Encounter with Yolanda Survivors, Part 1: Crucible Still Haunts Survivors After Three Years

“Everyone is yearning for a reason, for a cause. Somewhere deep inside, we’re holding on for dear life.” – from Nothing Stays the Same by Luke Sital-Singh

***

This is not just about what happened then. I am writing this story not just because this is important; but because for the survivors, their stories will always be the “news” until they are heard enough for them to get their lives back.

It’s been three years. How do you think the survivors are doing right now? Do you think three years is enough to recover from the strongest typhoon the country has ever experienced so far?

Tell that to 34-year old Dexter who tearfully recalled how he found a sea vessel where his house used to stand. Or to 43-year old Melba who thought she would never see her husband again when they got separated during the storm. Or to young Bea Marie who was supposed to celebrate her 11th birthday on that fateful day.

Or to the thousands whose memories of the loved ones they lost remain fresh in their hearts.

“What happened?” was the hardest question I had to ask them at the beginning of each interview. I’m not a journalist by profession, but I had to dig deep for that skill so I can sit through 12 interviews and listen to their truths without breaking down myself. For someone like me who cries easily when watching The Biggest Loser or Masterchef, that’s tormenting; but still nothing compared with the kind of anguish coming out of their tales.

I cannot rely on my own knowledge of what went down. I had to ask the question to have an idea where they are coming from, and where they see themselves going. One of them brought me to where she was exactly by quoting Matthew 6:34.

“Sabi ni Jesus sa Bible, ‘wag kayong mag-alala sa mga darating na araw dahil ang darating na araw ay may sariling alalahanin.’ Ito ang nagpalakas sa akin. Pinagdasal ko sa Kanya na kahit wala na kaming makain noong mga araw na iyon, alam kong bukas ay may darating na tulong para sa amin (Jesus said in the Bible, ‘do not worry about the coming days because those days will have worries of their own’. This is what gave me strength. I prayed to Him that even though we didn’t have anything more to eat during those days, I knew that someday help will come to us.),” said 22-year old Jenny Anne. She was a teenaged mom of a 7-month old baby when Yolanda forced them out of the small house they were renting.

I got goosegumps when I first read and heard about such accounts in the news right after it happened; but hearing them straight from the survivors jarred me.

“Pagkatapos ng bagyo, nakita ko sa labas wala nang mga bahay. Ang daming patay, nakahilera lang (After the storm, I saw that there were no more houses left outside. There were so many dead bodies, in one line),” said Nestor, trying hard to hold back the tears that have started to well in his eyes. He and his family had sought shelter in the community astrodome. “Kumakain kami ng bigas na basa ng baha. Hinuhugasan lang namin. Kahit anong mapulot namin sa kalsada na makakain, kinukuha namin…kahit mga namatay na baboy (We were eating rice grains that were wet from the flood. We would just wash them. Whatever we can find in the streets that were edible, we would pick upeven the dead pigs.)

 For some of them, it was like that for about a year. They were depressed, confused, hungry and weak.

And then the news came: there will be houses that they can have for free. It was a different promise from the other ones they’ve heard. Right then, they held on to hopes that they can rebuild their lives and reset their children’s future.

(to be continued)

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