Text by Evan Tan
Photo by SOS Children’s Villages
It took a storm to destroy – and unite.
Before Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful natural calamities to hit the Philippines, pummelled Tacloban, the city was a shining beacon of progress in the region.
In 2008, the city, under Presidential Proclamation No. 1637, became one of Eastern Visayas’s highly urbanised cities, joining the ranks of Biliran, Eastern Samar, and Leyte. A 2010 survey by the Asian Institute of Management also placed the city as one of the Philippines’ top ten most competitive cities. Tacloban’s poverty rate, at 9 per cent, is only a third of the national poverty incidence.
But that was before November 8, 2013.
Haiyan’s death toll is different, depending on who you ask. The official count is at 6,201 people. Some say it is closer to 8,000. The UN reports that 1.9 million people were left homeless. The city had been ravaged in a catastrophe reminiscent of the typhoon which also hit Tacloban and neighboring provinces in November 25, 1912, which left 15,000 dead and wounded.
With the rest of the world watching, help was not far away. The disaster brought people together – from the capital city, Manila, and from countries including Singapore, Australia, and the United States. International aid organisations swooped in to assist people to rebuild their lives.
But unlike other international NGOs, SOS Children’s Villages was not an outsider coming in: the organisation had already been working in Tacloban since 1970. For decades, it had been providing support to families and children from its second Philippine location – in Milagrosa, a community just four kilometres away from the city.
Workers from the organisation understood perfectly the situation the people suffered, and empathised with their needs even before Haiyan hit. And this understanding is what enabled them to address the Tacloban people’s plight, when the community they have been serving for years needed them the most.
Aleah Ortiz, SOS Children’s Villages Fund Development and Communication Director, confides that she was one of the typhoon’s survivors herself. “My house was one of those that were totally damaged. But I thank God that my family was not in Tacloban when the supertyphoon hit the city.”
As a way to express her gratitude, Aleah passionately joined her fellow workers from SOS in assisting fellow survivors, especially orphans. Aleah takes pride in the SOS’s KINSHIP Care Program, which supports children affected by Haiyan, especially those whose families were taken away by the typhoon.
“We are serving 121 orphaned children in this programme,” Aleah notes, saying that one of their missions is teaching them that they must not be hopeless.
So far, SOS has built 11 Child-Care Spaces in Tacloban, which provide children with therapeutic activities such as as storytelling, art, and games, as well as a safe place to play with children their own age. They also get psychosocial support from trained professionals to help them recover from the trauma of the storm.
SOS also reports that an estimated 2,500 girls and women have benefited from their efforts.
“One story that motivates me further to bring aid to Tacloban is a family that I brought to the evacuation center the day before the supertyphoon hit the city. They asked me what to do next once their houses, livelihood, and everything were gone.”
Knowing that it takes a village to raise the children left traumatised by the calamity, Aleah understood the need to rebuild the community that the children will grow up in.
“Our short-term aid was to provide livelihoods to the families that were devastated by Haiyan, which was our first and immediate intervention to the survivors.”
SOS supplied fiberglass boats and other fishing equipment to fishermen who lost their tools, and simultaneously taught various technical skills to other survivors such as fruit and vegetable vending, fish vending, food vending, carpentry, and vulcanising. They also established welding shops, poultries and piggeries, and sari-sari stores.
Providing permanent housing assistance is also in the pipeline, Aleah shares. “We built a relocation site called the SOS Prime-town Housing Project for the affected families in the families that were in the No-Build Zone in Barangay Pago, Municipality of Tanauan, and in Palanog 12, Tacloban City, while repairing and and constructing school buildings and facilities.”
Acknowledging that the scaffolding of aid to prop up the community is only temporary, Aleah is keen on seeing that the families and the community can survive after the help is gone.
“We measure success by seeing our beneficiaries’ livelihoods succeed – that they could stand on their own and that they no longer need to rely on any organisation,” Aleah notes. To ensure this, she and her fellow SOS workers conduct area livelihood visitation and make evaluations.
One year after Haiyan, Aleah admits that much work still has to be done. And this is why she aspires to see more organisations coming in and joining SOS Children’s Villages.
“We have to be there to encourage them that life must go on.”
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