Encounter with Yolanda Survivors, Part 2: Survivors Get a New Lease on Life

Civil Engineer Jeff Villanueva knew what he was sacrificing for when he became part of the team that built the houses for the survivors of Yolanda under the SM Cares project. For Jeff, a UP graduate out of SM Foundation’s scholarship program, seeing his project finally being turned over to its owners is the most fulfilling part of his job.

“Kahit sobrang pagod na pagod ka na, sunog sa araw (Even even when you’re already exhausted, burned by the sun), and you see your projects being used by whoever it is intended for, I tell myself: this is the purpose of my career.” Jeff had yet to see his family after several months of working on the housing project when I talked to him. I sensed the pride in his voice when he happily shared that the houses they built were carefully designed to withstand strong typhoons according to existing weather predictions.

Jeff would have been even more proud had he heard what 43-year old Melba had to say about the house given to her family at the SM Cares Village in Barangay New Kawayan, Tacloban.

“Dininig ng Diyos ang panalangin namin na bigyan kami ng bahay na safe. Sementado talaga at matibay kumpara sa dati naming bahay. Ngayon kahit sobrang lakas ng hangin sa labas, hindi namin halos maramdaman.”

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Beneficiaries in Barangay New Kawayan, Tacloban City keep their community clean and green.
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Some of the residents planted fruit-bearing trees for their sustenance.
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Just like any Pinoy community, there is always an open basketball court.

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A beneficiary in Bogo, Cebu showed his love for plants by making this creative trellis-type of shade in front of his house.

The houses were built with solid cement up to the roof. Each house is high enough to allow the resident to build a loft or a second floor that can accommodate up to two bedrooms. The doors were made of heavy wood, and the windows are of sturdy sliding glass. Outside, the rows of houses are colorful to give the whole village a hopeful glow. It is the exact design as the ones we saw under the same housing project in Bogo, Cebu.

The families living in SM Cares Village in Bogo are now self-sustaining. Most of them are now earning from their own craft making products that they learned from a livelihood program prepared by their community. Some of them have their own jobs, while members of a cooperative are getting their share of income from a variety store that they were able to put up.

They have come a long way since that harrowing experience in November 8, 2013. While the new residents in Barangay Kawayan have yet to fully settle down in their new homes since transferring this May 2016, the ones in Bogo are slowly picking up the pieces. They were the first recipients of the 1,000 homes under the program that started in 2014.

Technically, the project started while the whole country was still reeling from the devastating effects of the historic super typhoon. Customers, tenants, suppliers and business partners of the mall giant were all given the opportunity to give their share as early as December 2013. SM filled in whatever was needed to complete the targeted 1,000 disaster resilient houses for the survivors of Tacloban, Cebu, Iloilo, and Ormoc.

I will end this story with inspiring words from the recipients of this project: Binigyan kami ng ganitong biyaya nang walang kapalit, kaya dapat alagaan at pagandahin namin. (We were given this gift without anything in return, so we should take care of it and sustain it.) Forget the past, embrace the present. I know God will protect us forever.

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