* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
It’s a scene of contrast in the Philippines. Whilst heavy rains hamper relief efforts even more in Tacloban, the hardest hit area by Typhoon Haiyan, families on the small island of Kinatarcan are nestling together in their ShelterBox tents, putting up picket fences and calling them ‘home’.
‘During the storm old folks cried, men were scared, mothers tried to protect their children as well as possible and babies were born,’ said Joewe C. Ilustrisimo, a Kinatarcan habitant who assisted ShelterBox with its aid distributions on the island.
Two-month Yole was one of those babies born on the night of the storm. Her mother Hazel named her after Typhoon Yolanda, what Haiyan is known as locally, as a tribute to the storm that created a miracle out of the destruction. ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Anne Seuren visited Hazel who now lives with her husband and two daughters in a ShelterBox tent.
‘Hazel recalled being more afraid of the typhoon than giving birth, and for anyone who has given birth knows that must be a scary thought,’ said Anne.
The ShelterBox tent is more than just a tent to Hazel and her family, it’s Yole’s first home.
‘This tent is our home’
‘We are so happy with the ShelterBox tent because when we came out of the midwife’s house we didn’t have a house anymore to go back to,’ explained Hazel. ‘Now this tent is our home.’
The interior is immaculate. The family have built a beautiful wooden bench for the tent, hung curtains to give Hazel some privacy while she is breastfeeding Yole, set up a neatly organised pantry for their food as well as a dresser with decorations and family momentos. Shoes are never allowed inside and the kids know they are not allowed to play in the tents. Many other families on the island follow suit and beautify their tents into real homes knowing that it may take some time to rebuild their houses again.
As Yole’s older sister plays outside with a self-made kite, Hazel shows Anne and SRT member Eric DeLuca where their permanent home will hopefully be built one day.
‘We would like to build a new house now,’ said Hazel. ‘But it will take almost a year before we have enough money to buy building materials.’
Families restore hope after losing everything
Eric is impressed by how the families here have made the most of their shelters and remaining surroundings:
‘It is heart-warming to see how much care these families put into their tents and how beautiful the landscaping is on their sites. Small picket fences have been made from destroyed coconut trees, patches of grass have been added to form a ‘lawn’, and many of these families have better maintained gardens than I have at my house back in the United States. It’s little things like these that help families restore hope in their lives after they’ve lost everything. It’s obvious that on Kinatarcan these families are not just living in tents, they are living in homes.’
‘Love, spirit and sense of community’
‘It has been a real joy and emotional experience to witness the love, spirit and sense of community that lives on this beautiful island,’ said Anne. ‘We leave knowing that the global funds raised by ShelterBox from caring donors towards the families on various Filipino islands are used in the most significant and effective way that is providing shelter to those who have lost everything during the typhoon.
‘I am pleased to know that families here, including Hazel’s, have a safe home for their children to grow up in as the whole community recovers.'
Meanwhile heavy rains relentlessly pour down on the Philippine island of Cebu where the hardest hit area of Tacloban struggles to recover. SRT member Sallie Buck is there and describes the contrasting scene:
‘Devastation in Tacloban is mind boggling’
‘To me there is a difference between Kinatarcan and Tacloban. It is much more urban and densely populated here and we haven't seen the sun in five days. It has been torrential rain for the past four days, it really hasn't let up. Eric and I visited a couple of areas that had received tents just before Christmas and it really made us realise how awful their situation is. The land is quite low lying and the tents are in a pool of water. The land is quite close to the sea and the people have been traumatised by the storm surge as they didn't know what a storm surge was so didn't take the warning seriously.
‘The devastation in Tacloban is mind boggling, and two and a half months on it is still pretty awful; piles of debris by the roads and often no where to put a tent because the land hasn't been cleared yet. Now on top of that the rain is incessant and beginning to flood. Their human spirit is being sorely tested and yet they still smile and say thank you for coming to help them!’