On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Super Typhoon Yolanda, made landfall in the Philippines. The most intense tropical cyclone on record, the storm killed an estimated 10,000 people, destroyed coastlines, and disrupted livelihoods for millions. Then, on December 7, 2014, Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit), a category 4 storm, struck a similar path of destruction across the north central islands of the Philippines.
When Headwaters was first contacted by Julius Delos Reyes via Facebook, whose village was in the path of both storms, we were immediately struck by his determination and resolve in the face of unfathomable destruction. Here he recounts his experience and how it changed his life.
Tell us about yourself.
Before Typhoon Haiyan hit, I was studying community health at the University of the Philippines School of Health Sciences in Palo, Leyte. But after the devastation, I was forced to quit because of financial problems. All of my important things in school were damaged and could not be used again. Boarding houses increased their rent, and food and other necessities became more expensive. But Typhoon Yolanda taught me to become resilient, to stand again after the heavy rains and strong winds. In spite of the tragedy, I went back to my community to help. I encouraged people, especially the youth, to serve our community without any condition or reward in return. [With most trees and vegetation destroyed], we are now regularly planting tree saplings, mangrove and fruit trees, and teaching them things that I have learned from my school.
I understand that you are from Pinabacdao. Tell us about the daily life of the people there and how life changed after these disasters?
Pinabacdao is a fourth class municipality in the Province of Samar, Philippines. In our village, heads of the family are fishermen and farmers, but they don’t have their own land, they are tenants. My mom is a full-time mother and my stepfather is a fisherman.
On December 7, 2014, Typhoon Ruby destroyed houses and livelihood in our village and my family was one of the badly affected families. We lost everything including our house and source of income because of storm surges and strong winds. We lived in a temporary shelter made of tarps and light materials that we retrieved from our damaged house. After the devastation, relief aid was difficult to achieve. One of the reasons was that our local government officials didn’t submit their assessments immediately to the regional level, this is the reason why relief was delayed.
You reached out to several non-governmental organizations via the internet. How have those organizations become involved?
I decided to reach out to local and international organizations to ask for assistance. I searched for organizations on Facebook and sent messages. Fortunately, one of the organizations that immediately responded to my message was Disaster Aid Australia through their partner in the Philippines, Balay Mindanaw based in Cagayan De Oro. They gave me 125 pieces of large tarpaulins. Later, I received a cellphone call from Arceli Diaz and Dr. Rebecca Thomley, asking me how they can help us and what is the current situation in my village. The moment after I received the call I can’t express my happiness. Even though they didn’t promise me anything, they gave me hope. Last May, Dr. Thomley visited my village with a lot of surprises for kids and important stuff – brand new clothes for adults and children, foods, vitamins and kitchen wares, mosquito nets and much more.
Deeply from my heart, Headwaters Relief Organization reached us despite of our geographical location. They gave us more than I expected – not just my request but love, hope, and compassion. Your effort, resources, and time are highly appreciated. Organizations like you are rare nowadays. I thank you all for what you do.
You mentioned that through losing everything that you learned a lot about resilience. What does resilience mean to you and how have you conveyed that to others?
I will continue in serving my community and utilize what I have learned in past years, I gained lessons from Typhoon Yolanda and Ruby. I lost everything. I started teaching my community how to become resilient, and I encourage the youth to do their part in the spirit of volunteerism.
Is there anything you wish to add?
Since I was a child one of my dreams was to became a rural doctor but now I think I should change my plan because it will never happen. The only thing that is still in my mind is how can I help my fellows in my village to improve their lives and pull through from hunger and poverty.
After the devastation of typhoons, I started to do something for my community, I asked help from different non-governmental organizations, and I am lucky that Headwaters replied to me in a short period. More than the support and supplies they brought, they gave us love and hope. I am very thankful to God for sending us generous people like you.