This story was published in The Manila Times on December 28, 2013.
“Uuwi kami, pero hindi naming alam kung saan kami magsisimula.”
Raquel Trigueros – in her late 20s and a mother of four – still does not know what to do first upon returning to her hometown of Palo, Leyte over a month after Typhoon ‘Yolanda’, the world’s most powerful cyclone this year, caused massive destruction there.
“Maraming kailangang gawin pag-uwi. Maayos ang nasirang bahay, at saka mapakain at mapaaral ulit ang mga anak ko,” said Trigueros. Her family plans to go home by the third week of January.
Along with 43 others, her family is currently staying at the Jose Fabella Center, a temporary shelter for the homeless managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The 201 individuals, whom 13 of them have no families at all, currently enjoy receiving food packs, therapy sessions and other kinds of assistance from private individuals and groups visiting the center.
While most of the families moved here days after the typhoon hit Visayas, the Trigueros family came to Manila just the other day from Palo. Raquel said they had to bring her eldest son to a hospital here due to a dog bite in his cheek, because medical services back home were still limited, which the Fabella Center considered.
Luckily, no one in her family died when powerfully gusty winds and huge storm surges hit the area on a mountain slope in Palo where they sought shelter. Even her mother survived drowning after the mango tree where she held on was tumbled down by the surge.
Raquel’s husband would go back to Manila for work once the family’s rebuilding efforts are done. She said he could not go back to working for production of copra in Palo due to the immense devastation caused by the super typhoon to hectares of coconut farms there.
Also, two of her kids – Sean, 6, and Spencer, 4 – kept on asking her when they would go back to school.
She recalled that Sean, an honor student in his school in Palo, wanted to receive school items more than relief packs and toys. In fact, he jostled with other children just to get his share of school supplies given by a private group here.
Both Sean and Spencer want to be cops when they grow up. “Kasi po may baril, at saka po makakatulong kami,” they said.
However, with her desire to go back home, Raquel did not want her children to study here because of high cost of education in Manila, even in public schools.
“Naniniwala naman kami na maibabalik din sa dating ayos ang eskwelahan ng mga bata doon,” she added.
She also wishes that Filipinos would continue helping each other to speed up the recovery and rehabilitation of survivors of ‘Yolanda’. “Ang wish ko sa New Year eh maayos na ang bahay namin, at makapag-aral na ulit ang mga anak ko. Mangyayari lang ‘yun sa pagtutulungan natin.”
Meanwhile, children staying here seemed not to mind at all the disaster they went through.
Most of them continue to enjoy playing ball games in the center’s basketball court, while others played with toys of all sorts – stuffed toys, cars, board games, a mini-billiards set, even wheelchairs.
With bright smiles in their faces, they instantly become symbols of hope and recovery after the tragedy, said Eva Villegas, social worker at the Fabella Center.
“Noong nagdatingan kasi sila dito, mga tuliro sila, kaya magandang senyales na nakakangiti na silang muli sa kabila ng hirap ng buhay nila ngayon,” she added.
She noted that although the DSWD has pronounced the halt of relief operations for ‘Yolanda’ survivors, the agency still monitors their efforts for rehabilitation through coordination with the concerned local government units (LGUs).
“LGU ang bahala sa shelter, education at livelihood para sa mga survivors ng ‘Yolanda’. What we can give them are temporary shelters and relief aid in partnership with private persons,” she said, adding that the agency also shoulders expenses for some survivors to go home to Leyte.