November 16, 2023
“Remember Yolanda” photo exhibit stirs memories of loss and hope
By Joy Rojas
Though it’s been 10 years since Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) ripped through parts of the Visayas, leaving 6,000 dead, scores homeless, and millions of pesos’ worth of damages to properties in its wake, Erwin Rivas and Nica Lerios remember the storm’s impact on their lives like it was yesterday.
Both residents of Leyte, where thousands perished from Yolanda’s fierce winds and towering storm surge, Erwin and Nica turned emotional as they recounted their experiences during the launch of “Remember Yolanda,” a Tzu Chi photo and video exhibit held at Robinsons North Tacloban from November 7 to 8. Organized to commemorate the decade following one of the worst storms in history, the exhibit featured over 80 large-format photos and looping videos of Tzu Chi’s immediate and long-term responses to the damages and deaths caused by Yolanda.
Based in Tacloban, which a reporter described as a “corpse-strewn wasteland” in the aftermath of Yolanda, 52-year-old Erwin and his wife left the city to live temporarily with an in-law in Manila. “It was so hard in Tacloban, very hard. We had no food, clothes, medicine,” he says. Even harder was the fact that the Category 5 storm had taken the lives of his 44-year-old brother-in-law and a nephew, 12.
“Just watching your videos bring back memories,” he says pensively. “I’m touched by what I see.”
Tears well up Nica’s eyes as she retells the nightmare of fast-rising black flood water and her family’s efforts to evacuate at the Agora Public Market in Tanauan. “My sister nearly drowned,” she says, sobbing. “It’s a good thing our father saved her.” He also saved a homeless person, pleading with evacuees in the cramp space that “she’s a human being too.”
“Seconds later, there were so many dead people,” says Nica, 25. “We have relatives that we no longer saw after the storm. It’s hard to believe and accept. You don’t know if you’ll live or if you’ll have a second life. It’s all up to the Lord.”
Yet amid all this unthinkable sadness and loss, there was still reason to smile. All of 8 years old at the time of Typhoon Yolanda, Trixie Mae Nazario Masocol spotted a picture of herself in the exhibit, laughing without a care in the world along with other kids in a temporary classroom at the Tzu Chi Palo Great Love Village.
“We were so happy at that time because we still had the opportunity to continue our studies even when our school was destroyed,” she says. If anything, it softened the pain from the loss of her best friends, two classmates, from the storm.
With the Masocols’ home completely washed out, Trixie Mae and her family moved into the temporary housing project set up by Tzu Chi volunteers for Yolanda survivors. “Even if the house is temporary, nothing can match our memories there. They are not temporary,” she says.
Now 18 and taking her Bachelor of Science major in Forestry at Biliran Province State University, she has been a Tzu Chi scholar since the 10th Grade. That her education has been sponsored for years is a huge relief to her father who has worked as a pedicab driver and on-call surveyor.
For Nica, the volunteers in blue and white helped her family get back on its feet. “We were able to rebuild our home and our store in the market,” she says. “Without Tzu Chi, where would we be today? They were the first to offer help to us.”
“When Tzu Chi first arrived, they really lifted our spirits,” adds Erwin. “They gave us so many things! Blankets, financial aid, a home. Thank you very much, Tzu Chi. If it weren’t for you, Tacloban wouldn’t rise up from this disaster.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Tzu Chi,” says Trixie Mae. “You didn’t just give us a home. You became part of our happiness.”