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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'

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A Bigger Storm for a Better Philippines

by Niquie Angelo

One year after Haiyan, we are inspired by the generosity of our partners and reminded that more than giving new houses, it’s about presence – building relationships, pushing each other up, and leaving no one behind.

Lawaan, Eastern Samar – a small town located by the coast of the Pacific Ocean composed of 16 barangays with 12,000 people. With fishing as their main source of living, it was no wonder why there was hardly anyone on the streets during the day. Most of the women were busy attending to their sari-sari stores, which also served meals all day. Every once in a while, private and public vehicles would speed through the highway, making one think twice before crossing without looking both ways.

Pictures of Lawaan taken before Typhoon Haiyan
(Photo Source

It was a bright sunny day when we traveled to Lawaan and the view, with the mountains on one side and the sea with rock formations on the other, was just breathtaking. At night, the stars looked like Christmas lights hung by angels in the heavens – a sight that left me wondering, “How could God have allowed His beautiful creation experience such an awful devastation?”

Lawaan on Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) first made landfall in Guian, a second class municipality of 47,000 people located at the southernmost tip of the Samar Island peninsula, six towns away from Lawaan. Even without the storm surge that wiped out Tacloban City and its neighboring areas, the damage it brought was still life-changing. The lush mountains that used to be filled with tall coconut trees were left broken and unable to bear fruit anymore. The houses by the coast were shattered by the heavy rains and strong winds that most residents had to rebuild their homes from the ground up. People were left with scars from the wounds brought by this supertyphoon that they will forever carry. 

Pictures taken the day after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall
(Photo Source

With all the attention directed to Tacloban, one would wonder how areas such as Lawaan or Guian will be able to recover from such a big loss of resources – and lives. An ordinary Manilenyo would most probably have not even heard of these places. But this did not keep the people of Eastern Samar from mustering all their strength that’s left and working together to rise back up even with the limited amount of donations they’re receiving.  

Thankfully, among the very few who knew about the area and the devastation it caused is a group from Isla Lipana & Co., who have been in the frontlines of rehabilitating the municipality of Lawaan ever since the typhoon. Isla Lipana is the Philippine member firm of a global network called PwC that specializes in delivering assurance, advisory, and tax services, and they have been auditors of Gawad Kalinga since the year 2010. Despite the very busy nature of their work, they spend a lot of time engaging with both government and non-government organizations in responding to calamity, helping the less fortunate, and transforming this country into a better place to live in. 

Isla Lipana’s Call to Action

Isla Lipana has facilitated rehabilitation for 6 classrooms in Lawaan, 3 of which are located in Brgy. Beta-og Elementary School, which were all completed just in time for the new school year. In addition, through Isla Lipana’s “Seat of Hope” fundraiser, brand new school chairs were granted not only to students of Lawaan, but to public schools all over the Haiyan-affected areas. In the government sector, PwC Philippines has collaborated with the Presidential Assistance for Rehabilitation and Recovery (PARR) to provide them with consulting services to support their rehabilitation and recovery programs for Haiyan victims.

PwC builds homes with Gawad Kalinga, partners with PhilamLife Foundation for “Seat of Hope”, and collaborates with PARR
(Photos taken from the Isla Lipana Annual Report)

Last July 2014, Isla Lipana & Co. has agreed through a partnership with Gawad Kalinga to be the first sponsors for homes in GK Lawaan. Twenty families will be blessed with new homes by Christmas where they could enjoy their noche buenas and not worry about where they’ll be sleeping days after. 

Isla Lipana Continues the Work

Helping does not just end in giving away resources, may it be financial or in kind. More often than not, we find that the best kind of help one can give is presence – one genuine hug can give comfort to those who have lost, a few words of encouragement can empower those whose strength have been blown away, and just simply lending an ear can bring back hope to a nation whose resilience is being tested time and time again.

Beyond new houses, Isla Lipana gives the beneficiaries something equally valuable: their presence

Residents of Lawaan have definitely felt Isla Lipana’s presence since the beginning of their projects and they continue to be present as they send employee volunteers to conduct different activities in the area. Just last October 2014, ten employees signed up to go to Lawaan and help in their rehabilitation firsthand. Together with Edwin Padillo, their Corporate Responsibility Manager, and Genpros Sanidad, a GK volunteer working for PwC, these ten employees first visited the Beta-og Elementary School to get to know and play with the children who welcomed the visitors with their warmest smiles.

Employee volunteers spend time with the children of the community and help rebuld Lawaan firsthand
Photo Credit: Edwin Padillo of Isla Lipana

On the second day, the group headed to the GK Lawaan site in Brgy. Poblacion 8 to help in construction of their village. It rained the day before and the site was generally muddy. The area where the units were laid out was on the elevated part of the land marked with colorful flags. From the current status of construction then, there were two main tasks assigned: transferring hollow blocks and digging holes for  foundation. Without complaints, the volunteers headed to their respective tasks with their shovels and gloves, crossing the muddy terrain, and getting their shoes all dirty.

Lawaan Mayor Candida Gabornes leads by example in the Bayanihan line

From the entrance of the site where all the materials were piled, Lawaan Mayor Candida Gabornes led the Bayanihan line passing along hollow blocks to their designated area. While most of the female volunteers participated in the Bayanihan line, the male volunteers took on the more difficult task of digging out soil for the foundation of the houses.

Watching the volunteers and beneficiaries from a distance, it was heartwarming to see them working together, sharing stories, laughing around, singing and dancing to the music being played in the background. Hiding from the heat of the sun, I saw two volunteers from Isla Lipana trying to get to know a group of old men. On one of their breaks,  the song “Umawit Muli” by Scarlett Alley was played and everyone was taught how to dance this year’s Unity Dance. Seeing everyone in good spirits just made that sunny day even brighter and more beautiful than it was.

Isla Lipana volunteers sweating it out

Standing Stronger

“Things happen for a reason” – a common cliché we tell ourselves in times when life decides to punch us in the face. A calamity like this causing massive destruction would not have happened without any special reason behind it. What reason? We can only assume. Seeing how our country has acted together in solidarity during the past calamities, one can say that the reason’s the same – to unite a country that has been divided into several islands with different languages and cultures. But why the largest typhoon ever recorded in the history of mankind?

Maybe God sent a bigger storm to prepare our people for something greater. Maybe He needs us to stand closer than before as we continue to fight through the challenges our country is facing and will face. Maybe He’s telling us that it’s time to set aside our personal differences and our own agendas to bring out the real potential we possess as a nation.

Through Haiyan, towns such as Lawaan were given an opportunity to be known and be heard.

Through Haiyan, corporations such as Isla Lipana & Co. are able to build relationships with Filipinos from other regions.

Through Haiyan, we learned that we are strong. And as we continue to push each other up, with God on our side, nothing will stop us from building a better Philippines.

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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'


Gawad Kalinga’s Haiyan Reconstruction Efforts would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers – young and old, rich and poor, popular and seemingly ordinary – who have stepped up to become heroes for our brothers and sisters in need.

Many villages across the Visayas (like GK Lawaan in Brgy. Poblacion 8, Lawaan, Leyte) are in the process of being built today because of the bayanihan of these volunteers, the typhoon survivors, the local government, and partners like Isla Lipana & Co. and VXI Global Holdings B.V.

But the work is far from over, and there are thousands more who need to be relocated to safe communities like this one. Find out how you can help #endpoverty today.

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