Building back hope in Ormoc City
The seeds of hope are being sown in Leyte, not in any four-walled office, but in the middle of a sugarcane field.
The temporary shelter for Yolanda victims, located in Barangay Concepcion in the outskirts of Ormoc City, can be a model for other areas affected by typhoon Yolanda last year.
The evacuation site here is one of two designated by the local government, the other one is in Barangay Can-untog.
Passing through rows of sugarcane plants after turning from the highway, what immediately strikes visitors is the lack of mayhem in this camp that characterizes other evacuation centers in the region.
While many temporary shelters are beset with issues from lack of basic amenities like water and electricity, to absence of relief goods, the evacuees in Ormoc seem to have gone beyond that.
To be sure, Ormoc suffered the least casualties of all the major cities and towns affected by the typhoon, but it did not escape the wrath of Yolanda with about 90% of its infrastructures reportedly suffering damages.
The two temporary shelters together house almost a thousand families, half of them informal settlers in the city even before Yolanda.
The shelters are like any of the bunkhouses that sprouted after the devastation of typhoon Yolanda, but here the evacuees take pains in maintaining order and cleanliness.
In every alley, you can see someone sweeping her own front and backyard, even under the scorching sun. The order seems to have translated into a happy disposition as people readily flash a smile, whether they be doing the laundry or cleaning the toilets.
“A lot has to do with leadership,” Dennis Bartiquin, a social worker assigned to the camp attributed in one sentence why there is a working system in place in the camp.
The camp in Concepcion houses 413 families comprising 1,834 individuals. They moved here last March 1 after spending almost four months after typhoon Yolanda in tents or makeshift shelters.
The job of coordinating all these individuals belongs to the camp manager and that title belongs to Lorna Gordo of the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD). The fact that there is a camp manager, who reports everyday to the camp, spells a lot in the day-to-day function of the evacuation center.
“The key is we talk to them. We ask for their suggestions, and the initiative to make things better comes from them. We are just here to supervise,” said Gordo.
The residents themselves agree. Most of the males are out during daytime working in the sugarcane fields or as construction workers in the city. It is the females who run the household at daytime and keep the whole camp in order.
“Since there is nothing to during daytime we might as well keep the camp clean,” a group of women answered collectively.
Some have small stores or even work part-time in cash-for-work programs to earn additional money -- money that can support the children as they go to school, they say.
But the task of maintaining the camp is done voluntarily.
For Marissa Domosmog, a 32-year-old education degree holder, an additional task she accommodated is helping out in the day care center within the camp.
“I just feel obliged to help out since currently I am out of job and I might as well use my skills,” she said. She and other volunteers keep the toddlers busy for two three-hour shifts a day.
The happy disposition seems to have filtered down to the children as they scurry to play after being dismissed from the day care center. In the meantime, the mothers are awaiting the arrival of volunteers from the Tzu Chi Foundation who are going to give additional food aid.
No one is more contented in keeping things in order than Ormoc City Mayor Edward Codilla.
“I gave them one condition, keep the camp in order, or else they won’t be admitted to the permanent relocation site we are building.” This, he said, is the key to keep the evacuees organized.
Draconian as it may sound, it instilled discipline among the evacuees. Besides his position, Codilla can ask the cooperation of the evacuees because they know that the land where the camp now stands is actually owned by the mayor and was lent just for this purpose.
“What is important is before we ask them to leave their places of abode which were destroyed by Yolanda, we met with them and I promised them personally to attend to their needs,” explained Codilla.
“Like when they asked for a vehicle to transport their belongings, I immediately sent a truck to assist them,” he added.
Action coupled with information is the combination that works to erase the evacuees’ feeling of uncertainty. Much of the uncertainty, a shared feeling among victims across the region, comes from not knowing what they are facing after Yolanda destroyed their dwellings, and not knowing if they can build back on the same land in light of the government’s 40-meter “No Build Zone” policy.
However, there is a little less uncertainty for the evacuees in Ormoc.
By September, the evacuees are scheduled to transfer to a permanent relocation site in Barangay Liloan, a 50-hectare land again donated by Codilla for free. The Tzu Chi Foundation will take the lead in building a permanent community for about 4,000 families.
Although there are only about 2,000 families identified as Yolanda victims, the other half of the permanent shelters will go to other informal settlers around Ormoc.
If the permanent relocation of victims of typhoon Yolanda and also other informal settlers pushes through as planned, Ormoc City can take pride in achieving what is a mere slogan for others. That is, they would have built back better from the ruins of Yolanda.
Yolanda aftermath: Education and hope (Part I)
Yolanda aftermath: Education and Hope (Part II)