AYI ON SENDONG
Very tired but very fulfilled… 22 days after Sendong
Fourth of a series
By Ariel C. Hernandez, Written 9 January 2012
|Ayi with DAI
partners pitching tents.
I cannot remember when was
the last time I felt so tired that I had to exert too much effort to
stand up from bed. I woke up later than usual, violating my New Year’s
resolution of waking up before sunrise. I
realized that the combined heat of the sun and the weight of the
boxes we carried yesterday was just too much that I lay flat on bed
that night and had a very hard time convincing myself not to violate
my promise to myself.
Yesterday, the whole Balay
Mindanaw community joined hands with the Disaster Aid Response Team,
set up the first 40 tents in coordination with the Archdiocese,
DSWD, the local school that generously offered their vacant space,
the barangay government and the office of the Congressman. It was
our first time to set up a tent of an international standard that
can accommodate a family of 8-10 persons.
The positive energy was very
contagious. For instance, loading and unloading the family survival
kits that weigh 63kg each appeared easy to do. The process of
setting up the tents was a joyful experience for everyone,
particularly the first-timers. But as the sun rose with its
scorching heat, reality set in, and tested our resolve. After all,
we were mostly wearing T-shirts as no one thought of bringing their
long-sleeved shirts nor their sunblocks. My two daughters were
joking that I have to buy them whiteners after being exposed to the
sun for at least four hours, gamely showing their arms turning red
while their skin under the sleeves remained light.
It took us six hours to fully
complete the installation, which include divisions for the children.
Everyone was happy with his accomplishment. On a side comment, Ed
Cox told me he has been all around disaster areas but he never
worked with a group who are so obviously happy even though their
skin got burned by the sun. At a distance Kaloy, was happily
observing us and leading the discussion with the barangay
government, the school teachers, and the social action center of the
Parish. Last night he texted everyone: “Congratulations to the
Balay Mindanaw tent building team! You did great today! Padayon….
Not just peacbuilders but also tentbuilders … what a great
evolution! Congrats! Padayon!” The other day with KPMFI he said he
was never so proud of Balay Mindanaw, then he tried hard to hold his
tears, but he failed…. and we couldn’t help but also get teary
eyed and feel proud of him as our mentor and leader.
At 5:30 p.m. the families
started arriving in the tent site. The physical tiredness went off
immediately, we were again in our high energies as families slowly
descended from the trucks. Msgr. Tex Legtimas decided to hold the
Holy Mass outside but as we were setting up, it started to rain. So
we had to move to the chapel. In an unusual manner, he declared a
general absolution to everyone who took communion. As a closing
program, the families turned on the solar bulbs as a symbol of hope
as Msgr. Tex blessed them and prayed upon them.
The Big Challenge Ahead
When the Social Action
workers were calling the names of the head of the families, the real
life stories began to come. I had goose bumps listening to the
stories. For example, there was a woman who still has a blank stare
and disturbingly silent all throughout. I didn’t have the courage
to look at her eyes after I knew she lost five of her seven
children. Belle related she met a couple who survived the flood.
They both lost consciousness as they hang on to the roof. They were
later rescued by the fishermen in Camiguin, 41 nautical miles from
Cagayan de Oro. The sad part, they lost their two children.
Knowing their stories makes
me more worried about how we can fast-track and make our
psychosocial intervention in place and focus the assistance to the
families who survived but lost their loved ones, just like the two
cases I came across. Another story was of the mother who was swept
from Cala-cala to the shores of Opol. She had four broken ribs,
bruises and wounds all over her body. When she recovered
consciousness, she noticed a child with a very weak voice asking for
help. Even with her very difficult situation, she forced herself to
get near the girl and pulled the little one towards her. She heard
the girl’s three deep breaths and thought these were her last.
When the light of dawn came out, she slowly lifted the girl’s
face, only to find out it was her five-year-old daughter. They were
later picked up by a large fishing vessel in the area. While she was
happy to have saved her daughter, she is still hoping her
11-year-old boy is still alive. Until now the father is still
blaming himself on what happened to his boy because he saw him got
lost in the strong current of the flood.
The three cases can easily be
multiplied to 100 if we have to take the case of Sitio Cala-cala in
the barangay where I lived. The most devastated I suppose, the sitio
used to have 250 households. After the flood, only three houses
remained standing, including the house with a red roof house, whose
owner I met yesterday.
If the city has a thousand
dead and another thousand missing, the task to provide psychosocial
intervention is a heavy journey ahead. We cannot afford to hear
another suicide story in the cramped evacuation camps, like what
happened three days ago that caught the whole city in shock. Without
immediate psychosocial intervention, we will be experiencing another
shock in the days to come.
Declogging the existing camps
and settling the flood survivors into a place where fresh air,
including basic necessities, is available would be of great help in
breaking the atmosphere of despair and difficulty. The longer the
delay the higher the potential for people in the camp to lose hope
and be buried in the feeling of despair and will resort to suicide
or other violent options for themselves or toward others.
Post Sendong Relief and Rehab
While we fully appreciate the
help of international and national based agencies coming over to
initially help us, experience would prove that most of these
organizations won’t stay long to take on the most tedious job of
rebuilding the lives of the survivors. The long term and the most
unseen work of rebuilding their confidence – through psychosocial
intervention and making available livelihood and enterprise projects
so they would have something to look forward to, with hope and more
possibilities after a painful loss of lives and properties – is
usually forgotten if not given enough focus.
These two critical points,
including the preparation for another Sendong or maybe something
even more devastating, will be more than just appeal for emotions.
In the long run, these will be the most logical steps, the
most relevant help we can provide the flood survivors. But these
will be the most difficult. Personalities and organizations used to
providing relief goods and announcing to the whole world – using
tarpaulins, signages and other means – what they have done to the
flood survivors may no longer be around for this next phase.
Just like what happened with
Ondoy, it might be logical proposition to set up a Post Sendong
Relief and Rehab Development Fund. With this, persons and
institutions who are helping out in this difficult stage will get to
see that their help will not only alleviate the painful situation of
the survivors, but will rebuild the families through systematic
assistance in terms of pyschosocial intervention, and providing
options for income generation to get them out from the possible trap
of becoming mendicants and beggars, apart from becoming mentally
disturbed individuals. I deliberately took out the discussion of
permanent housing because that again would have a lot of donors who
can advertise their “help” in the structures that will be built.
But when you invest in something strategic, it’s basically unseen
and the results take longer to be noticed. It is thus more difficult
to attract significant number of supporters.
Difficult as it may seem, the
real persons and institutions who are not after “pogi points”
will consider this proposal a viable one and will continue to throw
support in maybe anonymous ways but deeply meaningful contribution.
This fund should be managed and governed by local personalities with
highest credibility and integrity, and those who have shown
leadership during the crisis and are deeply committed to pursue the
most tedious path to recovery and development, because they own the
problem and they want to be part of the solution, however tedious,
Notes on the Kids Thinking
(wearing blue) and Sammi (in yellow) helping set up tents.
After the Mass and the
families were settled in their new temporary shelters, Ate Gabbi
complained with passion why a lot of institutions and persons were
acknowledged even if they were not there when the tents were set up.
I calmly explained to her that they have done their part of
preparing the land and other things and our part was to set up the
tents. Even then she couldn’t agree with the acknowledgment. I
just told her how proud I was watching her burn her skin in helping
out. Sammi was so tired that when the Mass was about to start, she
already fell asleep beside me even though I earlier advised her to
sleep in the car. Later when we went home, she found time to post an
FB message saying “Just set up 40 tents in Indahag. An experience
that can never be forgotten.” Kuya Danni went the following day
and he too had his experience of helping set up another 35 tents,
which will be occupied today. He is not verbally expressive with his
emotions, but you can readily see the happiness in his face. He was
the youngest in the group that continued the work of setting up the
tents. Whatever their complaints, I’m sure they have something to
feel happy because they have contributed to make the lives of the
survivors definitely much better compared to the too cramped
Year of Service (YOS) Annual
Before going home, we passed
by the Archbishop’s House to attend the yearly homecoming hosted
by the founder of the Year of Service Program, the Archbishop
himself, Antonio Ledesma, SJ. As a father/founder of the 21-year-old
volunteer program, he was just there, sitting with the families and
friends of YOS volunteers, attentively smiling and even sharing a
joke with us. It has been my commitment to attend the gathering not
only because I’m one of the oldest – I was part of the first
batch – but because it feels good to touch base, even just once a
year, with a community that has a very strong shared value of
volunteerism, devoting their professional life to the poorest and
far flung areas of Mindanaw for a year. But many of us choose to
live a life based on that experience.
On our way down to go home, I
couldn’t help but smile as I saw kids running and shouting all
over the house of the Archbishop. Sounds like a pre-school
environment, but it’s an Archbishop’s house. But it doesn’t
matter, after all, they are all his “grandchildren,” being the
children of the YOS volunteers who look at the Archbishop as their
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