April 22, 2014

The Philippine Story – a story of Resurrection #2

Though the Sisters were safe, Yolanda caused substantial damage to their convent, schools and new hospital in Tacloban. The Philippine Mercy Support Fund contributed €590,000 to the restoration work of these facilities.

The good news is that by January, the school was ready to welcome back its pupils and students.

While not all repairs are yet complete, the management made adjustments to room use, which ensured that the education ministry could resume and all from kindergarten to third level were accommodated.

View of Assumption Academy                  Class under canvas

The hospital is also under repair but even in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, with the support of volunteer German doctors, it provided emergency medical aid to victims. Some of the extremely damaged parts are still under repair and while one operating theatre and the laundry area are out of commission, most services have resumed. In a nearby town, where the Tacloban Sisters also minister, the school and convent which were very badly damaged are also under repair. Homeless families, still awaiting government intervention on their resettlement, are facilitated in tents that now fill the school playground.

The Tacloban Sisters are also working to prevent human trafficking in the aftermath of typhoon, and have been encouraged by the work of Fr Shay Cullen of Preda Foundation. This Foundation works to promote and to protect the dignity and the Human Rights of the Filipino people, especially of women and children, and focuses on assisting sexually-exploited and abused children.

Sr. Carmela Cabactulan rsm, Superior of The Religious Sisters of Mercy Tacloban, shared her joy at meeting Fr Shay. She explained that Fr Shay and his group are working particularly with children orphaned by the typhoon in order to protect them from child traffickers, and this is work that she and other Sisters are supporting.

The MIA Philippine Mercy Support Fund also contributed €200,000, which included a Trócaire grant of €50,000, for immediate relief aid and livelihood support to be administered by the NyPPaW Sisters. A further €14,000 is now ready to transfer. This supplemented support generated by the NyPPaW Sisters in the US.

Initially the outreach involved the distribution of food, tents, sleeping mats, hygiene kits, medicines, household kits and drinking water. In each food package, sugar was included and recipients were particularly grateful for this, so that they could prepare their traditional Christmas delicacies. Clothes and toys and biscuits were distributed to the children where possible. The Sisters supplied 6514 families in areas fanning out across Tacloban City, Medellin in Northern Cebu, the Bantayan Island and Palo, Leyte.

The acquisition of the supplies, the packaging of the kits, the transportation and the distribution was a challenging operation and involved an immense amount of networking and calling in favours from friends and family, parish and community personnel.

Once the distribution began, it became evident that aid was not reaching some of the remote areas and it was particularly on these the Sisters focussed. Damage to housing and livelihood was presented as the greatest needs. Some needed aluminium and nails to replace roofs blown off by the typhoon; others needed marine plywood sheets to restore walls. Many needed materials to build or repair fishing boats and seeds to re- sow crops.

Responding to this the Sisters appointed contact people in each area, whose role it was to coordinate the relief efforts and to ensure resources remained well organised and available to all. They also liaised with people on the ground who had an intimate knowledge of the area and its needs. A key to the effectiveness of the Sisters was their knowledge of the local area, or their capacity for networking with those who had that knowledge, as well as their skill in empowering the people in each area to be part of their own recovery.

Five months have passed and the progress made by the Sisters is enormous.

In the Bantayan Islands, several houses have been repaired, 30 boats have been rebuilt and 20 more are planned. In Tindog Paish, one of the poorest areas in Northern Cebu, 800 houses have been repaired. In Bassey, Samar, 30 new temporary homes have been built and several boats have been built or repaired. In Guiyan, Eastern Samar where almost every home lost its roof, the need presented was for chain saws to clear the fallen trees and prepare the refurbishment materials. Recipients here received roofing for approximately 160 houses. In the diocese of Palo, where houses were completely damaged, chain saws were again in demand and 20 homeless families were supplied with tents. In some of the Visayas Islands, sleeping mats were supplied as well as roofing. In the remote Doong Island, the emphasis was on seaweed planting and boats.

Sr. Jenjen Alegado rsm, who with others organised the relief response, kept reminding us that there is still a great need and the afflicted areas are far from recovery. Many are homeless and hungry. Many lost loved ones and their means of livelihood. Still more yearn for emotional and spiritual healing. Yet in the midst of the suffering is hope and gratitude. The Sisters received one note that read ‘Thank you for giving us a reason to live ... and continue to struggle in life for it makes us strong and determined individuals and communities.

In addition to the physical support, the Sisters offered spiritual and emotional comfort. Sr. Kristine Marie Violango rsm joined members of the Sisters Association in Mindanao in a mission trip to Palo, Leyte and Tacloban on November 22, 2013 where they supported grieving families in funeral liturgies and in consoling those who stood around mass graves, and buried their dead. Some of the Sisters also worked with children in the schools, creating for them a safe place to talk about their experiences and to listen to their fears and pain.

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