopefully pay for better lives and futures back home. Most Filipinos don’t have much by means of material wealth, but we make up for it by sharing what we do have with one another. It will astound you, sometimes, how those with the least are the most willing to give the little that they do have. I recall visiting a Gawad Kalinga village once, where our hosts, a poor family living in a 16 sq.m. house, actually spent the little money they had to buy food to prepare lunch for us. This, when their family of four would normally subsist on just a pack of instant noodles and rice each day. When you hear the word Bayanihan (rooted in the word “Bayani”, which is Filipino for “hero”) this is what it means: Being a hero for one another. I can think of no better time for this than now. Published with the permission of Joan Cybil Yao, who says, " I wrote it mainly to process / express what I was feeling and thinking in light of this terrible tragedy."