Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I dedicate this Christmas to the Yolanda survivors

This past week, I met some survivors of the November 2013 supertyphoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan as known internationally) when I visited Cebu province in the Visayas region of the Philippines with some friends. My friends and I (we came from Luzon region which was unaffected by Yolanda) were supposed to go to some areas quite near Cebu that were devastated by the typhoon, to give out some help to the survivors. However, because of some difficulty in transportation and time constraint, we asked a few of our friends who were typhoon survivors based in Leyte (one of the hardest hit by Yolanda) to come to Cebu instead for at least an overnight stay and to get for themselves and their loved ones the assistance we brought for them. Some of the assistance also came from other concerned parties.

For one of the people (a friend of mine from way back) who came to stay in the hotel we were billeted in at Cebu, it was the first time for her--since the time that she and her family lost almost all their property and possessions in early November this year to Yolanda--to get out of Leyte, to once again be in a place where there was electricity 24 hours a day, to once again sleep in decent room with a soft bed with running water in the bath, to once again eat on a proper dining table with food that need not be scrimped, to once again watch TV. Now, when my friend saw on evening TV news the featured videos on Christmas lights/decors then already festooned on streets and establishments elsewhere in the Philippines, she exclaimed in the vernacular "Hey, it's Christmas already in other places."

This person I'm talking about used to be the one in charge of putting up Christmas lights/decors in the office in Quezon City in Luzon where she used to work at before going back to her home province (Leyte). And she did all that office decorating with gusto and with much creativity. When she took an early retirement and went back to her province, she set up a small business there, about two years ago.

Now, Yolanda left this person's home in Leyte hardly standing. It was made of concrete thus the typhoon wasn't able to put it down completely. But the house lost some walls and its roof. This person and her relatives who were rendered totally homeless by Yolanda are now cramped in the first floor of the house, with the floor of the house's former second story (wiped out by Yolanda) now serving as their roof. Almost all furniture in the house had been destroyed. Around this person and her relatives' small space are the devastated homes and properties of their neighbors, whose homes were made of mostly light materials. Fallen trees and electric posts are everywhere. Since the typhoon hit on that fateful day, this once vibrant community has had no electricity, and the remaining residents have to seek for and find basic daily essentials that are either scarce or have to be bought at very high prices in far places (no relief goods have reached their area yet). They are making do with what they have and can get, they have to re-start and re-build their lives from almost nothing. 

Now, with no walls and windows to hang to the Christmas lights/decor, with no electricity to run those lights and to play the Christmas carols and, of course, what more, with but the simplest of food to share and partake among the family members, my friend's family and all the other Yolanda survivors will celebrate this year's Christmas with neither the pomp nor pageantry of the past years. But this special day, albeit to be celebrated simply, will be made even more special and meaningful by the most earnest hope and determination that the survivors share together, hand-in-hand, emanating from the deepest of their hearts and souls. Their hope is alive and burning that, soon, they will rise above the rubble and reclaim their lives. 

To my friend and the other Yolanda survivors, I dedicate and share this year's Christmas celebration. I share with them the hope and prayers for their recovery at the soonest time possible. 

My friend's name is Aster.

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