As Typhoon Nina (international name: Nock-Ten) weakens and exits the Philippine area of responsibility tonight, thousands of homes have been devastated, and hundreds of thousands of people affected at what should be a joyful time of the year. It is one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country after Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), which left thousands dead, and a great many families displaced.
The plight of families displaced by natural calamities was discussed in the last session of the Ongoing Formation Series (OGF) for 2016, Accompanying Families Today in the spirit of Amoris Laetitia at Don Bosco Center of Studies (DBCS) last December 12.
The featured speaker, Narcing Eguia, is no stranger to the suffering and trauma that displaced families endure. He is part of the No One in Need Movement of Couples for Christ-Foundation for Family and Life (CFC-FFL), which is dedicated to building the Church of the Poor, including communities that have been devastated by calamities. He has extensive experience with many such communities, often being sent as “first mission” to assess the extent of the damage and the victims’ situation.
In fact, as difficult as it was to enter Tacloban after the unprecedented damage wrought by Typhoon Yolanda, Narcing was in ground zero just three days after the typhoon struck. Yolanda is the strongest typhoon to make a landfall in recorded history.
“It was difficult to access the area, even through Cebu,” he shared. People in Tacloban were scrambling to leave Leyte. He had to take a C130 from Villamor Airbase early on the third day (a Tuesday) after the typhoon wreaked havoc in Tacloban.
“The situation was the worst I had seen. People were walking around like zombies. Dead bodies were on the streets; there were uncovered bodies, decaying for three days. Trash heaps were more than three storeys high. The airport area was the most devastated. Only the runway was left.” He said that the community near the airport, Brgy. San Jose, was one of the worst hit. During the typhoon’s onslaught, it came under 20 feet of water. At least 3,000 were killed in that barangay alone.
“The storm surge announced the day before the typhoon wasn’t explained well. They did not understand the level of danger.”
After the assessment, he returned to Manila where all the preparations would be made. “When we came back with the relief goods, the line of vehicles going to Tacloban was about 10 kilometers long.” It was a good thing that highway patrol escorted them from Bicol to Samar, and then from Samar to Leyte.
“Along the way, people in need who saw relief goods were ready to grab them. Looting was terrible! The roof of the Cathedral was gone…. The people in Tacloban couldn’t help themselves only people from other places could help.”
The situation was politicized. The government had all the machinery but they were late in helping.
The Power of God’s Love and Mercy
“Maraming nawalan sa Tacloban dahil sa Yolanda, pero and tanging natira ay ang awa at pagmamahal ng Panginoon.”
Narcing said it was evident that God had not abandoned the people. In the midst of their terrible suffering, He was there. And it was urgent that they had a place for prayer. This is why building a Chapel, a place where people could gather and pray, was on top of their list after they brought in relief goods. They were able to bring a rechargeable sound system, generator set, and old bibles. People only needed to hear that Mass was being celebrated to be assured that God is there for them. Thanks to the Holy Mass, the victims had the chance to gather together and have a sense of community again.
“The hardest thing to do is to count the number of the dead. There was one man who went to Samar before the typhoon. His whole family was in Brgy. San Jose, and they all perished! The Mass comforted him as it was an occasion to see the other members of the community who survived.”
No One in Need’s response was holistic: 3K: “Kapilya, Kabahayan, Kabuhayan” (“Faith, Family, Life”). The objective was to rebuild churches, homes, and help the people have a sustainable livelihood; all three components were needed to rebuild communities for the poorest of the poor.
On the first week of December, about a month after Typhoon Yolanda struck, No One in Need brought plywood and other basic housing materials so that the community near the airport could leave the evacuation centers and transfer to bunkhouses. The sense of bayanihan was strong! Residents of Leyte, who were affected but were spared from losing their homes, volunteered to help build the houses.
“We also gave children school kits (in the twelve coastal areas in Leyte) for the resumption of classes in January 2014. Teachers were also provided.”
The next step was to look at livelihood.
Narcing related that they “attended a series of meetings with the Archdiocese of Palo, which was looking for people who can help in the long-term. The livelihood of most of the victims was fishing and most donors gave boats made from plywood.” Boats are also necessary as means of transportation — for people to go to the market, children to go to school, etc.
No One in need, in partnership with the Church, gave out boats made from fiber glass, which were more durable. There also put in place a system to make sure that the process of distribution was foolproof (unlike in other cases where one family got more than one boat because the lists of beneficiaries were the same).
But they did more than give high-quality boats and establish a cooperative to restore the victim’s lives. More importantly they “also provided Live Christ, Share Christ formation,” which is ongoing until today. They stressed that while the needs of the body are urgent, the needs of the spirit are also important, and their need for God deserves top priority.
The Laity in Action
Narcing underscored the importance of the laity in situations like these: “We know that we are 99.99% laity in the Church. So we can’t expect our priests to do the work of rehabilitation. We need to act.”
He shared that “the laity needs to plan the action; to think of what to do“; to make the response as holistic as possible. The work of the Church through Social Action (community organization, and the like) needs to be strengthened. This involves getting to know the community. “As an outsider, we need to know their culture and their situation.”
While Church people like priests and religious may be limited by their circumstances in doing this kind of service, Narcing said they can engage in “networking, coordination, and warehousing for basic dry goods.” He also suggested that they prepare shelter kits consisting of metal roofing sheets, plywood, nails, etc.
Daryl Aloya, a young man and a fulltime missionary of CFC-FFL who stayed in Tacloban for two years, shared how the experience affected him.
The harrowing scenes he witnessed would come as a shock to anyone. Even median divider islands were used as burial ground for whole families that were killed by the typhoon because the cemeteries were already full.
“My heart was heavy,” Daryl shared. “People were asking me why God allowed this tragedy to happen to them. But I couldn’t answer their questions. Only Pope Francis [who came to visit Tacloban a year after Yolanda] gave a good answer: ‘Look to Jesus’; He will give you the answer.”
He said that his most important learning is this: “God makes sure that even if you feel abandoned, He is there. He uses these occasions to allow us to come closer to Him.”
Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is Research Coordinator and Guest Professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.