How Are You, Tacloban?

I had a long conversation with a close friend last week. Like most of my volunteer friends, she was one of the aid workers based in Tacloban who were continually fighting a good fight to rebuild one of the Philippines’ former fastest growing cities. She said that they were celebrating because it has been 6 months since Yolanda (Haiyan to the rest of the world) struck the island nation and they are celebrating because despite the somewhat apocalyptic (in scale) tragedy, the city is still standing. Standing in a sense that the people are still there, foreigners are there – not as tourists but as volunteers and humanitarian aid operatives who work side-by-side with the locals to provide as much normalcy as they can, LGUs and NGOs are coordinating with each other in providing relief and shelter, homes are being reconstructed and temporary shelters are being raised, small businesses are being renewed, and public infrastructures like schools and clinics are being established. Slowly. It’s nowhere close to how it was originally and the pace of the progress is not as fast as how they planned it to be, but there is movement worth waking up for.

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Death toll from Yolanda now stands at 6,300 according to NDRRMC, most of them still unidentified. 1,061 persons remain missing. PhP89.6 billion worth of property and infrastructure damage. PhP21.8 billion worth of agricultural crops destroyed. I try not to dwell too much on the statistics but how can I not? One can’t possibly set it aside like some discarded file because as horrid as these numbers are, these same numbers serve as citadels for those who break their backs to ensure the recovery of the typhoon-ravaged communities. These numbers keep them going as a reminder that there is work to be done. These same numbers serve as a reminder of the aftermath of a tragedy that everyone needed to be educated about. These numbers keep the fire burning when all else fail.

tacloban-first abs-cbnPhoto credit: Abs-cbn

You don’t walk around Tacloban without bumping into a ghost of some sort, some are living while some are dead; but they’re all walking towards the familiar semblance of the life they once knew. Life is still hard but it was harder a few months back so everyone is grateful and optimistic. A few complaints fly here and there, but who doesn’t have one anyway? The unimaginable destruction that left bodies splayed in the streets, destroyed entire structures and roads, and forcibly created mass graves have entitled survivors to more than the regular baggage capacity of grievances. It’s not easy, most of the time, it is beyond desperation but with a smile and the spirit of communal effort, the Filipino people hang on. This is the same spirit that some self-entitled young bloggers proclaimed as overhyped. There is nothing overhyped about people’s ability to cope with any kind of hardship, to roll with the punches, and bounce back. Resilience is resilience and no one has patently claimed it as their property; it’s just you partisans rattling the cage with the absurd idea that your greatest gift to the world is giving it a piece of your counterproductive mind.

resiliencePhoto credit: Xavier School

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