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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'

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Wide Awake
by Gia Leanne Luga

One year after Haiyan, the mothers in Sagay (Negros Occidental)

find shelter from their fears and the courage to face life’s many storms.

Read more Hope Stories of Haiyan

Last night, it rained hard. In a tiny hut made of amacan (woven bamboo slats) somewhere in the coastal barangay of Old Sagay (Negros Occidental), Jenny Santos was wide awake. Her 11 children were fast asleep and huddled together in the center of the hut. It was too dark to see, but she could hear the rain drip into the basin she placed directly under the leaking ceiling – as if in symphony with the wind that was now battering their very thin walls. Jenny knew it was going to be another long night.

A few meters away, in an even smaller hut that was closer to the shoreline, Evelyn Regrido was also wide awake. She could hear the crashing waves and see the rising water seep through their bamboo floor. A year ago, Evelyn, her husband, and their 2 children made their way from the evacuation center to their seaside home – only to find out that Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) washed it away completely. Today you can see no traces of it, and they’re left with no choice but to rent a makeshift hut for Php150/month. Like Jenny, sleep was the farthest thing from Evelyn’s mind.

Evelyn Regrido stands at the spot where her house was 1 year ago, before Haiyan washed it away.

Behind her are other makeshift huts in the area, which are hardly typhoon-resistant.

Shelter From Rain

I met Jenny and Evelyn in Gawad Kalinga (GK) Sinigayan, Brgy. Old Sagay, in the city of Sagay, Negros Occidental. They had to walk for almost an hour through muddy roads with barely a wink of sleep, but when I found them they were hard at work completing their sweat equity hours. The heat was unforgiving, but the smiles they greeted me with were as bright and colorful as the row of 20 new homes that already stood – the fruit of months of sweat and hard work.

  The future homeowners of GK Sinigayan digging the foundation of the next row of houses.

Behind them are the 20 new homes that they will soon move into.

During a break from the house build, they took me to where they currently live. They told me that every time the tide rises, usually at night, the sea eats into the land and their barangay turns into a saltwater pool.

 Jenny Santos describes how the seawater almost reached their floor last night (and almost every night),

leaving her in constant fear for her children’s lives.

They also introduced me to Merlelina Selma, a single mother of 4 young children. She lives farther from the coastline, but with a hut that was just as dilapidated, she was also wide awake during last night’s rain. With tears in her eyes, Merlelina recalls her lowest point of desperation after Haiyan tore their house down. Unable to feed her children and with no one to lean on, she actually contemplated giving them to Social Services. “I couldn’t bear seeing my children hungry, and I thought maybe DSWD could find them a home where they can eat 3 times a day.”

She came to her senses when her 4 year-old daughter asked,
“Don’t you love us, ma? Why are you giving us away?” Merlelina knew then that she had to stand up, be strong for her children, and find a way to survive.

 Merlelina Selma takes us to her makeshift hut, which leaks every time it rains.

She tells me she’s sure it won’t survive another Haiyan, and fears for her 4 small children.

These days, Merlelina wakes up at 4AM to start cooking, makes her early morning rounds selling food, then goes to the GK site to build together with Evelyn, Jenny, and the other future homeowners of GK Sinigayan. “I used to feel so alone in this world. Soon I will have a roof that no longer leaks when it rains and neighbors who will love my children as their own.”

Shelter From Fear

Jenny echoes Merlelina’s sentiments. “I look forward to sleeping soundly at night without fearing that the sea will wash our house away. Soon I can go about my day to day activities without fearing that my children will drown.”

Having lost all her material possessions to Haiyan, Evelyn knows that the journey to recovery (and eventually, out of poverty) will be a long and difficult one. But she is committed to building a new life for her family, especially now that she can do it somewhere safe. “It’s not easy to start over, but for my children’s future, I will work hard every day. I’m just thankful that we will finally be free from the unpredictable waves.”

The night after my trip to Sagay, I couldn’t sleep either. I was left with more questions than answers. I asked myself – Why must there be poverty in a country of such abundance and plenty? Why in a province with vast tracts of fertile land, must Evelyn, Jenny, and Merlelina live in such cramped spaces, in constant fear for their children’s lives?

Jenny, Evelyn, and Merlelina are just 3 of thousands. Sagay is in the northernmost tip of Negros island, and Haiyan affected an estimated 3,000 families who live in Sagay’s coastal barangays and smaller islands. These families continue to live in danger zones, and perhaps, like the 3 mothers I met, they too were wide awake last night.

Poverty has many faces, but I realized then that beneath the lack of food and shelter, there’s FEAR – and it’s as real as the crashing waves Evelyn hears every night. It’s as real as the rainwater leaking from Jenny’s makeshift roof.


Fear is real, but so is hope. I see it in the smiles of the children who were playing in the site, while their parents were hard at work. I see it in the eyes of the mothers as they showed me around the homes that will finally shelter them from their fears. I hear it in their voices, resounding with courage and bearing no trace of the hardships they’ve been through. The hardships won’t stop automatically, and they will encounter many more of life’s storms, but moving into a safer community is a good start.


But why must it take a Haiyan for these alarming realities to disturb us and keep us up at night? More importantly, what can we do to #endpoverty for thousands just like them?

Read more

'Hope Stories of Haiyan'


GK Sinigayan in Brgy. Old Sagay, Sagay, Negros Occidental, stands today because of the bayanihan of the typhoon survivors, volunteers, the local government, and partners like Babette Aquino, Aidmatrix Foundation, Top Draw Animations, Inc., Lyon, and other individuals who generously gave towards Gawad Kalinga’s Haiyan Reconstruction Efforts.

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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