Ged’s latest blog discusses the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan and his visit to Daganas.
At least 2 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the disaster and 23,000 houses damaged or destroyed. The final death toll, though well in excess of 6,500, is still incomplete. It was then the second biggest Typhoon ever recorded with winds reaching 195 mph (Hurricane Katrina was 146 mph).
It was the first emergency I had come across in my work for CAFOD. We were soon busy visiting schools and parishes updating people about the response and asking the Catholic community for financial support to help people get back on their feet. Nearly four years on, I am in the Philippines with the chance to see for myself the of CAFOD’s support had helped to bring about.
At the time, I remember the pictures of almost total devastation in pictures from the eastern coastal districts of the country. I spoke to Bishop John Arnold, CAFOD’s Chairman, not long after he became Bishop of Salford after his return from an early visit. I remember him talking about the dignity of the people and how they were just getting on with the massive repair job with smiles on their faces. Filipinos are used to such disasters and, expecting it, somehow seem to rise above much of the worst of such situations and combined with their culture of supporting one another, I’ve found here that things are pretty well back to normal. 20 – 30 typhoons a year are normal (along with 60 earthquakes, plus landslides, volcanic eruptions and so on). The NASSA staff though were deeply shocked at the scale of the havoc the Typhoon wreaked. There were stories of the Government reacting slowly but that wasn’t the case with the Church. While CAFOD raised in the end £5.4m, NASSA was assessing the situation quickly with its Diocesan partners in the affected areas and making sure that people got what they needed and were in a position to use it.
In the time we’ve had, we were unable to fit in a visit to a Haiyan project. However, NASSA had CAFOD money left over after responding to Haiyan and, by agreement with CAFOD, used it to support communities dealing with a similar severe Typhoon in 2015, Typhoon Melor. Last weekend we went to one of those communities, Daganas, near Butan in Sorsogon Province where NASSA worked with their partner Diocesan Social Action Centre to help people get back on their feet.
Jimmy said that before the Typhoon came, 95% of the village were in poverty.
He described the work of NASSA as a great blessing and asked us to thank all the people from CAFOD who had made it possible. “As we are blessed,” he said, “I know God will bless you all.”
Before the typhoon, all of the houses were simple and bamboo structures and the storm smashed many of them to pieces. With money for materials and advice from engineers, local people rebuilt 25 of the houses with Typhoon- and earthquake-resistant materials on solid foundations. Beyond supplying emergency food and water and ensuring the water supply and sanitation in the village was functioning, NASSA’s assessment had included what local people could provide including materials and labour for the rebuilding. We visited one family who had sold their pigs to pay for the roof timbers while NASSA provided them with corrugated steel, concrete and technical advice. Family and friends then rebuilt the house. But the transformation didn’t stop there. Once the community was back up and running, NASSA worked with them to strengthen the community by setting up a self-help group which meets weekly. They now have a credit union with over 140 members which has saved £1,000 since January. Their new ties make it easier for Anna and Conception, the two community health workers who are also Barangay Councillors, to help with child health and to keep adults safer too.
The community lived largely off what grew in the forest that surrounds the village, particularly bananas which were sold at market. The ground is fertile though difficult to cultivate because it’s on a hillside and the Typhoon made short work of the banana trees. The response from NASSA and its partner was to help those interested in setting up small-scale animal farming and provided pigs and chickens to 35 households which had not had their houses rebuilt. We visited several of these.
What is it like to meet someone who has received such support? For me, one person whom I met was so shy and self-effacing I found I couldn’t ask her to revisit such terrible events even though there were so many things I would have liked to know.
Like most of community, Amy and her family were made starkly aware of their own vulnerability by the Typhoon. It became clear to me that every day is a struggle for her and her children as she works and waits for the better life she hopes will be theirs and which, with CAFOD’s help, she is making a reality. My reaction was frankly to bow (inside!) before the Spirit of God because of the simple and dignified way she approached life and others given all that she had endured and the way she bravely and steadily was working her way forward.
I awkwardly asked a few practical questions: what is it like to look after the sow?! “It’s OK,” she says, “but it takes a lot of water” which she has to keep fetching from the village pump at the bottom of the slope to water the pig and both clean it and the sty. Now she has her second litter of piglets. We get talking – she is really proud of the piglets which are thriving. From the first litter, she had not only fulfilled her commitment to pass on the gift of the sow by giving not one but two piglets to other families, but she was also able to send her daughter to school in Bulan with the money she made (2,000 Philippine pesos – about £33). My colleague explains that she has continued to be generous with the second litter too promising one to another family and this startling generosity between people who have so little is something we come across throughout the village.
We met other villagers too, those with plans for a new start after reconstructing their houses and setting up a small convenience store. One couple in particular were grateful for all the support NASSA had provided and gave us a large bunch of bananas and a huge jack fruit and papaya. Such generosity was followed by a meal at Jimmy’s where we joined his family to celebrate their son passing his teaching exam. He also gave our NASSA colleagues a ride on his tricycle as you can see!
A wonderful day!