Annie: From Survivor to Humanitarian

Ano iton aton bubuhatun?” (What will we do?) That was the first thing that Annie Dadulla, 35, remembered asking her family and some neighbors who took refuge in her house in Sitio Alimasag, Barangay 88 minutes after Yolanda made landfall in Tacloban City last November 8, 2013.

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No one had an answer. They were all uncertain of what was going to happen if they even tried opening the door to venture outside. The wind was howling, the usual soothing sound of the waves had turned into a crushing resonance that was usually heard in surf camps, and they listened distraughtly to the frightening voices outside that have evolved into screams of help.

She stops for a moment, closes her eyes, breathes deeply, and forces a smile.

It was painful to recount what she went through. She remembers flashes – swimming for three hours in murky water, all kinds of things floating around, dead bodies carelessly bumping into inanimate objects, watching helplessly her 11-year old son, who was just a meter away clinging to a tree, disappear after the next wave claimed him, along with friends who were supposed to keep him safe; most importantly, she remembers crying out to God.

When the water subsided, there was a different kind of silence in the city, she narrates. No one was talking but people have withdrawn to making indecipherable drones that were either guttural or soft whimpers. People were walking around but most did not really have anywhere to go. No one had any idea as to which roads led to which because there were so many debris lying around. “Di mo malalaman kung nasaan ka na. Andaming nakakalat na patong-patong na kung anu-ano lang – basura, kahoy, hayop, tao. Di mo na rin mapapansin kung yung inaapakan mo eh patay pala.” (You would not know where you were. There were all kinds of things piled up – garbage, wood, animals, people. You would not even know if you were already stepping on a dead person.) It was horrific, she narrates, like a scene in a war movie.

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What remained of Annie’s house in Tacloban, Leyte

Yolanda changed her life. “Walang natira sa lahat lahat na meron man ako noon.” (Nothing was left with what I had before.) Everything she worked hard to build for her family, all of it was laid to waste in a span of hours. For days she scavenged and rummaged around the city, some days walking for hours disregarding the infected gash on her foot, just so she can find food or water for her two other children. Some days she encountered people who took pity and gave whatever they can spare, but most days she was shooed away. Then the looting started. The city was becoming a dangerous place. People were hungry and scared that another storm surge was rumored to come, and the outsiders pillaged greedily, taking advantage of the tragedy. It was time to leave. The first thing that she immediately thought of was making sure that her children get to a safer place.

When her relatives arrived in Tacloban, she begged them to take her children. She had to stay behind because there was no room for her. She promised her children that she will try to follow as soon as she can. She did not know how to but at that point, all that mattered was securing her children’s safety. “Kailangan nilang mauna,” (They needed to go first.)

A few days after, she left Tacloban, determined to be reunited with her family. She, along with a friend and other survivors, walked for hours, stopping now and then for a quick rest, eating anything that was edible and sharing the water they had, until they arrived in Basey, Samar where they were able to hitch a ride to San Isidro.

The nightmares did not stop after she arrived in San Isidro where her family was now residing. She needed to do something to put food on the table and keep herself preoccupied. Again, she asked, “Ano iton aton bubuhatun?” She decided that she cannot wallow in the horrors any longer and she knew she needed to close that chapter in her life, so she can start a new one.

It was during this time when she heard that Oxfam was hiring volunteers for a project in one of its livelihood programme in Guiuan. She applied with the hope of being considered and was fortunately hired as a Project Assistant. Her volunteering stint redirected her attention to doing more productive things and helped her reconnect with other survivors.

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When she started working as a volunteer, the feeling of desperation slowly disappeared. She did not feel alone anymore. Interacting with people who experienced the same tragedy made her reflect on her own experiences and she understood their needs more than anyone else. Although her work was somehow similar to what she was doing before, she felt that the hours she invested helping people like her held a deeper sense of purpose. It was not just about her or her family anymore. “Nakakatulong ako sa ibang tao na hindi ko kilala, na nangangailangan rin, na hindi nila kailangan magbayad para sa ganitong serbisyo.” (I am helping people I do not know, people who are also in need, and that there is no need for any kind of payment for this kind of service.)

When asked if she will go back to doing direct selling or to starting her own business after her contract ends, she plainly said ‘no.’ She is happy helping the community with the kind of work she is doing. It gave her more contentment and opened opportunities in career development that she never thought of. “Na-discover ko na meron pa pala akong pwedeng gawin at ang nakakatuwa pa doon, nagamit ko sa pagtatrabaho sa NGO ang kursong itinapos ko sa kolehiyo na BS in Agri Business.” (I discovered that I could still do other things and what makes me glad is the fact that I can finally utilize the course I graduated from in college which was BS in Agri Business in this work that I do in an NGO.)

She plans to continue as a humanitarian worker and it did not matter which organization she ends up working for, as long as she can still help others.

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