Resilience and positivity in the Philippines

by ShelterBox | @ShelterBox | ShelterBox
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 10:56 GMT

PANAY/PHILIPPINES. March 2014. Members of Agsam community moments before the celebration they held when ShelterBox returned to carry out the final tent inspection (Matt White/ShelterBox).

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

ShelterBox Response Team members working on the island of Panay in response to Typhoon Haiyan have been inspired by the resilience and positivity shown by Filipino families.

At first glance, life on Panay has returned to some level of normality since Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall across the central Philippine islands. The main streets around Pontevedra Municipal Hall are busy, vibrant and full of life; a real sense of ‘business as usual’. Trees that were stripped have new growth, roads are clear and tradesmen are rebuilding.

However, on closer inspection you can still see clearly the destruction and devastation that was left by one of the most powerful typhoons in living memory. Some houses lean precariously at 45 degrees whilst others are nothing but a pile of debris. Schools and sport centres bore the brunt as their large tin roofs were stripped and still hang hazardously. ShelterBox has been working relentlessly with the island’s local communities to identify those individuals and families who have been unable to rebuild and are desperate for a place to call home.

Families forced to split

To the east of Pontevedra Municipality lies an area of low-lying, coastal wetland; a series of small islands surrounded by manmade fishing ponds. The community of Agsam inhabited one of these small islands and for years collectively worked for a large fishing corporation. When the fishing corporation went bankrupt, the families were forced to split; some returned to the mainland and others tried to eke an existence on the island.

In August 2013, as part of a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the community was given land ownership of the island and a chance to form a unique farming cooperative. However, their plans to build a new future were halted when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the region.

‘Yolanda was different… stronger’

‘It was horrible, Yolanda [what Haiyan is known as locally] was different, it was stronger than any other,’ said Eddy Apolinario Jr., the community captain. He explained how the families on the island fled a kilometre to the nearest elementary school. Their houses were devastated and the families spent the next two months sheltered in a concrete school building.

ShelterBox provided hand tools, solar lights and shelter for 46 families.

‘We were overwhelmed by the resilience and strength of the community,’ said SRT volunteer Matt White. ‘Within four days, the group cleared and levelled nearly an acre of overgrown vegetation. Having trained members of the community, the group quickly installed all 46 tents with incredible accuracy and attention to detail.’

‘Hope and courage’

Tragically, Milagros Araque, mother of three, lost her husband during Haiyan whilst he was overseeing the islands fishing ponds. Her hope and courage was inspiring. Her eldest son Jules, at 14 years if age, insisted he took the day off school to put-up the ShelterBox tents and help create a new start for his late father’s community.

The Response Team returned to the island to carry out the final tent inspection and was greeted by all 46 families with a feast. The sight left the team speechless.

‘It was a celebration of hope and a new start for the community of Agsam,’ said SRT member Greg Rogers. ‘I wish every ShelterBox donor, fundraiser and volunteer could have attended the celebration. After deploying over ten times, I didn’t think I would be speechless after seeing tents go up but here was different. I was left feeling overwhelmed by this community’s strength and gratitude, a moment that will remain with me forever.’

ShelterBox have worked in partnership with United Sikhs to provide long-term shelter for the community of Agsam. The families will likely remain in ShelterBox tents for the next six months whilst United Sikhs support in the design and construction of permanent homes on the island.