Another Update

It’s a few weeks since Jackie posted her update from when we met in Tacloban and went to visit some of the beneficiaries that we helped.  Now it’s my turn.

As Jackie said, we didn’t let anyone know we were going to see them – we wanted the ‘real’ story of what had happened in the last year.  And we didn’t have any expectations.  We wanted to have made a difference, but recognised that having no experience in this area, we’d been working against the odds.  We were both over the moon that for the most part, the stories we heard were successes; not always taking the shape that we had expected them to, but successes in some way, none the less.

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One of these was Mary Ann.  We had given her a very small amount of money to set up as a fish vendor in the Shed.  Something she had hoped would supplement the small income of her husband.  We didn’t get the opportunity to see Mary Ann (one of the down sides of arriving unannounced), but we did hear from Popoy, the barangay captain what had happened.  Unfortunately, the fish business had not provided the income Mary Ann had hoped for – there is a lot of competition in the area where many fishermen work.  I didn’t view this as a failure though.  Rather than give up, Mary Ann has enrolled in Adult Education to learn skills that will provide another occupation.  I’m just pleased that she found out that fish vending wouldn’t work using money from HHFT, rather than possibly borrowing the money and losing it.  We’re hoping she is on her way to something more successful now.

While we were there at the Shed, we asked about the water tanks – Jackie had supported one and I had been there as the other was installed.  One, we were told by Popoy’s wife, had very recently broken as someone turned it on with no oil in the mechanics, but someone was going to fix it very soon.  I have to say, I did wonder how accurate that last part was, but I was wrong to think anything of the sort.  As we walked to the other tank, we met Popoy, examining the new part of machinery he’d just returned from buying, ready to fix the tank!

Jackie and Popoy with the new part of the tank

Jackie and Popoy with the new part of the tank

The second tank is a bit more complicated.  Because of a government scheme to widen the roads, the tank – which is right at the edge of the road needs moving.  The upside of this is that the place it will be moved to will serve more people, so more will benefit.  And I am in no doubt that Popoy will do exactly as he says he will.

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HHFT had also given Popoy some money to support his livelihood.  He is a great barangay captain, looking after his community with such commitment that it was only right.  He had used the money to complete the roof of the ‘Baracks’ – where he has pool tables that people pay to use, and where he meets constituents and they meet each other – it’s now actually watertight and everyone is benefiting.

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Do you remember Reboy?  We helped him buy the lease for the land and materials to build a house.  I met up with him briefly and all is very well with him.  He, his wife and son have now furnished it with a wooden bed, table, chairs and have a ‘dirty kitchen’ out the back.  They are still waiting for Emergency Assistance from the government after losing their home in Yolanda, and although told they are entitled to some, it may or may not come though.  They are hoping it does as Reboy would very much like to add a concrete floor and build their own toilet.  The best part about his story is that she said the house provided shelter to his extended family in the typhoons they have had in the last year – they knew it would keep them safe.  He said HHFT had been a ‘very big help’.

Reboy outside Mama Pat's

Reboy outside Mama Pat’s

Edwardo:  Do you remember him?  Edwardo made me smile so much the first time we met – I was a little sad that when we went to his house, he wasn’t there.  His wife, Victoria and their children were though, and Victoria told us he was out on the pedicab HHFT had given him which made us so happy.  Jackie translated here for me (as she did everywhere this time!).  The best part?  When Victoria said, so solemnly ‘I will never forget you’.

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But it got better – as we walked back to the car someone shouted at us – Edwardo on his pedicab!  I asked him to pose so I could take a picture.  Obviously for the picture he wanted to be a passenger rather than the driver 🙂 :

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And the final catch up I have is on Luz and her family.  This is the one that had the biggest impact on me, and to be honest, I was nervous about going back.  Last August I referred to their home as a concrete cell.  It was dark, damp, and full of despair.  They were such very lovely people who deserved so much more than what they had.  HHFT had bought Luz a sewing machine to replace the one she had earned a living from, but lost in Yolanda.  She had said she wasn’t a tailor and could only sew simple things and I had some concerns over whether the machine would really make that much difference to their lives.

I’m happy to say that once again I was wrong.  We walked in and…what a transformation!  The walls were covered with bright material and pictures from a 2014 wall calendar.  Luz was actually sitting at her machine running up some sofa covers for a client!  The machine is now their main source of income and if the house and the feeling there is anything to go by; it’s caused a bit of a transformation.

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We’ve said it over and over, but thank you.  Without the supporters of Helping Hands for Tacloban, none of these things would have been possible.  We didn’t get to see all the beneficiaries, but we hope that giving you updates on the majority of them shows the difference you made.  Thank you.  Or as I can now say in (pretty bad) Waray: ‘Salamat’

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“Kumusta Na?” (An Update on the Helping Hands for Tacloban Families)

A little over a year ago, when Helen and I were deciding who we should help with funds that friends had donated to the Helping Hands for Tacloban (HHFT) project, we did not have any elaborate requirements. We just wanted to help, period. Help in a way that the families wanted to be helped. We talked to them, and did what we could.

So – a year later – when Helen and I were both back in Tacloban and checking in on the families, we had a very simple success criterion. A single question, in fact: did we help your family at all – and if so, how?

Our visits were unannounced and without fanfare. We really just wanted to see if what we did with HHFT funds really helped the families. And because we were rather “unscientific” with our selection, we deliberately kept our expectations low – thinking, “Hey, if we helped one family, we would be happy.”

To our surprise, we were met with more success stories than disappointment. There were in fact tears of gratitude and joy and a lot of smiles.

Here are some of our updates (Helen will provide more on other beneficiaries).

The Rendezas:

I wanted to feature this family first as this was the family I was most impressed with for their entrepreneurship and enthusiasm. Last year, a mere three days after we (HHFT) gave them 12,000 pesos (around US$280), they had already completed constructing a sari-sari store that the wife Jennelyn was minding, and had started the husband (Rodrigo) with his scrap metals business.

A year later, Helen and I were very pleasantly surprised to find the sari-sari store not only thriving but that the family had saved enough to invest in two pigs (which they are raising to sell at a profit later), and a small poultry in front of their house.

They have earned enough that they were able to construct a small loft inside their one-room home to provide for private sleeping quarters for the family. All six children were in school and performing well.

When Helen and I visited, Rodrigo was not around (he’s always busy with his scrap metals) but Jennelyn proudly showed us what they had done with their home, and the money they have earned from the sari-sari store.

“Diri gud kami mangangalimot han iyo bulig ha amon,” (We will never forget the help you have given to us) – was what Jennelyn said to us again and again. We told her that all we did was to help a little bit but they did most of the heavy lifting themselves, that their success was really their doing. But she insisted that without HHFT’s help, and our belief in them, they would not be where they were now.

Jennelyn Rendeza in her thriving sari-sari store. June 2015.

Jennelyn Rendeza in her thriving sari-sari store. June 2015.

Jennelyn and her daughters inside their home - which now has loft for private sleeping quarters for the family.

Jennelyn and her daughters inside their home – which now has loft for private sleeping quarters for the family.

The Rendezas' business has been thriving that they have been able to expand and buy pigs - which they are raising to sell at a profit later.

The Rendezas’ business has been thriving that they have been able to expand and buy pigs – which they are raising to sell at a profit later.

The Rendezas now also have a poultry in front of their home.

The Rendezas now also have a poultry in front of their home.

The Brazils:

HHFT gave Jun and Rita Brazil a new sewing machine in June last year and then, after Helen visited them in August, provided them with materials for a new roof.

When we visited their home in late June this year, only their daughter, Divina, was home. She recognized us immediately and graciously invited us in. She showed us the sewing machine that we had given the family last year, and how, with earnings in the past year, they had been able to construct a second floor bedroom where they now all sleep. The roof built from materials that HHFT provided was still intact.

Divina told us that his father still sews but has also found a new job managing a nearby beauty parlor. Divina is now learning how to sew in school as she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps. She showed us her new school clothes – all of which her father had sewn for her.

Divina Brazil shows off their home - which now has a second floor. HHFT gave them a sewing machine last year, and roofing materials.

Divina Brazil shows off their home – which now has a second floor. HHFT gave them a sewing machine last year, and roofing materials.

Evelyn Hermo, the widow:

Last year, we gave Evelyn Hermo money for her to be able to start selling shrimps again in her neighborhood and then a few thousand pesos so she could fix up the home she shared with her daughter.

When Helen and I saw her a couple of weeks ago (we saw her at my younger brother Paul’s home during the Tacloban fiesta), she gave us a hug and tearily told us how her shrimp selling business has helped her send her daughter to school and how, with some of the earnings, she has been able to buy a pig which she has been raising to sell for a profit once it’s fully grown.

She is doing very well, she told us, and does not do laundry as much anymore as her shrimp selling gives her sufficient income for herself, her daughter, and even to help her older children who also have families on their own.

Evelyn Hermo with Helen and Jackie, June 30, 2015. We met up with her at my brother Paul's house during the Tacloban fiesta. (I met her last year as she was my brother's family's laundrywoman.)

Evelyn Hermo with Helen and Jackie, June 30, 2015. We met up with her at my brother Paul’s house during the Tacloban fiesta. (I met her last year as she was my brother’s family’s laundrywoman.)

The Sampans:

Remember the family with eleven children who lived in a box of a house not much bigger than a regular office cubicle? Their main source of income last year was a small sari-sari store, the funds for which came from a high-interest loan that they were repaying everyday using more than half of a day’s income. HHFT gave them money to repay this loan, and some more to buy materials to fix up their home. A small amount was also given to buy school uniforms and shoes for one of their daughters who, in June last year, was staying home because the family simply could not afford to buy her anything for school.

When Helen met them in August, she also decided to provide them with a pedicab so that the father could bring the children to school everyday.

A year later, this family has moved to a transitional home provided by the government – a home that is 24 square meters in size, much bigger than their previous home. The sari-sari store is thriving after that loan was repaid, and has even expanded a bit. Some of the older children sleep there overnight as they now have the space. The daily income of the store has now doubled and provides for the family’s daily needs.

The pedicab has unfortunately been sold, however – the proceeds for which was used to buy a small motorbike to provide transportation for the family from their transitional home (over two kilometers away) to and from the Shed where their store is.

When we talked to Jocelyn, the wife, she proudly showed us her expanded store and insisted we take a bunch of bananas as a gesture of thanks. When we refused, she followed us around with it, insisting that we take it as she told us a few more stories of what our help has meant for her family. What it meant for their children to be able to go to school, and how relieved she was that they no longer had debts they had to repay.

The Sampans' store has thrived after HHFT repaid the loan the family had in order to put it up after the typhoon.

The Sampans’ store has thrived after HHFT repaid the loan the family had in order to put it up after the typhoon.

Jocelyn Sampan - mother of eleven - told us that all the younger children now go to school, and the store has been providing for the family's basic daily needs.

Jocelyn Sampan – mother of eleven – told us that all the younger children now go to school, and the store has been providing for the family’s basic daily needs.

Rialyn, one of the Sampan daughters, helps in the family store. HHFT gave her money for school uniforms and shoes. She has continued attending school to this day.

Rialyn, one of the Sampan daughters, helps in the family store. HHFT gave her money for school uniforms and shoes. She has continued attending school to this day.

The Amistosos (Mano Pinok and Mana Uni):

When we visited Mano Pinok in his usual vending place in a sidewalk near the Tacloban public market, we were delighted to see that he had more wares to sell. He was surprised to see us, but welcomed us with a big, big smile.

As he was updating us about his family his voice suddenly cracked and he became teary-eyed when he said, “Pastilan it akon pasalamat ha iyo. Bisan an sim pa la, kadako na nga bulig ha amon. Tapos, kadamo pa hin iyo gin-bulig.” (Your help has meant so much and I very am grateful. Even just with the roofing materials that you had provided, you already helped my family greatly. And yet, you still gave us more help than that.)

He invited us to visit his home where he said he had been able to make some expansion to allow more room for his family (his grown children and grandchildren live with him and his wife). So I did – on my last day in Tacloban.

With the proceeds from the pigs that HHFT had given him last year to raise, the Amistosos created more living space and now had a roof over their kitchen. Mana Uni (the wife – whom I saw during my home visit) also told us how they were able to get two grandchildren enrolled (one in college and another in high school.) And then they also were able to buy a new piglet that they are raising – just like the piglets that HHFT had provided the family last year.

Mano Pinok in his sidewalk vending stall - where he was proudly showing us more wares to sell. All because of HHFT help, he said.

Mano Pinok in his sidewalk vending stall – where he was proudly showing us more wares to sell. All because of HHFT help, he said.

Mana Uni - doing well, except for cataract in one of her eyes that need surgery. She smiled though as she told me she was fine nonetheless.

Mana Uni – doing well, except for cataract in one of her eyes that need surgery. She smiled though as she told me she was fine nonetheless.

The Amistoso home has now been expanded to allow more room for the extended family that live with Mano Pinok and Mana Uni.

The Amistoso home has now been expanded to allow more room for the extended family that live with Mano Pinok and Mana Uni.

The Candahug housewives:

Not all of the HHFT beneficiaries were success stories – and the update with the women in Candahug was a bit disappointing. The carenderia (small eatery) was not operational and Nimfa, the capitana, gave us several reasons: how two of their members couldn’t work there anymore because they gave birth, and how they had uncollected receivables (3,000 pesos) from a group of construction workers who left town without paying a centavo.

The structure is still there, however, and so were the TV, the videoke machine and the refrigerator. Helen and I urged the capitana to sell the TV and videoke machine, so they can re-start with the business – and make their business model as simple as possible so they can get profit. Capitana Nimfa promised us that she will meet with the other nine women so they can do exactly that.

The good news in Candahug was that the children we gave school uniform money to last year are still in school, and that the uniforms we had paid for were still being used by them.

Inside the non-operational carenderia in Candahug.

Inside the non-operational carenderia in Candahug.

Capitana Nimfa promised us that she and the other women will try to revive the carenderia - after they sell the TV and video machine that HHFT had provided for them last year.

Capitana Nimfa promised us that she and the other women will try to revive the carenderia – after they sell the TV and video machine that HHFT had provided for them last year.

The Fabis:

Edith and Renato Fabi received 17,000 pesos (a little over US$400) last year to construct a concrete pig pen, buy two pigs and buy materials for the home they were trying to rebuild.

A year later, however, they had sold the pigs in order to finish up the house – which they had now moved into. Renato now works as a pastor in a religious community and earns about 5,000 pesos a month, less transportation expenses.

When I spoke to Edith, she said that they ran out of money to rebuild the house so they decided to sell the pigs in January. Now they live in a much bigger space – which helped them, she said, in the couple of typhoons that came in the past few months. At least they no longer live in the makeshift shed they were living in before – which was easily destroyed in a typhoon earlier this year.

Edith came to see me at my mother's house and gave me an update on her family.

Edith came to see me at my mother’s house and gave me an update on her family.

So did HHFT help the families? Indeed it has. We got so much “pasasalamat” (expression of gratitude) from the families – and we relay them back to you our friends who supported us in this venture. Salamat nga madamo ha iyo ngatanan! (Thank you so much to you all!)

At some point we will tell you about what we are doing with Sister Helen in Old Kawayn in Tacloban City – with the proceeds from TR’s Community Champion award. Helen will also have a lot more stories of her trip back to Tacloban – shorter though this time, but hectic.

’til then! Salamat!   -Jackie

Helen W with some her fans at The Shed in Tacloban.

Helen W with some her fans at The Shed in Tacloban.

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News after Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby)

Lots of people have contacted me over the last week to see how Jackie’s family are after Typhoon Hagupit (locally known as Ruby) hit last weekend, and if we had any news on the beneficiaries.

I’m pleased to be able to tell you that Jackie’s family are all ok.  Electricity was turned back on last night, and being the amazing people they are, various family members have been to find news on some of the beneficiaries for us.

We know that:

Reboy’s house had no damage.

The barangay captain (Popoy) in The Shed was incredibly organised and removed the two water tanks HHFT provided so that they didn’t get damaged or destroyed in the storm.  They will be put back asap.  Here (And also in Anibong) the temporary shelters have some damage, but we’re told it was ‘minimal’.

The carenderia in Candahug wasn’t damaged – and now even has a sign up!  They also seem to have created a new part – possibly an entrance? – which is so lovely to see 🙂

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Jun Brazil and his family who received a sewing machine and roofing materials from HHFT look like they prepared well so as not to lose their livelihood again.

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Sister Helen and Sister Aurea took all the women and children in with them at the convent.  All are safe – they just lost the roof of their chapel.

So although that is not everyone, the people above are quite geographically spread, so it might be safe to assume that all our beneficiaries are ok.  I guess that’s due to the fact that this time, people prepared knew to prepare a little more and more evacuated.  It’s great news, but I can’t help think of the emotional strain on everyone there -that’s something that can’t be managed in the same, practical way and has far longer lasting effects.  But right now, I’m really happy that everyone is safe 🙂

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Over to you…

‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’

– Helen Keller

I might have written my last post on what we actually did in Tacloban, but well, here we are again 🙂

One of the things I was told about while I was  there was the planned visit by Pope Francis to Tacloban in January next year.  In a country that is so Catholic, this is a big deal, but there is also big down side.  For whatever reasons, local officials have decided to ‘clean up’ in preparation.  Not in the way you’d expect though.  No, they are planning on moving people out of temporary housing which, admittedly isn’t terribly attractive, but it is where many families who lost everything have been moved to.  These people will be moved further away – from jobs, from schools, from the stability they’ve had since Yolanda.

Other houses are being demolished to widen the roads.  I’ve tried to stay impartial in my writing here, but widen the road?  Seriously?!  I can’t imagine Pope Francis visiting right now and thinking ‘Well, it’s ok, but if the road was a bit wider, I’d feel so much better about it.’

You can read one of the reports on what is happening here

I’m not Catholic, but the Pope seems like a lovely, genuine man who believes in a God who loves.  I imagine that if he was aware of this planning for his trip he’d be appalled.

So I’ve written him a letter.  I realise he’s unlikely to ever actually read it, but what if everyone who reads this does the same?  What if you do the same?  Someone might take notice if everyone spends a few minutes doing this and there is an influx of letters on the same topic.  It’s so very easy to complain about something, but if you don’t do anything to help the situation, then how will it ever get better?

I spent a long time trying to find an appropriate working email address to use as I realise that more people are likely to send an email than an actual letter (although I’ve done both and if you can too, you’ll have done twice as much).  Thank you to all my friends who tried to help with this – the best option found is below.

So all the work is done. All you need is at the bottom of this.  I’ve even given you some suggested text (although feel free to write your own).  To post a letter from the UK to the Vatican is 97p.  If you don’t have the time to post it, leave a comment below, I’ll send you my e-mail address and you can send me your letter. I’ll print it out and send it for you.

If you can find a few minutes to do this, thank you.

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Address:

His Holiness, Pope Francis PP.

00120 Via del Pellegrino

Citta del Vaticano

(It’s NOT Italy!)

E-mail address:

info@news.va

You address the letter to:  Your Holiness

You sign it: with respect, irrespective of your religious beliefs

Possible text:

(If you write your own, it’s suggested you keep it brief – whoever reads the Popes mail has a lot to read and a short letter is more likely to be read than a very lng one)

Your Holiness,

I understand you will visit Tacloban, Philippines in January – a very exciting time for the locals who have endured so much since the typhoon almost a year ago.

However, officials in Tacloban are so keen that you should see the best side of their city they are moving people from their homes; in some cases, even demolishing them.

These are people that lost so much in the typhoon that hit last November – family members, homes, work and possessions.  It doesn’t seem right.

I believe that you would not want your visit to cause more destruction or heart ache for people who have already been through more than any human should have to endure.

I respectfully ask that you intervene to ensure that no further destruction is caused in an area which is only just starting to be rebuilt.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

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Meeting Sister Helen

This final visit was the most emotional visit I made for a number of reasons – the lady I met was fluent in English so I understood every word and could ask questions, we stayed with her for longer than anyone else – about three hours, and she really was the most amazing person I think I have ever met.

When I was at the airport in London waiting to leave London, Jackie sent me an email, copying her friend Magina, to say that there was a nun working in a remote area who if I wanted to meet, Magina could introduce me to.  The nuns name was Sister Helen.

Things didn’t quite work out while I was there – Magina and I didn’t meet up when I’d hoped we would, but that happened with a few people and when you’re short of time in a place you don’t know, I guess it’s bound to happen.  I’d allocated all of the funds and was most of the way through my stay when Magina e-mailed me to say she was sorry she had missed me, but we could meet the next day if I was still interested.

I can vividly remember sitting outside Mama Pat’s house wondering what to do.  I wanted to meet Sister Helen, just because we shared a name and I’d never met a nun before (ok, completely the wrong reasons, I admit!), but I couldn’t very well go empty handed.  I didn’t even have enough of my own money left to make a decent donation towards her work.  So I sat and thought about it.  While I was doing that an e-mail came through from a friend.  She’d told her parents what I was doing, and they had donated £200.  My friend had already transferred it to my bank account.

Problem solved, I wrote back to Magina and she picked me up the next day for the drive to a place called Old Kawayan.  This is a relatively small, remote area – a population of around 400 – through the trees and greenery with houses built near the water.  If it wasn’t for the absolute poverty, it would be a beautiful place.

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Magina walked me through the shanty houses and along a winding path, which, at the end, revealed a convent where Sister Helen and Sister Aurea live.   Sister Helen’s father had given her the land, she had the convent built, and for four years she and Sister Aurea had worked to support the community.

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Sister Aurea had made us iced tea and some amazing banana sort of pastries for us and busied herself elsewhere while we talked to Sister Helen.

I need to tell you about Sister Helen – she’s not how I imagined a nun to be.  She’s 50, but didn’t become a nun until she was 28.  She owned and ran a boutique while she was at college where she got a BSc in commerce, majoring in accounting.  She laughed when we said how ironic it was that someone who used to fly to Hong Kong for the latest designs in fashion now wore a blue habit and white headscraf.  She is tiny, a little rounded and has a gentleness about her that I just can’t put into words.  Her eyes peer brightly from behind her glasses.  She’s the sort of person I could sit and listen to for days on end; just being with her was calming.

She told us about the community so proudly.  About how all the school age children are in school, even though it’s a 2km walk for them just to get to the main road.  How they come to the convent each night to do their homework as the nuns have a laptop for their use and beds for them to sleep on if they work late.  The nuns give them a daily allowance each day and cook them dinner each evening –  three days a week they have vegetables with their rice.

Sister Helen’s immediate concern was for a lady in her 40’s called Babylita. Babylita had three children, but had lost two of them.  She lives with her husband, remaining child and, since Yolanda, her niece and nephew.  Babylita works on a farm and is the main breadwinner for the family as her husband has a weak chest and struggles to work.  She’d recently developed a boil on her leg.  Sister Helen had been treating the boil with antibiotics, dressings and pulling (yes, she said pulling and did the motions of pulling on a rope to support this) the puss out but the infection had spread to the lady’s hip.  It was bad.  I know this because Sister Helen showed me a few photos…. A doctor had recently been consulted and said that Babylita had to have an operation.  If she didn’t, the infection would continue to spread, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what would happen eventually.  Babylita was very scared about the operation as if something happened she was worried there would be nobody to look after her family and if she couldn’t work they wouldn’t be able to eat.  I was in no doubt that Sister Helen would have resolved any situation, but the point was irrelevant: there was no money available for the operation.  It would cost around £200.

Do you ever get the feeling something was meant to happen?  I gave Sister Helen the £200 (neither she nor Magina knew that I had any money, let alone the exact amount) that my friend’s parents had donated less than 24hours ago.

And then we started talking about Yolanda.  The nuns seem like a bit of a double act and Sister Helen told us with a wry smile that Sister Aura had gone shopping two days before the typhoon.  She was meant to buy a kilo of potatoes but bought 10.  She was supposed to buy a few basics but bought lots of rice, fish, milk, sugar and salt.  In Sister Helen’s words ‘God was preparing things’.

Before Yolanda hit, most of the community evacuated to the convent or the social hall – both on much higher ground than their homes.  The houses were decimated but, miraculously, no lives were lost.  There were many injuries, but again, in a strange coincidence, the Sisters had arranged for Red Cross Training for all the 9-11 year olds a few months earlier.  They set up a hospital at the convent and the children and nuns treated everyone who needed it.  Sister Aurea giggled as she told us that they ran out of bandages so had to cut up the only cotton that they had – Sister Helen’s pyjamas.

With everything destroyed, they made it their mission to feed the community.  They used the shopping that they had and collected the bananas from the destroyed trees to cook up and mix with rice to make it go further.  They did not sleep for a week (‘too many people needed our help at all hours’) and they didn’t eat for a month (‘how could we eat when others were hungry?’).  I asked how that was even possible.  I was informed they had a supply of very strong Italian coffee had previously been sent to them by a relative – they drank a lot of it!

The Wednesday following Yolanda, Sister Helen travelled by boat to Tacloban to get medicines for asthmatic children in the community.  She talked softly about how horrible it was to see and hear bodies banging against the boat.  When she arrived she walked 7km to get the medicine, had a glass of water and walked back.  She told us her toenails were black by the time she got home.  Walking through the city at that point would have been no easy feat.

Even though the community didn’t lose anyone, they are on the waters edge and 17 bodies washed up on that shore.  They were blistered and starting to decompose, but Sister Helen changed out of her blue habit into a white one (‘so I could bleach it back later’) and pulled the bodies out of the water.  She then blessed them and buried them.

I cried as Sister Helen told us her story – my notebook is still rippled on the pages I wrote from the tears that streamed down my face and landed on the paper.  Sister Helen cried too, but so gently and in such a dignified way that you almost didn’t notice.  The strength of this woman is amazing.  Her view though is that ‘God has been so good.  He gave me the strength.’

The sisters gave everything they had to the community.  All they had left was their habit, headscarf and a pair of knickers each.  The convent was empty of everything, right down to their plates and forks.

I asked what the focus for the future is, and of course, it’s the children.  The most progressive thing I saw while I was in Tacloban was here – Sister Aurea runs an art class on Saturday mornings for the children with the aim of helping express the after affects of the typhoon in a positive way.  They also run English classes, sign language classes and are looking at dance classes.

Pictures from the art class

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It’s more than classes though.  Magina summed it up so well when she said to the Sisters ‘You gave them dreams, you gave them hope’.  I am in no doubt that without the nuns there to support that community, both dreams and hope would be pretty much nonexistent.

Sister Helen has only told her story to one other person.  They had asked her to publish it in some way, but she believes it isn’t her story to tell.  Her exact words were that it was ‘my responsibility, my duty.  I have to give God the merit.  If it was not for his grace to give me strength I could not have helped even one [person]’.  My heart sunk when she said that as I wanted to share with people how this little bundle of amazingness, wrapped up in a habit and headscarf has and is doing so much for other people.  When we asked though, she very kindly said that she didn’t mind if I wrote it, but she asked that I didn’t publish her picture, which I have respected.   I’ve not done Sister Helen, Sister Aurea or the story the justice it deserves.  It’s hard to put into words something which, two months on still makes my chest and throat feel tight with emotion.  I hope you have a small insight into what I learned though.

As we finished talking, Sister Helen said she thanked God for the strength he gave her.  I am not religious, but I respect her beliefs so rather than agreeing I said she could thank God, but I wanted to thank her. She hugged me then.  I don’t believe in God – not one who can put people through what I saw while I was in Tacloban.  But if there is one place that you could have your mind changed, I think it’s probably sitting with Sister Helen. Outside her convent in Old Kawayan.

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A family day trip and three beneficiaries

I’m almost at the end of the stories of beneficiaries we helped in August.

At the point where I had allocated almost all of the donations, we had a family trip to Belen Farm – a place a good two hour drive away that is well known to Jackie’s family – they used to spend their holidays there as children.  I hired a van and Jackie’s mum, most of Jackie’s siblings, their partners and a niece all piled in for the road trip!

A local gasoline store!

A local gasoline store!

The area we went to was as different to Tacloban as you can get – it seemed sparsely populated and very green.  The area was not affected by the storm surge as it is so far away, but buildings were decimated by the winds.

The temporary classrooms.  This one held a class of 52 children

The temporary classrooms in the local school. This one held a class of 52 children

This included the house of Mana  Tessie.  Her family took shelter in their basement when the typhoon struck.  When it was over they come up the stairs to discover most of their house and sari sari store had been blown away.  They are now living in the basement while they rebuild their house.  We gave Mana Tessie 2500PHP ($35 / $56) to help towards re-establishing her sari sari store.

Mana Tessie in her basement

Mana Tessie in her basement

Mana Winnie was in a more dire situation.  She is 63 and a widow.  Her adult daughter and son live with her.  Her son is an on call labourer who gets occasional work, but her daughter is epileptic and can’t work.  They do not have the money for medication for her and she needs to eat regularly or her fits increase.  With Mana Winnie only earning a living as someone who prays for the local dead (if a family can afford to, they will pay for a 9 day novena – daily prayers.  These are said by a minimum of two people and the cost of 500PHP (£7 / $11) is split between those praying), they frequently can’t afford food.  As the area is farmland, they are allowed to dig root crops up when they really need to, in order to survive.

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Mana Winnie

The house they live in is very strange.  After the typhoon, an NGO helped them build a new structure around what was left of their current one.  All their belongings are piled into the centre of this, with no furniture to speak of.

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Mana Winnie had a plan – she wanted to set up in an empty hut down the road, selling hot food she will cook at home.  The hut is close to a school, so she has potential customers there.  She was very smiley when we gave her 5000PHP (£70 / $111).  She asked our permission to include her sister who struggles as much as she does.  Her sister lives with her 3 children and grandchildren and she thought it would help provide them with an income too.  We said that as long as they set up a business to provide an income, they could involve whoever they wanted 🙂

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The house where Mana Winnie’s sister and family live

The entire basis of Helping Hands for Tacloban was to support survivors of Yolanda, but I am afraid on the last donation in Belen I didn’t stick to that.  I hope you will understand.  An elderly gentleman, well known to Jackie’s family had recently died and I was told that there was no money for a headstone.  I’d been to see some of the mass graves that had been dug after Yolanda and they made me so sad.  Some had markers or even posters to tell me who was there –  one that I can picture vividly was for a young boy and his grandfather.  In one place though, it was just a field, with cows grazing.  Already, you wouldn’t know it’s the final resting place for people.  And in ten years…  I gave 2500PHP ($35 / $56) to the lady who had looked after this gentleman, and was arranging his burial. It seemed wrong for one more person to not have something to mark their grave.  I hope that my decision is understandable by our amazing donors.

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The Sampan family – a complicated one

Before I left for Tacloban I watched a TV programme which followed some of the work Oxfam did there after the typhoon.  I was stunned.  I don’t know if they didn’t ask, or if they didn’t listen to locals, but they spent thousands of pounds of donations building fishing boats, only to find out that the seabed had changed after Yolanda and the boats were almost useless.

It showed me how important local knowledge is, but also how complicated relief work can be.  I intended to simplify this post to make it easier to read (and to make it shorter, as I know from experience, people don’t read posts that are too long), but a friend told me not to do that.  She said I should show how complicated things can get so that people could see that it’s not as simple as saying you’ll replace something, buying the something and having it delivered.  So that is what I will do:

The Sampans are a family that Jackie had helped when she visited.  She paid off the loan for Mrs Sampan’s (Jocelyn) sari sari store and set her husband (Ricardo) up as a fish vendor.  She also gave them money for materials to start building a new home.  Their current home Jackie described (accurately) as ‘a box’.  It houses 2 adults and 11 children. The house and its surroundings were probably the worse I saw.  I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t leave an animal in the conditions this family were living in.

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The sari sari store

Outside their current home

Outside their current home

Inside their current home.  That's it.  There isn't anything else.  For 13 people

Inside their current home. That’s it. There isn’t anything else. For 13 people

In front of their current home

In front of their current home

To the right of their current home. The fact that a child was playing in this - with bare feet - really got to me.

To the right of their current home. The fact that a child was playing in this – with bare feet – really got to me.

Before I arranged to meet the Sampan’s to see how they are doing, one of Jackie’s nieces, Lea, who knows the family, let me know that she had a concern.  There are mechanisms in place now which should enable all children to attend school.  For some reason though, – Lea suspected the logistics of actually getting that many children to the schools every morning – the Sampan’s children were not attending, or at least not frequently.  Lea is passionate about education and felt this was really important, and that any help we gave should be conditional, based on regular attendance.

Mrs Sampan had managed to find me in The Shed and Popoy (the barangay captain) had told me that she was hoping we’d give them the money for materials for their house.  I’d had to say I’d be back in a few days as I didn’t have all the information I needed.  Actually, I’d not budgeted that much help for them, and with the concerns raised, I needed help from Jackie’s family to work out what to do.  On top of that, we’d realised that the house being built was in the ‘No Build Zone’ – an area the government had declared unsafe for rebuilding.  The zone is unreasonable in the sense that there is nowhere else for people like the Sampans to rebuild, so many people are ignoring the rules, but there is a possibility that everything built in this zone could be pulled down in the future.  I didn’t want to use donations for something that may not last.

The start of the new  Sampan family home

The start of the new Sampan family home

We put our heads together to work out a solution that would enable the children to get to school easily.  We came up with the idea that we’d pay a pedicab driver to take the children to school each morning and take them home afterwards.  We could afford to do it for one school year but it would mean that I would leave the money with Khaii, one of Jackie’s nieces and she would arrange to pay the driver upfront each month while Lea would check that it was all actually happening.  It seemed very complicated and a big ask of Khaii and Lea who both have children and busy lives ( although, very kindly, both seemed absolutely happy to help).

This solution wouldn’t help make the family more money though.  Although Jackie had already helped, we were pretty sure that they weren’t making enough to support themselves adequately, and although education is vital, so is being able to eat.  It didn’t feel quite ‘right’.

Once again, Bang worked out the perfect solution (I have no idea how I would have managed without her).  It would cost almost the same to buy a pedicab as it would to pay for our initial solution.  And if we bought one, Ricardo could use that to earn a living while the children were at school and their eldest son could take over the fish vending business.  That way they had an additional, and a potentially good, third income.  They could get their children to school (Lea would check on that and we explained to the Sampans that it was one of the conditions of us helping) and they could source their own materials for the house.  So that is what we did:

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This pedicab cost 16,000PHP (approximately £222 / $360)

As an aside, Jackie mentioned in her post that she’d talked to Jocelyn about family planning.  This is something Bang also believes very strongly that women should be aware of, and I think I heard her raise those two words ‘family planning’ to every female beneficiary we met :).  For Joceyln, with 11 children, we all thought it was even more important, so Bang told her about a 3 year contraceptive injection that is now available for free.  While we were there, I don’t think she really listened.  However, Jackie’s sister Chona, wanted to donate some of the clothes her youngest had outgrown to Jocelyn, so we asked her to visit the family home.  The following Sunday, Jocelyn arrived with Mary Ann (the lady we helped set up as a fish vendor).  Chona gave them the clothes, and Mama Pat, who seems to feed anyone who sits down for more than 10 seconds, gave them some lunch.  I heard ‘Family Planning’ followed by a lot of Waray.  It turned out that Jocelyn and Many Ann remained unconvinced from a medical standpoint.  However, as it was Sunday, a lot of the family were at Mama Pat’s and three of them were nurses.  We called them out and they spoke to the ladies.  I was really happy to find out that Jocelyn listened and said she would look into the injection for herself, so hopefully her family will stop at 13…

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