Last of a series by Ariel C. Hernandez, [Written late in the evening of January 16 until the wee hours of the morning of January 17, 2012]
Ayi and Belle Hernandez, as well as their kids, were among the victims of Typhoon Sendong as floodwaters submerged their home. They saved nothing but themselves. How they made it out alive, how they coped with being among the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the lessons they learned along the way … are in this series of essays by Ayi.
At this very moment a month ago, I was already asleep. Just came from a good dinner with Kaloy in our favourite restaurant in the city. On my way home, I could clearly recall I called up Kaloy and told him this must be a strong typhoon when I saw trunks of the trees scattered in the street near the cathedral of St. Augustine. I failed to check though the water level in the river as I drove around Rodelsa circle. And then at around 12:30….
The story I wrote of the events 30 days ago was a shared story of loss of lives and properties, shared stories of despair and hopelessness, even a shared question why it happened.
Thirty days after, we hear real stories of shared pain among survivors. This is what is slowly evolving from the psychosocial support sessions, which was conducted by a group of volunteers from Basilan to the women and mothers of the tent community in Indahag. I don’t want to share their stories here, not only because I might not do justice in retelling their stories, but because I want to point out more the evolving reconstruction of social capital amongst the survivors. A very big step indeed from an atmosphere of despair and of hopelessness, indicated in the survivors’ blank stare toward the horizon, to a positive comment of “Hay salamat nakaistorya na gyod ko sa akong gibati” (Thanks so much now that I have expressed what I felt deep inside). And in the midst of crying of some, the other women would say, “Sige lang ihilak lang na, ayaw kabalaka” (It’s ok to cry, don’t worry).
Thirty days ago they couldn’t muster the strength to cry in front of others and get strength from one another. Maybe it was not because they were not ready to share then. Maybe they can now speak of their horrible experiences because they have already undergone psychosocial debriefing. And just yesterday, the whole community was treated to haircut and massage. Maybe 30 days after, with this bright light coming out even at a slow pace, we will not hear of another suicide case or additional confirmed psychosis case from the survivors.
Thirty days after, Balay Mindanaw stands very proud of the unfolding of the reconstruction that is unseen but can only be felt when you are with the flood survivors on the ground. Thirty days after, the huge volume of distributed goods, materials and other things becomes more meaningful with this development. Thirty days after, the guiding line “We refuse to be victims, we choose to be resources” is being materialized in the Indahag tent community. Thirty days after, we successfully shielded ourselves from negativity and from developing the finger-pointing attitude. Thirty days after, the whole family of Balay Mindanaw, through the guidance of Kaloy, will be ready to recast its mission of “Helping Build Empowered Sustainable Communities. Helping Build Peace” to “Helping Build Empowered Sustainable Communities. Helping Build Resilient Communities. Helping Build Peace.”
Notes and Reflections:
While we have this very positive development yesterday, today the whole nation will focus its attention to the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice. Starting today we will witness how the interest of this country will officially wane down from the survivors of Sendong. As I mentioned in my previous article, this journey of rebuilding and recovery will lay in the hands of Cagay-anons and other like-minded and like-hearted individuals and institutions. I believe this is the best time to tackle the details of recovery and rebuilding. Here are some of my additional thoughts:
Community Participation in Designing the Permanent Housing and Rebuilding
As things are getting clearer, the task of rebuilding the most important process – the participation of the survivors in the design of their rebuilding process – is seemingly being forgotten. As it looks, the famous service providers are too excited to offer their services of physical rebuilding while forgetting the most basic ingredient of a successful and sustainable rebuilding efforts. While there seems enough money cashing in most of the concrete and tangible investments, the funding for organizing and facilitating this critical process to ensure that these rebuilding efforts will not be owned totally by the national government and INGOs but also by the survivors. I have yet to hear a story or witness a process, that a service provider consulted the survivors as co-owners of the process. As of today they are still being treated as beneficiaries. According to Arthur Neame, these processes look tedious at the start but this will actually prevent future problems, especially in the building of permanent housing for the affected families.
Community Participation in Designing their Livelihoods and Income Generation Activities
While most of the survivors lost their houses and belongings, their skills and capacities are still intact. The need to come up with a profile that shows their skills, their entrepreneurial biases and experience, their interest to be trained on certain skills that are of high demand based from industry leader dialogues. The data can be used in a dialogue with them. In a carefully designed process, we can use the data in a project that is relevant to their needs not only as community but also cites individual preference for entrepreneurship ventures.
The process to dialogue with them should not only be limited to what they can do based on their interest and skills but also the important process of knowing if they are ready to be productive once again after losing a home or, worse, losing and missing a family member.
Community Detection of Serious Sendong Related Stress
I remember listening to the Galing Pook finalists last November 27 at ISO in Ateneo de Manila and my attention was captured by a presentor who talked about local government innovation of capacitating its community to do detection of possible mental/psychosis cases after a disaster.
According to official data by DSWD, there are 38,000 families affected by Sendong involving 229,000 persons. Of this, 5,400 families completely lost their homes. Deaths in Cagayan de Oro is now estimated at 1,275 and 500 more are still missing. Meanwhile, after 30 days, so many of the living are still staying in the very congested evacuation centers inside school grounds, parish grounds and barangay halls. Those whose houses were partially damaged have started going back to their homes.
With a large number of families affected and have undergone trauma in different levels, it would be important to capacitate community leaders to detect serious cases of stress.
Building Resilient Communities in Mindanaw
With the reality of climate change that brings more violent typhoons to places that never experienced them before, the need to build resilient communities becomes a must. With what happened last year and until the opening of this year, the challenge to build resilient communities is equally as important as helping build peace in Mindanaw. Resiliency comes in many forms, but as a start, disaster risk reduction (DRR) related literature would cite three levels. First is resiliency as a buffer, second as a way to bounce back after a disaster, and third as a transformation not only for the communities affected but also to the local and national policy makers.
Daily struggle and self reminders:
I still get easily irritated 30 days after. Sometimes I simply wanted to shout to someone. The thought and pressure of rebuilding is still of great concern to me. For example, it will be the first time for me to get a bank loan to build a new home in the next three months. It has been resolved in the family that we will not go back to the old home that is still to be fully cleaned, if not repaired, in the next few months. The thought of raising resources have been dominating my mind since Day One. Then the next minute I have to work on deliverables I have left out because of what happened. Then I get reminded again of the other small things that also need attention. The details can go on and on without limit. Almost every minute, I keep on reminding myself of my choices. The choice of staying positive and strong amidst the crisis is an important choice I made. Armed with self-processing capacity that I learned and developed since YOS days, it has been a very helpful tool to sustain the most basic decision to be able to navigate and be on top of the situation when things are bleaker than they look. It has been a meaningful journey to “acknowledge the feeling” and to fully believe that “this too shall pass” with the little help but meaningful assistance from family and friends. Looking back, the phone calls, the emails, the tap in the shoulder, the donations, both financial and material, are of so much value that are stored in deepest part of my soul. I told a friend, now I know how to be there when a friend or an acquaintance will undergo a crisis like what we experienced as a family.
Teaching the kids how to find their way to school and how to get back to Balay Mindanaw
Since the Alterra and the Dmax pickup are still in the shop for repair and cleaning up, my brothers readily offered their cars for temporary use. Last week I decided to return the vehicles to experience how it is commute again, at least until our vehicles get repaired and cleaned up. The most difficult decision though was for the kids to find their way to the school and for them to hitch a ride with their classmates on their way back. Before Sendong, they were very lucky kids since we made sure they will be brought to school and, if time permits, we fetched them from school, too. I didn’t have this luxury as a kid. Itay or Inay didn’t accompany me to school. I walked alone in my grade school and in high school I had the luxury of riding the tricycle. Early on I was already a bit independent, not by my parents’ design but because they were too busy attending to their small business so they could provide for their children. As a parent, initially, it hurt me seeing the kids go to school late because they now have to commute. But I know deep inside this will be an important stage in their growing up years that they will never forget. And later, when they look back at this stage in their lives, this will be a source of pride as they learned to independently find their way to school, and back.
A pleasant surprise
Ninong Dan, who was a survivor of Ondoy, visited us today. Without announcing he came to visit and shared light stories and his encouragement that we will soon recover from the disaster. His simple act of kindness touches me deeply. How I wish I can also be so kind like him.
Challenges up ahead and temporarily letting go of some yearly ritual
By next week, a certain level of normalcy is hopefully achieved. Work-related backlogs will slowly disappear as we catch up with them in due time. I terribly miss the Gingoog Kalambuan Center, and hoping that it will be fully completed this first quarter so the operationalization of Global Mindanaw Polytechnic can take off as early as possible. I might forgo deep sea fishing in Siargao this coming Holy Week, which has become a ritual for me for three years now. It might not be a good time to fish in the sea fronting the Pacific while the new house is under construction. But I will definitely miss the moment to dialogue with my God while in the rough seas.
While I choose to forget what happened, or what might have happened, 30 days ago, I will pray for the repose of the soul of those who perished from the deadly flood. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let their perpetual life shine upon them… may they rest in peace… amen….
For those who until now still have missing family members, I pray that they will have the courage to continue the search, and have the strength to face the possibility that they may never again see their loved ones.
For those who lost confidence, may they be surrounded by friends and families who will be by their side ready to support the survivors in any way.
“Frustration is not the good reaction”
“In the theory of Evolution, everything is possible”
“Disarmament is not only a dream, it is a nightmare unimaginable”
– BGen. Romeo Caliso