Filipino islanders set up 'disaster-resilient' community

Faith-based group provides typhoon victims with storm-proof housing
Filipino islanders set up 'disaster-resilient' community

Construction of an evacuation center on the island of Manicani in the central Philippines is ongoing with the support of church-backed groups. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

When Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines in 2013, Catalina Badocdoc lost everything except for an image of the Child Jesus and copies of the Bible.

Strong winds and rain blew away her home that used to stand a few meters from the seashore on Manicani Island in Eastern Samar province.

What saved the 51-year-old woman and her 13 children was a chapel that sits near her small farm, and her plants. 

Badocdoc says she believes in miracles, but only "if we care to make them happen." The real miracle was her "mini forest" of mangroves, bananas, assorted vegetables, and lemon trees.

"The wind toppled my plants before knocking down the house," recalls Badocdoc. "My forest kept us alive even as the typhoon destroyed it."

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From a window of the concrete chapel, the woman watched her plants trying to weather the storm. "It was sad to see them fall," she says.

Like Badocdoc's plants, her village was devastated by Haiyan; the strongest typhoon in recent history to have hit land.

Most of the houses on Manicani Island, which had over 500 households, were leveled by the strong winds and rain.

The village chapel became an emergency shelter for some 50 terrified men, women, and children.

Badocdoc's family shared whatever they had — dry clothes, fruit from the garden, and space to sleep in — with their neighbors.

It took almost a week before help reached their shores.

After the devastation, not all were as "fortunate" as Badocdoc and her neighbors.

Rufina Loyola, also in her fifties, lost her hut. She tried to seek shelter in a neighbor's concrete house with 15 other people, but it too was damaged by the typhoon.

"No one was hurt, but we were all shocked," recalls Loyola. She described what was left of the neighborhood — a "sea of debris covered with sand and mud."

"All the houses were gone and I could see nothing but a pile of trash," says the woman.

Typhoon Haiyan claimed at least 6,300 lives and at least 2,000 others were declared missing. A "humanitarian crisis" was announced after an estimated two million people were left homeless.

An evacuation center stands in the village of Hamorawon on Manicani Island. The shelter, which was built by Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc., was handed over to the community in February. (Photo by Mark Saludes)


'Long-term reconstruction program'

After a thorough assessment of the disaster, the Philippine-Misereor Partnership Incorporated (PMPI) decided to launch a "long-term reconstruction program."

PMPI is a social development network of people's organizations, faith-based groups, and Misereor, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany. 

Yolanda Esguerra, PMPI national coordinator, says relief efforts developed into a post-disaster initiative that promotes a "sustainable island ecosystem" that is "disaster resilient."

Tao-Pilipinas, a women-led organization of engineers, architects, and planners, introduced what they described as "risk-proof modern houses" that are designed to stand typhoons but are "not expensive to common people."

Some 120 beneficiaries from the "most vulnerable sector" were given free shelter units that cost about US$5,700 each. Misereor funded the project with Christian Aid and Terres des Hommes.

In September 2015, Tao-Pilipinas turned over 40 houses to the beneficiaries on Manicani Island. On April 8, another 10 houses were handed over on nearby Homonhon Island.

PMPI aims to complete the building of the houses by July, but "we want to make sure that every structure will pass our strict quality evaluation," says Francisco Paciencia, the organization's project officer.

Paciencia says the community has been involved in the project "from design concept, bidding of materials, and the construction itself" of the structures. 

Aside from the houses, the organization also allocated US$4,000 for each village to build a 100-square meter evacuation center.

Evangeline Badar, village chief of Bita-ugan, admits that cannot afford to build an evacuation facility. "That's why we always use school buildings as emergency and temporary shelters," she says.

The reconstruction effort, however, is not enough if people are not equipped with knowledge on how to act during disasters.

Melody Asia, PMPI community development facilitator, says people in the community must become their own first responders.

Training workshops were conducted on first aid and basic life support while evacuation drills and communication dry runs were held in the communities.

"We brought the most important aspect of disaster preparedness on the island, information and education," says Father Jiovanni Bandoy, parish priest of Homonhon.

He says the most important thing an institution can contribute to the remote community is "empowerment and self-reliance."

Father Lenox Garcia on Manicani says people must develop a "sense of ownership" because NGOs do not stay in communities.

The priest says "values formation" is a key component in rebuilding communities. "It is essential that we empower people to discern what is best for them," he adds.

"The church will always be at the forefront in reminding our faithful that these gifts have to be nurtured and treasured," says Father Garcia.

Badocdoc says, "life is better" after learning from the lessons of Haiyan. 

As one of the beneficiaries of the PMPI project, Badocdoc has relocated her family to higher ground.

Her new house stands in the middle of her new "mini forest," which has a bigger space to plant. Badocdoc says she continues to believe in "miracles" that she wants to share with others.

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