Growing up after Yolanda

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Growing up after Yolanda. Youth from a underprivileged community in Aklan recount their harrowing experiences surviving super typhoon Yolanda.  Community, Yolanda, Activism, Aklan, Youth, Awareness, Society, Advocacy, Basic Mases Integration, Empowerment

IN November 2013, NeAnn was woken up at 1’oclock in the morning by sirens and the blaring sound of someone shouting through a megaphone – they were being instructed to evacuate. She shot up from her make-shift bed to see her family scrambling to gather their few belongings.

Their tight-knit community was located just a few feet away from the Aklan River, many strong typhoons have managed to flood its banks and spill unto the neighborhood of Purok Dos.

NeAnn helps her sister pack clothes and carry their luggage outside, before leaving for the evacuation center she looks back at their small house, with its tattered roof and thin bamboo walls, unsure if it will still be there when they come back.

Last week, I joined a BMI (Basic Masses Integration) activity in Aklan. The experience gave participants a first-hand perspective on the current situation of Yolanda-hit communities, three years after the national calamity, by giving us the opportunity to live with a foster family in these underprivileged areas.
It was both eye-opening and saddening for me to hear and listen to the stories of the people I got to talk and interact with – they’re the “marginalized”, the “urban poor”, the “nasa laylayan”, some of them my age, who’ve been deprived of the privileges and comforts we often take for granted.

I admit that it remains difficult for me to fully grasp the hardships these people continue to endure, and I have no right to say “I know what they’ve been through” because I was with them for only a few days – but here I’d like to retell a few snippets from the personal accounts they’ve shared. 

I asked some of the youth from the community: how has it been growing up after Yolanda?

“I felt disheartened and weak,” shares NeAnn in Aklanon. “I saw that nothing was left of our house and thought: Where would we sleep? Where would we find the money to build a new house?”

NeAnn, warm and cheerful as always, notices the sadness in her voice. To lift the mood she jokes: “We did the construction ourselves. We couldn’t really ask the carpenters to help us because they were trying to rebuild their houses too.”

She shares that the flood brought about by the super typhoon had reached nearly two storeys, uprooting everything it passed through with its strong current.

NeAnn was 18 while Mia was 21, when Yolanda leveled their community and left nothing of their houses. The two best friends share that their families have yet to get back on their feet after that tragic November storm. NeAnn is now 20-years-old and Mia 24.
“Daw wala pagid kami kabangon ah,” sighs Mia. “Kabudlay man gyapon.”

Growing up after Yolanda. Youth from a underprivileged community in Aklan recount their harrowing experiences surviving super typhoon Yolanda.  Community, Yolanda, Activism, Aklan, Youth, Awareness, Society, Advocacy, Basic Mases Integration, Empowerment

For a few weeks their families lived in make-shift tents on the land where their houses once stood, just tarpaulins over their heads for a roof.

Mia shares that it took them almost a year to fully rebuild their house after Yolanda, her family starting from scratch after the typhoon washed out all their property.
“Dayun wala pa gane kami kabangon sa Yolanda, sunog naman nag-abot,” interrupts one of the older passersby, eavesdropping on our conversation.

In June of 2015, just over a year after the super typhoon ravaged the community, a fire spread through Purok Dos and razed it to the ground.

Nang Ruby shares that she was 8-months pregnant during that time and, because her husband wasn’t around, she had to single-handedly cart her two children and haul their belongings to safety.

“I managed to make two return trips,” Nang Ruby boasts in Hiligaynon, but that still wasn’t enough time to save all their possessions – pots and pans, appliances, a tin can filled with their savings, all reduced to ashes. The older people say the fire managed to destroy the community in just 30 minutes because most of the houses were made of light material.

A few days after, Nang Ruby gave birth in a warehouse while helping repack relief goods, she named her daughter “Fraire” to remember the fire they had survived.

Meanwhile, Nang Ruby’s neighbor Joy was just 18-years-old when the fire stunned their community. Her son Carl, whom she was a few months pregnant with when Yolanda hit, was about to celebrate his first birthday. 

She and her husband, a construction worker, saw their humble dwelling burned down, but they managed to recover the ingredients they were saving to cook for their first child’s small party.  Despite the tragedy, they decided to push through with the celebration. Carl enjoyed his first birthday at the temporary relocation center, with all their neighbor’s children, who also lost their homes, as his guests.
“Ging-share nalang namun ang pagkaon, daw nag-feeding program kami ya gane sa evacuation,” shares Joy happily. 

Joy relates that growing up, she wanted to be a writer, but because of financial struggles she had to drop out of school. She worked for a while as a sales girl at one of the malls in Aklan, but found it difficult to be away a lot from her young child.

On the 3rd anniversary of Yolanda last week, Joy joined the multi-sectoral demonstration that marched to the steps of the Aklan Provincial Capitol. She sat in the leading vehicle, just in front of the people with their banners and placards calling for aid, speaking through a loud speaker about the situation of the masses still struggling to cope after the disaster.

Growing up after Yolanda. Youth from a underprivileged community in Aklan recount their harrowing experiences surviving super typhoon Yolanda.  Community, Yolanda, Activism, Aklan, Youth, Awareness, Society, Advocacy, Basic Mases Integration, Empowerment

NeAnn, Mia and Nang Ruby also united in crying out for the nearly 25,000 families in Aklan, theirs among them, devastated by super typhoon Yolanda that have yet to receive any assistance from the government, three years to the day. 

The solidarity march concluded with a dialogue with Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) assistant secretary Hope Hervilla and regional director Rebecca Geamala.

The DSWD officials revealed that, because of the previous administration’s negligence and corruption, only P30 million remains of the billions allotted to help those stricken by the disaster, yet thousands have yet to receive any such aid. 

Ma’am Hope estimates that if that amount were to be distributed equally to those yet to receive any aid, it would amount to just P300 per family, which is gravely inadequate to answer the daily needs of the super typhoon’s survivors. The rallyists were visibly outraged. But Ma’am Hope offered to them, well, hope that under the Duterte administration the people would get what is due to them.

On the day before the solidarity march, I found NeAnn and Mia, along with some of the other youth in the community, painting placards that asked “Saan napunta ang milyun-milyong pundo ng Yolanda?”
Admittedly, I found it odd that the youth of the area turned to activism at such young ages. I’m a young adult now and I’ve yet to raise a single placard in all my life.

For the most part, the two friends seemed giddy and carefree always joking around and dancing. But you could see that beneath the cheerful smiles, they’ve grown up with a strong mantle of heart and bravery. They’ve faced hardships few of us can say we survived at such young ages– flood and devastation, fires, poverty – and have come out stronger together.

During the solidarity march, I rode a tricycle to arrive at the Provincial Capitol ahead of the rallyists and take pictures. Speeding past the placards and protesters, I easily spotted the two, wearing matching white shirts and raising their fists in the air.

Young as they were, NeAnn, Mia, and Joy, were already fighting for their cause, overcoming all adversity, fighting for what they believed in.

Growing up after Yolanda. Youth from a underprivileged community in Aklan recount their harrowing experiences surviving super typhoon Yolanda.  Community, Yolanda, Activism, Aklan, Youth, Awareness, Society, Advocacy, Basic Mases Integration, Empowerment

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