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Taclobanons recount growth in decade since disaster

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TACLOBAN CITY — Joanna Sustento-Bacsa, 32, has already made peace with Yolanda (Haiyan), the world’s most powerful typhoon to hit land in recorded history on Nov. 8, 2013.

Ten years after losing most of her family members, Susteno-Bacsa said that there is “so much growth” happening to her today as a Yolanda survivor and a full-time mother to her first-born son.

“[My son] is a very symbolic person in our family. Him coming into our lives 10 years after Yolanda really says a lot of how much love grows in me, how much love grows in our family,” Sustento-Bacsa said.

“So much have changed, but we are still here doing the work for climate justice,” she added, referring to her “climate warriors” group.

In 2017, she became the face of Yolanda survivors in Tacloban City, Yolanda’s ground-zero, when she joined Greenpeace’s expedition in the Arctic to protest on oil drilling, which her group blamed for climate impacts.

For Alren Beronio, a young photographer in Borongan City, Eastern Samar, he recalled how he volunteered his skills for the Catholic Church’s diocesan media office.

His documentation of the typhoon devastation eventually led him to land a job in a local newspaper.

“I ventured into the affected areas of our province, as well as Samar and Leyte, to document the situation through my photos and share these on social media in an effort to seek help,” he said.

After documenting the different stories of losses and survival in the devastated areas, Beronio said he “was fortunate to witness numerous opportunities for assistance, realization about the strength of human spirit, and countless acts of kindness.” “It was a time when we witnessed both the depths of human suffering and the heights of human compassion,” Beronio wrote.

In 2016, the United Nations Office for Coordination reported that total aid for Yolanda survivors reached $865,151,866 (at least P41.8 billion), with the United Kingdom as the top donor.

While Borongan City Bishop Crispin Varquez recalled the “lives lost, the families shattered and the communities uprooted,” he also pointed out the “countless acts of heroism and selflessness that emerged in the midst of the chaos.” “We acknowledge the pain and grief that still linger in the hearts of those who survived and continue to rebuild their lives. And we recognize the hand of God guiding us through the darkest of moments,” the prelate said.

In Palo town of Leyte, one of the hard-hit areas during Haiyan, Archbishop John Du of the Palo Archdiocese led the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Hope of Palo on Nov. 8.

“Our God has never abandoned us, and he has given us a mother—a mother to whom we could express our grieving, sadness, and mourning. She accompanies us in the journey and difficulties if life,” Du said.

During the visit of Pope Francis in Tacloban City, the Virgin of Hope of Palo was placed in the open-air altar for the Papal Mass for the survivors on Jan. 17, 2015.

During the mass, attended by thousands of survivors in the central Philippines, Pope Francis venerated the Marian statue, while he referred it as a source of hope.

“We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say, ‘Mother,’ like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times — ‘Mother,’” the Pope Francis said during his homily in at the Tacloban airport.

On Tuesday, November 7, a group of “Climate Walkers” also arrived in Tacloban after a 30-day journey from Manila to Yolanda’s ground-zero, for a solidarity work for climate justice with the survivors for their 10th commemorative activities.

“Our journey does not end here. Because our real destination is in people’s hearts and minds–for climate hope to take root and yield results. As we mark the 10th year since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the country, let this journey remind us that we are not walking alone,” the Climate Walkers said.

“Our voices, our family, and our hearts are stronger than ever. And this collective voice will resonate with the whole world as we keep standing together to call for climate justice,” they added.

Captain Hettie Geenen of the advocacy ship Rainbow Warrior said their second tour in Tacloban “left an impressive amount of memories, especially the stories we heard [by] just listening to people.”

“[After Yolanda] I had to go out there and learn how Tacloban should recover not only economically, but how do we preserve our resources on how do we now correlate all the other issues affecting our lives?” recalled Tacloban Mayor and Yolanda survivor Alfred Romualdez, as he also worked for the climate resilience in the city.

“While planetary problems require global solutions, action must start in the community. In a world that forces us to forget and ignore, sharing stories becomes a heroic act,” added climate advocate Jerx Aliposa.

Yolanda affected over 14 million Filipinos across 44 provinces, damaging about P95.48 billion of properties and infrastructures, and killing over 8,000 people, mostly in Tacloban.

“Yolanda after 10 years brought back memories, mostly sad, but the victims need to be remembered,” said Irish national and relief worker Pascal Canning, who is based in Maasin City.

Canning, who led a housing project for Yolanda survivors in Leyte, added that “some good memories also came back” in this year’s commemoration of the storm in 2013.

“The good memories are of helping those who lost everything. The smiles, the relief, the thanks, and the memories of my cousin Declan and brother Gary coming over here from Ireland to help,” Canning told Manila Standard.

“Sadly, Declan has since passed away. That versus the smell [of dead bodies]. The smell I can never forget,” added Pascal, as he reflected on the scale of devastation brought by Yolanda.


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