Field Dispatch 2012-1-6 | Martin Nanawa, PHILIPPINES – ‘While We Live, We Persevere’
On Dec. 16, Susan and her husband went to bed early, leaving her eldest two children up watching a movie. Outside, heavy rain drenched the night. The couple woke now and then as tree branches snapped in the wind, and they noticed a little water leaking under the door. But these were no worse than the last typhoon had wrought in 2009, when their largely middle-class subdivision, far from hazard-prone areas, had endured only a little inconvenience. Confident in their safety, Susan went back to sleep.
Around midnight, an awful noise jolted the family as fierce winds peeled open the galvanized steel sheets of their rooftop. Then the power went out, and the little bit of rainwater Susan had ignored rose quickly to threatening levels. In the darkness, the water — black and violent, smelling of mud and earth — surged inside.
A flood victim herself, Susan helps assemble relief packs for ChildFund to distribute in hard-hit communities and to enrolled children and their families who have been affected.
The same gaping hole that the gale had ripped in the roof saved the lives of Susan, her husband, and five children. Iron grates on their windows provided security from intrusion, but they also barred escape. The family scrambled through the hole with the clothes on their backs. They could see some neighbors who had made it to their own roofs as well, but they could also see shapes they hoped weren’t human, swirling away as channels formed between the sturdier houses. Beyond reach of the deadly churn below, Susan’s family huddled together for warmth as Typhoon Washi pelted them with millions of icy needles for several hours.
Blessedly, Susan had kept her mobile phone fully charged, so she was able to call her sister, Marife, for help, and then consolation when it was clear no help could come until it was safe. Sometime before dawn, the floods of typhoon Washi subsided, quick as they had come, leaving scores of bodies in the street, and vehicles upturned and cast into the most unusual places.
Marife and her husband, a local fire chief, arrived at Susan’s home around 6 a.m. and took Susan and her children to their house. Susan’s husband returned in the day to salvage what clothes and belongings he could, securing the house against any looting at night. Susan spent the weekend hand-washing the family’s clothes, blistering her palms and forearms as she scrubbed out all the mud and silt.
The worst was over.
Now, her hands still raw, Susan folds towels, rolls a well-wrapped bar of detergent into each, then stacks them on a pallet. As she runs out of towels or detergent bars, her youngest son fetches her more.
Susan isn’t still rescuing her family’s belongings; she’s helping rescue other people. A schoolteacher of many years, Susan isn’t trained or capable of pulling survivors from wreckage, but she’s able and willing to help rescue others from hunger and cold by packing relief supplies for ChildFund to distribute at evacuation centers and communities where affected families fared far worse than she has — many at the centers lost their homes and all their belongings.
ChildFund’s immediate response to the humanitarian need after Typhoon Washi has been the purchase, packing and distribution of 2,000 relief packs containing essential food and non-food items. Each relief pack contains rice, dried fish, canned sardines, instant noodles and bottled drinking water, as well as non-food items including cookware, woven mats, hygiene kits and, of course, the detergent bars and towels in Susan’s charge.
These packs were earmarked for the hard-hit communities of Donsolihon, Bayanga, Mambuaya, Pagatpat and for ChildFund-enrolled children and their families who have been affected by the typhoon. Susan herself is not an identified recipient of these packs, but she doesn’t mind preparing them for others. “If our roof wasn’t ripped open, we would’ve still been asleep when the flood waters came, without any way to escape as our home filled with water,” Susan says in Filipino. “It’s a miracle we’re alive. Our home is at least still standing, and we’ve begun cleaning it, so we don’t mind helping others here.”
Susan’s home still stands, but most everything inside is ruined. She still has her livelihood, however, teaching at City Central School, which is currently an evacuation center (and, incidentally, also a site for one of ChildFund’s eight child-centered spaces). “We don’t earn a lot, but we can save our earnings to slowly replace the things lost or ruined in the flood.
“Patuloy, basta buhay [While we live, we persevere],” Susan says. The smile she wears, and the fact that she’s signed on to ChildFund’s relief campaign, suggests Susan will do precisely that.
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