Filipino people keep their dignity despite devastation

This is  just one of the homes that were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan and abandoned.

This is just one of the homes that were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan and abandoned.

October 26, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Louis Kloster has witnessed poverty in his life.

The retired religious education consultant has visited Development and Peace projects in developing countries around the world since he was 13.

What he saw in the Philippines this summer when he joined Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools representatives on a visit to the typhoon-struck country, though, was not as bad as he anticipated.

It was not because the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, was not terrible.

He witnessed a local boy break down in tears, rubbing his eyes as he struggled to sing a song he wrote describing the events of Nov. 8, 2013.

And he saw crosses, all carrying the same date, left by a tree near one of the mass grave sites containing hundreds of bodies buried in the most dignified way possible after the water subsided.

Some 6,300 lives were lost.

But what struck Kloster the most, as well as Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools superintendent David Keohane and principal Marie Gamache-Hauptman (also along on the trip), was the resilience of the people.

They are working hard to rebuild their lives, despite little support from their government.

"Two things really hit home for me the idea of acceptance, and the idea of 'What can we do next? How can we make the best of it?'" said Keohane.

Keohane admired the strong sense of dignity of the people, "How well they built these homes, the gardens they built around them - and everyone was so well dressed.

"They were not presenting themselves like they were downtrodden, as victims, and they spoke proudly of their faith, of the community that they were building and what was going to happen."

In the streets, faith slogans were used everywhere - declaring "Jesus of Nazareth," "Jesus saves us," "Jesus is my guide," "Ambassador for Christ," recalls Gamache-Hauptman.

"For them, so much is done with their faith, through their faith, because of their faith. So it is absolutely evident faith plays a big part in their survival and their hope and their drive to keep going."

The group personally witnessed the devastation of the typhoon, the courage and resilience of the people, and the rebuilding being made possible by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) partners.

Here is a transitional home, complete with a flourishing garden.

Here is a transitional home, complete with a flourishing garden.

Within 24 hours of the typhoon, Development and Peace sent $100,000 for immediate emergency relief. This included access to clean water, sanitation, food and shelter, said western Canada regional coordinator Sara Farid.

But in the country where many people live in abject poverty even at the best of times, the focus is on long term reconstruction.

pope Francis Village

In addition to supporting small scale agriculture, education and awareness workshops to combat poverty, homelessness and on how to build resilient homes, Development and Peace purchased the land for Pope Francis Village.

This will be a model community for the relocation of 550 families affected by the Typhoon in Tacloban.

The school district representatives witnessed the groundbreaking ceremonies for Pope Francis Village during their visit to Tacloban and the Samar area of the Philippines - ground zero where the Typhoon first hit.

In celebration of their 150th anniversary, the school district also wanted to support the building of a school in the Tacloban area, which will be affiliated with Pope Francis Village.

About $44,000 of the $200,000 necessary for construction of the new school has been raised through local school projects.

Pope Francis Village is a model of using land effectively and enabling people to be part of a design and a community where they share resources and support each other, said Gamache-Hauptman. Materially poor, the supposition is they cannot be involved in decisions about their own lives.

"The work of Development and Peace turns that idea on its head and says 'These are people no different than you and I, they need to be afforded dignity as children of God to make decisions about their own lives,' and where they are lacking resource and support, other people can help them," Gamache-Hauptman said. "And we're all better in the world for that."

SENSE OF JOY

Every community they visited where Development and Peace had helped found a way to thank the group, from a marching band leading them to the gathering hall, people singing to them as they came out of their van, giving them flower necklaces, and amazing feasts with massive clams and coconut wine.

"They just wanted to celebrate with us their sense of joy that they are moving on as a community - as they are, and it's dance, it's song, it's food," said Keohane. "They have a sense of faith and celebration of life that would be the envy of any community in the world. It's inspiring.

"It was so humbling for them to thank us," he said, recalling one lady who said simply: "Thank you for our resilient homes and our happy lives."

Gamache-Hauptman said the group left with a sense of unity with the people of the Philippines.

"It's 14 hours away, but people are people and they have basic needs like we have," she said. "Our faith is a connector and humanity is a connector in all of this."

The delegates also want to raise awareness about the many social justice issues involved in the situation.

These matters include the understanding of systemic causes of a typhoon happening such as the phenomenon of global warming, how infrastructure is built, and how people are treated after a disaster.