By BONG D. FABE
Ban-ao Barangay Captain Mera Ching gives out a tearful farewell for Balay Mindanaw on the anniversary of typhoon Pablo, in which the resiliency of barangay was celebrated.
BAN-AO, Baganga, Davao Oriental—“Your help was so great. You helped us stand again. You taught us how to be resilient and to be a resource. We in Ban-ao will never forget you. I know it is not easy for you to travel so far away, but you did and that showed your help comes from the heart. For me personally, I will never forget your help until the end of my life because during those times when I felt so alone, you were my inspiration. That is why I can say that ‘you made me live again’.”
Her last words prompted an impromptu humming of those who know Janet Basco’s immortal love song, as Barangay Chairperson Mera A. Ching paused for a bit to wipe the tears smearing her face during the simple handover ceremony here on the first anniversary of typhoon Pablo (Bopha) on December 4.
An emotional Ching gallantly stemmed the flood of tears from taking over the gathering, reminiscent of the time a year ago when she — abandoned by most of her leaders but propped up by BMG volunteers — led the reconstruction and rehabilitation of her devastated village.
The celebration, aptly titled “Atong Kaugmaon: A Handover of Community Projects and Celebration of the Resiliency of Barangay Ban-ao, Davao Oriental” was BMG’s way of saying its final farewell to the villagers whom it accompanied for a year of journey towards normalcy after Pablo.
“Your journeying with us for one year will never be forgotten. You inspired and encouraged me to go on. But like a parent, you know that we can now stand on our own,” Ching said.
Ban-ao Elementary School Principal Venus Buhat said that the barangay has recovered from the tragedy “due to the help of Balay Mindanaw.” “If Balay Mindanaw did not help Ban-ao, it will be very hard for the villagers to stand again,” she said.
Ban-ao, one of Baganga’s 18 villages, is the hardest-hit barangay in the whole municipality with 17 dead and more than 90 percent of its 520 families homeless with literally no source of income in sight as Pablo also leveled 99 percent of all coconuts. The village’s vast mangrove area, which the DENR was eyeing as an eco-tourism park, was also decimated. But thanks to the resiliency of the mangroves, new growths are seen sprouting to one day realize the DENR and Ban-aowon’s dream. The devastation was so complete that villagers thought they were the only survivors left. This reality prompted 9-year-old Em-Em to mischievously called survivors “leftovers of the typhoon” — a label that aptly described Ban-aowons.
Realizing the enormity of the devastation and the lack of help, BMG adopted this barangay after a quick assessment led by BMG chief Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig and Ariel “Ayi” Hernandez, executive director of the Katilingbanong Pamahandi sa Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (KPMFI), the enterprise development arm of the BMG through the promptings of Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela, battalion commander of the 67th “Agila” Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Baganga.
When BMG’s first official aid and volunteers arrived here on Dec. 8, 2012, “Four Strong Winds” blared on the car stereo as volunteers and village folks cleared the debris scattered all over the place. Now, a year later, the lyrics of Neil Young’s famous anthem played as a tribute to the village folks who have since found their bearings and are “moving on.”
“We lost everything. Our houses, our livelihood and our friends; some even lost their relatives. Nothing is left here,” Ching once said. They may have lost everything, but not their resiliency — their innate strength, talents and abilities to rise to the challenge of Pablo, which they handily won.
Prior to BMG’s arrival, the residents organized themselves and salvaged still useful housing materials to repair what they can of their destroyed houses to shelter them from the constant rains and winds and the searing heat of the sun.
“I often wondered what the overall feeling in this village before Pablo was. But now, the feeling of unity and oneness is so palpable in everyone that I can’t just feel or sense it but also see it in the people, in the way they help each other cope with the disaster,” said Ed Cox, expert disaster response and humanitarian volunteer of the Disaster Aid International (DAI). “Yes, you can see sadness in their eyes. But you can also see there the fire of hope burning. And it is our job, our work, our responsibility to make sure that this fire of hope in them is not extinguished. It is our job to convert this hope into positive action for them to be able to help themselves. That’s the meaning of assistance,” he added.
Thanks in part to BMG — its partner institutions like the DAI, Johanniter International Assistance, German Cooperation Deutsche Zusammenarbeit, and most especially to the thousands of volunteers who were mobilized by the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and the VOICE Network, including the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Philippine Nurses Association, Xavier University and the Sendong survivors of Barangay Indahag — this hope propelled Ban-aowons to rebuild a devastated community and lives, even if it means literally picking the pieces and putting them back together. It was also this hope that led Ban-aowons, led by Ching and helped by BMG, to buy a four-hectare lot in the village as their new barangay site (barangay hall, etc.) and relocation site of 100 families.
As the world focused and pour resources on Compostela Valley, another Pablo-devastated province, BMG poured out its heart on this small village where the super typhoon made landfall. While the world’s disaster and humanitarian organizations poured relief goods on the survivors of other towns and villages, BMG journeyed with the Ban-aowons using its time- and experience-proven approach in all its work.
“Instead of treating the survivors as mere recipients of aid, they are considered as they key stakeholders in the difficult task of community re-building. Our intervention [covered] the whole range of community needs: from organizing to provision of basic needs of food, water, medicines, etc.” Manlupig said. This is the same approach now being employed by BMG in its disaster response and humanitarian work in the earthquake-ruined Bohol and Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)-devastated Ormoc and Panay.
“The main idea is to focus our resources on one barangay at a time instead of spreading them all to the 42 barangays of the three hardest-hit municipalities at the same time. After all, barangay-based and barangay-focused development, disaster response and peacebuilding work is one of our key strengths,” Manlupig added.
Sylvia “Ibing” Okinlay-Paraguya, vice chairperson of the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI), said that “barangay-based rehabilitation [has] once again [been] proven to be a viable approach.” Paraguya, executive director of the Coop-NATCCO, explained that BMG’s approach is very effective because “data comes from the community; needs are identified by them. And community-based assessment has helped them process their own fears of what they went through.”
This “local stakeholder” approach ensured that everyone in the devastated village get a fair share of the resources as well as gave them ownership of their own sustainable future. It was this approach that made Ban-ao a model of an effective disaster response work. This was the raison d-etre of BMG’s Disaster Risk Reduction, Resiliency and Emergency Assistance Mission (DREAM) program, which “facilitated” the “convergence of efforts” of all key players resulting to the rising of the “new Ban-ao.”
“Despite the unfavourable fate we had in the past year , there is always a reason to celebrate a new life, a new beginning,” said barangay chairperson Ching.
And for BMG, its journey with the people of Ban-ao is a great learning experience.
“BMG learned a lot from its journey with the people of Ban-ao, and this has greatly helped us as we began our journey with the people of Bohol, Leyte and Panay,” Manlupig said. (Bong D. Fabe)