The Christmas holidays were marred by a tragedy when Tropical Storm Urduja pounded the Visayas with torrential rains that resulted to widespread flooding and landslides. The storm recorded 40 casualties.
In Ormoc City, over 20 areas were badly affected, prompting the local government to declare a state of calamity.
Residents of the Great Love City, Tzu Chi Foundation’s temporary housing village for survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda, in Barangay Liloan also experienced chest-high flood after the nearby river overflowed. When the flood subsided, the residents were left with heaps of debris and thick mud to clean up.
From December 18 to December 29, Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers forgo their own holiday festivities to bring aid to the flood victims. They distributed cash assistance to 1,413 families and mobilized 735 residents to clean up the village under a cash-for-work program, which made it possible for the families to return to their homes before Christmas Eve.
Local Chinese businessmen sent help
After the flood subsided, many villagers started picking themselves up by cleaning their homes. Tzu Chi, through the donations of local Chinese entrepreneurs, distributed cleaning materials such as buckets, dippers, sponges, detergent bars, and shovels to the families to hasten the work.
The owner of Top One 888 Inc., which sells whole sale general merchandise, donated Php200, 000 for the villagers. The owner of Gaisano Riverside Mall in Ormoc City also gave out Php100, 000 worth of gift certificate.
“Tzu Chi has been helping a lot of people here in Ormoc. We are aware that whenever Tzu Chi helps, it is direct to the people in need. That is also one factor we look for whenever we are giving out donations,” says Jessel Pefora, store manager at Gaisano Riverside Mall’s supermarket.
Raquel Chu is another local businesswoman who extended significant aid to the villagers of Great Love City. Immediately after the typhoon, Chu sent in relief goods from her grocery store to the villagers.
“We heard that they don’t have food so we sent noodles, canned goods, gas burner and gas stove so that the people could cook and not go hungry,” she says.
Later, Tzu Chi volunteers from Tacloban City sent in cash donations. Chu used them to purchase additional goods such as 50 kilos of rice, canned goods, among others for the villagers.
“I just wanted to help ease their burden,” explains Chu of her efforts.
Since the Great Love City welcomed its residents in 2015, the community has already experienced various calamities which left no significant damages into the houses. In July 2017, the houses also survived a 6.5-magnitude earthquake.
The shelters, which are prefabricated from Taiwan, are made of Polypropylene boards and steel frames.
“I feel happy that we still have a home to go back to,” says Nineveh Bacunal, 29, in the aftermath of the flood.
Before moving to Tzu Chi’s housing village, her family was residing in a shanty at Barangay Tambulilid. The house used to crumble easily when a storm hit.
“We are still alive. Our house is still standing. It doesn’t matter that there are a lot of mud. What’s important is that we still have a place to come home to. With that, we can still start over,” says Bacunal.
Although most of the houses at the Great Love City managed to withstand the flood’s current and remained intact after the calamity, there are two that suffered minor damages. The house of Rosalia Manawatao, which is located in a corner, fronting a river dike, slanted inward.
Local Ormoc Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized to repair the houses that were damaged by the flood. At the Manawatao residence, they replaced the steel frames that bent from the strong flood current. In about an hour, the Manawatao’s house was back in good shape. Rosalia can finally smile in relief.
“When the typhoon struck, I was worried that the entire house would be destroyed, but fortunately it was only a little deformed. Thank you very much for helping to repair it,” says Rosalia.
Inspiring the bayanihan spirit
While majority of the villagers have cleaned up their homes days after the flood, heaps of debris and mud that collected along the main streets, alleys, and in the waterways, remained a threat to the residents’ health.
Tzu Chi launched a cash-for-work program that gave Php250 daily cash assistance to the participants. Heavy equipment, such as pay loaders and dump trucks, were also mobilized to hasten the cleanup.
Danilo Mendoza, 45, was stripped of a livelihood after the storm. The bananas, which he uses to make chocolate moron, were all felled.
“It’s a blessing that Tzu Chi launched a cash-for-work program. We were not only able to clean up our homes and community but also given a short-term livelihood,” he adds.
Hilario Pasaol, 49, agreed. “It is our homes and neighborhood that we are cleaning up and yet Tzu Chi is giving us cash assistance. The cash will help us buy our daily needs. We promise that we will do everything we can to help ourselves recover, too.”
Rowegine Legaspi, 20, also joined the program. “We want to show everyone that although we were affected by the storm, we will always go back to Tzu Chi’s Great Love City. It was here that we learned so many positive teachings and many of the residents have changed their lives for the better since moving here,” she says.
“This calamity may have brought us on our knees but we will always recover. We will rise again from the place where we fell,” she ends.
Paying it forward on Christmas season
The cleanup of the Tzu Chi Great Love City gained more support with the arrival of 19 Tzu Chi volunteers from Tacloban City and 18 Tzu Chi volunteers from Marikina City. In addition, 82 individuals from Barangay Rizal and Barangay Hiloctogan in Kananga pitched help.
These volunteers have one thing in common: they were all beneficiaries of Tzu Chi’s help sometime ago. Now, they are paying forward.
The volunteers from Marikina were victims of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, while the volunteers from Tacloban City were victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. In both incidents, Tzu Chi helped by launching cash-for-work programs that revived the local economy and helped the victims recover.
In July 2017, Kananga was hit hard by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake. Tzu Chi donated 120 prefabricated shelters to the families displaced in Barangay Rizal and Hiloctogan.
The residents of the Great Love City are close to the hearts of the Kananga housing beneficiaries. After all, they installed the houses together.
Vicente Celedonio, 54, and his neighbors earn their keep from farming. After Tropical Storm Urduja struck, the houses they received from Tzu Chi remained up and sturdy. However, their crops were badly affected. Despite this, they were more than happy to extend a helping hand.
“I want to thank Tzu Chi. My family is no longer living in a precarious area. I heard that the Great Love City was going to be cleaned so I came here,” says Celedonio. “With more people working together we can do better. We can clean up the place faster.”
Starting over after tragedy
With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, Tzu Chi Foundation distributed cash aid to the families on December 23 and 24.
Tzu Chi modified the amount of assistance to be given to each family according to their need. A day before the distribution, 15 groups of Tzu Chi volunteers went around the village to collect data on the number of members in each family.
During the actual distribution, families with three members and less received Php3,000. Those with four to five members brought home Php4,000 while families with six and more members were given Php5,000.
Imelda Espino, 60, accidentally received two relief claiming stubs. On the day of the distribution, she approached a Tzu Chi volunteer to return the extra ticket.
“Although I need help right now, I am aware that somebody else is also in need. Returning the ticket is the right thing to do,” says Espino.
In addition to cash, each family also received two pieces of eco-friendly blankets, two packs of used clothes, and a letter from Tzu Chi’s founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
A day after Mitci Talavera received her family’s share of aid she bought a brand-new bamboo sofa set.
"We wanted to use the cash assistance from Tzu Chi on something that will last a long time and this is what we thought of. I am grateful to Tzu Chi and to Master Cheng Yen because ever since the beginning they have been showing their love and care for us,” Talavera says.
Across Talavera’s house, her neighbor Virgilita Carcagente, 63, was busy restocking the small variety store inside her house.
After the typhoon and the flood had subsided, Carcagente returned home from the evacuation center. But her heart sank when she saw what happened to her store – all her merchandise was either drenched in flood water or covered in mud. Nothing was left.
On December 23, she received cash aid from Tzu Chi.
"Instead of using it on material things, I chose to invest it on my store because I was earning well through this before the flood. By reviving my store, the cash aid from Tzu Chi will grow," she says.