(Left) UMCOR Philippines director Ciony Eduarte and UMCOR’s Deputy General Secretary Denise J. Honeycutt (right) speak with Julien Modesto, the Calogcog barangay (community) chair and his wife, Glenda Modesto.
January 28, 2014—In the nearly three months since Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines and destroyed more than a million homes, herculean efforts have been exerted to aid the population’s recovery from this catastrophe—the deadliest typhoon the Philippines has ever experienced.
In the immediate wake of the disaster, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), through its Philippines office, organized relief convoys to the hard-hit city of Tacloban, in Leyte Province. In five trips to the area during the months of November and December, UMCOR staff and volunteers delivered emergency food packages to 7,500 families—about 37,500 survivors.
January 2014 saw a major turn toward the future, as UMCOR staff conducted an on-the-ground assessment of survivors’ current and anticipated needs, and formulated a plan for a major housing program in badly affected areas. The UMCOR team consisted of Deputy General Secretary Denise Honeycutt, Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response Jack Amick, and UMCOR Philippines Country Director Ciony Eduarte.
Their extensive consultations in and around Tacloban, notably with the leader of the Visayas Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Cirri Francisco, emphasized the imperative to address the needs of the most vulnerable survivors, in a region where already 37 percent of residents lived in poverty before the storm.
UMCOR Defines Reconstruction Program Area
|Super Typhoon Haiyan's devastation of Calogcog, Philippines, where UMCOR will be helping the community rebuild its homes. Photo: Jack Amick.
Accordingly, the team zeroed in on a location outside the city where UMCOR efforts could best be focused—the barangay, or community, of Calogcog, which is situated on the national highway, between the main centers of Tacloban City itself and the more southerly town of Tanauan.
Many Calogcog residents lost homes on sites that now appear out of danger, ones that can be built on again and, in a phrase used by many disaster survivors, “built back better.” (Other residents, especially those who lived in informal settlements or who had homes on land still deemed hazardous and which is classed as a “no-build” zone, are a different matter. The local municipality intends to relocate these residents to government-owned land and provide them with brand new housing.)
UMCOR will be helping those among the Calogcog residents who are rebuilding or rehabilitating their homes—and the need is great. “On average, nearly every household lost one family member in the storm. Of a total of 243 damaged homes, 218 were completely destroyed. Calogcog is a community that clearly needs healing and support from UMCOR,” said Amick, who had also traveled to the Philippines to join the first relief convoy back in November.
As the UMCOR team walked through Calogcog, the barangay captain and his wife pointed out the place where a house had once stood, describing how the storm had washed away the building and the family of five who called it home.
Reconstruction and a New Normal
In spite of the enormous battering Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda, as the storm is known locally) inflicted upon the community the barangay is clearly undaunted. Rev. Amick recalled, “We saw a handwritten sign in Calogcog. It declared boldly: ‘Roofless, homeless, but not hopeless. Build on, Calogcog!’”
UMCOR Philippines Country Director Ciony Eduarte emphasized the importance of restoring and in the process improving people’s lost homes. “The need to rebuild permanent shelter is vital for the life of the community to go back to its normalcy,” she says. “And standards for resiliency are very important. The structures have to withstand the same or stronger force brought about by Haiyan.”
During the UMCOR team visit, Bel Tecson, the mayor of Tanauan, the municipality that includes Calogcog, expressed the community’s appreciation for the assistance that UMCOR is offering. “Thank you for coming to our aid,” Mayor Tecson said. “This will be a big help.”
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*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.