CHRISTMAS IS USUALLY a big celebration in the Philippines but for many homes on the islands this year, it has been cancelled.
Despite the magnitude of their struggles and the everyday fears they still face about the past few weeks, the feast still weighs on the minds of residents.
GOAL aid worker James Kelly spoke to one family which survived the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan with their lives – but who had lost everything else, including their homes.
“With a young family, Christmas is also weighing heavily on Sonia Garrido’s mind,” the Limerick native told TheJournal.ie.
“It’s normally a big celebration over here. She told me that Christmas at her house is always based around food and church services. Every year, she cooks many different types of food, but with no money to spare, 25 December will be just another date on the calendar this year.”
The Garrido’s concrete house collapsed moments after they heard the walls cracking in the middle of the typhoon on 2 November.
Sonia, her 70-year-old disabled mother, four children aged between 12 and 17 and her baby grandchild took shelter in her mother-in-law’s house in Jaro, located just west of the city of Tacloban on Leyte Island.
More than 90 per cent of the buildings in the village were completely flattened by the typhoon. Sonia believed they would be safer in the concrete house, as opposed to their own, which was made of less hardy materials.
“On the face of it, it seemed like a sensible decision, but they hadn’t reckoned on the power of Haiyan,” continued Kelly.
“When the typhoon was at its fiercest, they heard the concrete walls cracking under the pressure. They made a run for it, carrying 70-year-old Nenita, who is disabled.
Seconds after they left the building, they heard an enormous crash and watched in horror as the structure completely collapsed. They saw this happen from no more than 10 yards away.
“Luckily they scrambled to a neighbour’s house, where they saw out the remainder of the storm.
“Despite losing their home, it could have been a whole lot worse. They could have stayed in the house and perished. Any member of the family could have been hit by flying debris while they were exposed out in the open. As it was, the baby, who was just 27 days old, was drenched to the skin by the driving rain during the trip from one house to the other.
He was shivering and shaking when they got him inside. His mother, Lorly, and the rest of the family were genuinely concerned that he wouldn’t survive, but he made it.
The family are now hoping to rebuild their lives and their house now has three walls and a partial roof again. It’s far from ideal, but it is giving them some protection.
Image: Mark Stedman
Although they have some form of shelter now, the situation that Sonia and her family find themselves in is typical of millions of others across this country.
They have no possessions, no money and no way of making an income. The family had been working off its coconut farm, harvesting and selling the coconuts locally. The typhoon wiped out every tree in the region. Although the trees will be re-sown, it could take up to seven years for them to bear their first fruit, meaning that Sonia will have to find another source of income.
“She said she might try doing some laundry for her neighbours, or maybe growing vegetables and selling them in the local market, but in truth, she has no idea,” said Kelly following a conversation with Sonia.
The mental struggle following the storm is also taking its toll on the damaged areas.
Kelly speaks of seeing people struggling to survive.
“You can see the little children when it starts to rain, you can see the fear in their eyes, that what they thought was the end of the world but managed to survive is coming back for them.”
(YouTube: GOAL Humanitarian Organisation)
James Kelly is from Limerick and is part of GOAL’s emergency response team in The Philippines. See www.goal.ie
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