Ciony Ayo-Eduarte (center) leads survivors of Typhoon Haiyan to a food distribution by UMCOR in Tacloban, Philippines. Ayo-Eduarte is manager for UMCOR in the Philippines.
By David Tereshchuk *
March 25, 2014—More than four months have passed since the Philippines’ deadliest ever typhoon, named Haiyan internationally and called Yolanda locally. Determined recovery work is well under way—but no one could claim it is easy.
In the wake of more than six thousand deaths, tens of thousands of injuries, and nearly 700,000 people displaced from their homes, UMCOR—the United Methodist Committee on Relief—has been playing its full part, and nowhere is that seen more clearly than in Leyte Province, where the typhoon hit especially hard. Severely battered locations, including the regional capital of Tacloban City, Ormoc City, and the municipality of Isabel, were among the first to receive aid thanks to supply convoys organized by UMCOR.
As UMCOR’s work has continued, it has adhered firmly to the guiding principle to attend especially to communities whose needs might otherwise be overlooked. After thorough consultation with area representatives, UMCOR has focused on assistance for rebuilding damaged or totally destroyed homes in the barangay (or local community) of Calogcog, about ten miles south of Tacloban.
“Our busiest task now,” says UMCOR’s in-country disaster response director, Ciony Eduarte, “is organizing intake interviews on-site with affected families. We are compiling all the basic information for rebuilding their homes in line with their real needs. We collect numbers showing family-size and ages, photographs, and coordinates for their former homes, and so on.”
There are, of course, many people involved in the project, including UMCOR staff and volunteers plus those of partner organizations, all working alongside the barangay’s own representatives, and Eduarte is a very familiar presence among them.
UMCOR’s Deputy General Secretary Denise Honeycutt recalls how on her recent mission visit, local people would often recognize Eduarte whenever the team walked or drove through the community. “They would stop us and say, ‘You’re UMCOR! You came to us when we most needed you!’ ” Honeycutt says.
Eduarte, a veteran of Philippines disasters, including the catastrophic floods of 2012, says it is “the resilient and hopeful spirit of the affected people that drives organizations like ours to keep on serving.”
It is true, Eduarte also admits, that the experience of Yolanda has been especially hard. “Every time I travel in the area, the trauma comes back. This is a common experience among humanitarian workers in the area. We have seen bodies on the road, desolated communities, and homeless families.”
‘What It Means to Be Strong’
Eduarte and her colleagues are sustained, she says, by the attitudes and actions of the people they work alongside. During one of the frequent community walks she has conducted through Calogcog’s devastated neighborhoods, she says, “I met people who really showed me what it means to be strong.”
She listened as a barangay leader described how four members of his family were killed … a woman spoke of losing her mother and her niece … and a home-owner shared, as he showed her his ruined house, that 18 family members had died in the immediate area.
“I wanted to cry, but I asked how they managed to cope,” says Eduarte, “and they said they are alive … and they still have a purpose in living and reason to hope.”
Eduarte has on occasions felt overwhelmed, as any human would, by the complexity of the task of recovery, but she is adamant about what keeps her going. “How can you give up, when the people are just hanging on—knowing that they have to continue living in hope?”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will support this rebuilding effort and enable UMCOR to respond effectively to other disasters around the globe.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to staging.umcor.org.