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ORMOC: Rising Above Tragedy, Over and Over Again

[Date Created: April 8, 2014]

by Gia Leanne Luga

Upon entering the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Village in Brgy. Tambulilid, Ormoc, the first thing that will catch your attention is the row of newly built houses rising on your left. With bright, beautiful colors, the houses match the warm, welcoming smiles of the Kapitbahayan (GK homeowners). For a while, you’d think you’re in any other GK community, and disaster wouldn’t even cross your mind.

But as you walk further along, you’d notice the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in full display. You’d see old houses with makeshift roofs to protect the residents from the harsh weather. You’d notice broken walls, blown away ceilings, and damaged infrastructure. And in the middle of the village, you’d see the one lone structure that stands proud and erect – the GK provincial office that doubles as a community center.

Disaster-resilient structures

When Yolanda struck in the morning of November 8, 2013, the leaders brought everyone inside this community center, because they knew it was their best chance of protecting themselves from the storm’s wrath. The adults gathered and boarded the windows, placing the children underneath two tables to give them added protection in case the ceiling gave out.

Ask Kapitbahayan President Santiago Penaso how that morning was like for them, and he would tell you they truly feared for their lives. The wind was deafening and unforgiving, and the roof of the community center had already been blown away. The men had to reach up to try and hold the ceiling together, while the women comforted the children, who were already crying.

While all of this was happening, they were collectively praying for delivery from the storm. Only when Yolanda went away could they finally check on their homes, but the aftermath left them in a daze. Their roofs were gone, some homes were totally damaged, and debris was everywhere. But they were all grateful to be alive.

"The GK motto 'Walang Iwanan' (leave no one behind) became real to us. Because had it not been for the values of Gawad Kalinga, it would have been every man for himself."

– Santiago Penaso, KB President

Typhoon Haiyan Survivor

Even after a calamity of such magnitude, order was maintained. That very morning, the community center housed over 400 relief packs that were donated by a partner. Nobody wanted to touch the packs because they knew it was meant for earthquake-devastated Bohol.

They waited for instructions, and only when GK Worker Boboy Igot arrived did the leadership decide to give the relief to affected families and surrounding communities.

Tito Boboy was in his house a few meters away from the site when Yolanda struck. His house was also damaged, but as soon as he could traverse the debris to reach the community, he went.

“Presence is important, even if I didn't have any material thing to share at that moment. I just wanted to be with them, showing them that I will not leave them behind. We found comfort in one another.”

– Boboy Igot, GK Worker

Typhoon Haiyan Survivor

Disaster-resilient people

Yolanda is not the first disaster these families had to survive. Brgy. Tambulilid is actually a relocation site for the survivors of Typhoon Uring, a calamity that killed over 5,000 people in Ormoc in 1991. Merlita Matugina remembers watching in horror as the flash floods took her 7 year-old son Carmelito, while she held as tight as she could to her 5 year-old and 3-year old. In 2005, another tragedy took everything away as her husband’s battle with a terminal illness and eventual death drained everything they had.

Merlita was a widow and single mother when she moved to the Rotary GK Village in Brgy. Tambulilid. Today, she serves as one of the community leaders and caretakers. Together with the rest of the residents, she now faces Yolanda’s aftermath with unyielding courage.

"Many homes were damaged but what's important is we are all alive and safe. We have God and we have each other. 23 years ago, He helped us recover from Typhoon Uring, and we will stand up again today. For the future of our children, we will help each other recover."

– Merlita Matugina, GK Homeowner

Typhoon Haiyan Survivor

Nanay Merlita carried this same faith through difficult years of surviving one tragedy after another, because she was determined to give each of her children a bright future. Just a week ago, her youngest daughter Leilanie graduated on top of her batch. In her Valedictory speech, she said: “Poverty is not a hindrance to success.” Dedicating her award to her mother, she went on to say “I was not born on a silver platter, but my mother tried hard not to make that an obstacle.” This June, Leilanie will attend Philippine Science High School in Palo. The bright future Merlita fought for is now beginning to unfold.

Leilanie is only one of the many children who grew up in this GK community in Tambulilid. The GK homeowners point to these children as the reason why they have to rise and recover every time tragedy strikes, no matter how many times it happens. Because for the next generation to inherit a Philippines where EVERYONE is free to dream of a brighter tomorrow, we need to stand up and fight the battles that plague our society today. Over and over and over again.

Disaster-resilient communities

After a disaster as massive as Yolanda, we ask ourselves what’s next. Yes, we need to relocate families from danger zones into disaster-resilient structures – like the new homes Globe and Human Nature are building in Ormoc. Yes, the Tito Boboys of this world need to help people like Santi and Merlita move on, recover, and rebuild their lives. But in parallel, we also need to make sure we’re building disaster-resilient communities made up of people who know what to do during a calamity – people who will not leave each other behind.

This, more than anything, is what Ormoc teaches us. Because more than the row of newly built houses that will catch your attention as you enter the GK Village in Tambulilid, what will stick to your memory are the names and faces of the residents. In their eyes you will see the numerous tragedies they survived, but also the quiet courage that they draw from God and from each other – one that’s strong enough to face any calamity. We may not be able to predict when the next Uring or Yolanda will strike, but we can certainly get ahead of it by building disaster-resilient communities today.

Bangon, Ormoc! Wala’y biyaay!



Exactly 5 months after Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked havoc in the Philippines, GK is now on FULL BLAST with Yolanda reconstruction. Through the combined efforts and resources of partners, volunteers, GK workers and our very own residents, we have made significant headway in our roof repair, Balangay (fishing boats distribution) and housing reconstruction. Now we need YOU to help SCALE UP so we can each more families faster. FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN HELP.

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