From Disasters to Shelters

From Disasters to Shelters by JM Lago. Written for

Two years ago, super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) made its third of six landfalls over the town of Daanbantayan in northern Cebu.

That time, Felisa Amistoso and her family were still living in Sitio Samar in Barangay Agujo among fish pens and a creek, in a small, dilapidated shanty on a plot of land that was not their own. Yolanda leveled their house, leaving the Amistosos homeless and helpless.

Sweat Equity

I first met Felisa in October 2014, when I was gathering stories for the first anniversary of typhoon Yolanda. I was already a communications officer for Habitat for Humanity Philippines, a shelter-focused NGO.

She has just finished her sweat equity for the day: shoveling sand and gravel and carrying them to Brgy. Agujo, the construction site of 76 disaster-resistant homes. She needed to complete 400 hours of work to qualify for the final list of potential recipients. The sweat equity program aims to instill a concept of pride and stewardship in home partners, empowering them to become more than just recipients, but active partners in development.

For Felisa, the homes they were building were mansions. “Kung sakaling mabiyayaan ng Ginoo… para kaming nakaangat na talaga sa buhay!” (If ever the Lord grants us this, it would be a blessing in our life). She is a woman who isn’t easily discouraged because she has a dream: to have her own home. With this, she wouldn’t have to worry about their security; her children would have a place to study comfortably.

Best of all, they won’t have to be afraid anymore.

Felisa Amistoso in the construction site, doing her "sweat equity."
Felisa Amistoso in the construction site, doing her “sweat equity.”

A Dream of Blue Mansions

I recently returned to Daanbantayan to prepare for the second anniversary of super typhoon Yolanda. All 76 disaster-resistant homes have been finished. And Felisa’s family became one of the recipients. On November 6, 2015, they moved into their new homes, a community now called Habitat French Village.

Felisa’s story is a testament to the importance of collaboration and partnership in rebuilding lives that were left in shambles by typhoon Yolanda. The land the village was built on belonged to a private individual who willingly donated the land to the local government for the purpose of developing a relocation site.

The funds used to build the homes came from French-Philippines United Action, a consortium of French companies who banded together for the purpose of helping people affected by the storm. The group wanted a community that was not only disaster-resilient, but also sustainable.

Habitat for Humanity enlisted the help of E. Florentino Architects, a private firm known for disaster-resilient building design. The hyperbolic paraboloid (hypar) house design can withstand earthquakes up to Intensity 8 and typhoons with wind speeds of up to 270kmh.

Smiling children replace construction workers. Now, they have a decent place to live.
Smiling children replace construction workers. Now, they have a decent place to live.

Building Back Better

The challenges we face in development are great. For shelter-focused NGOs, there is the problem of land acquisition. In Tacloban, the demand for housing caused land prices to skyrocket, creating a vaccuum in the mass housing sector. The competition for land between development agencies and private developers resulted in construction delays and cost increases

And the families, they remain stuck in poverty and hopelessness.

In Cebu and Leyte, Habitat is targeting to build 4,246 permanent homes for Yolanda survivors. We’ve already finished 1,351, and there is still a long way to go. We need to continuously partner with other sectors to reach more families and help transform their lives.

Collaboration is key. It takes a multi-sectoral approach to rebuild the Philippines: everyone has a part to play — government, NGOs, the private sector, individuals ad the Church. Survivors like Felisa serve as the inspiration of the development sector to continue working, even if it’s challenging.

Daanbantayan is an example of how this proactive approach can change the lives of people in need. Now, 204 families (76 in Agujo, 128 in nearby Barangay Paypay) will not have to worry about their security anymore. They can finally start over.

Decent homes open endless opportunities for people to dream of bigger, better things and get out of the poverty cycle. Such is the real, intrinsic value of having a decent place to live. And Felisa recognized that.

Hers is a story of transformation: of how it is possible to build back better, not just homes, but lives. There is hope that we can rebuild our nation, if only we continue to help each other. And then perhaps more people can dream of blue mansions; and then those dreams, like Felisa’s, can finally come true.

[Entry 104, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

JM Lago has always wanted to tell stories that make a difference. Before entering the NGO world, he was a social media producer for GMA News and a reporter for Solar News (now CNN Philippines), covering the graveyard beat. He is now the disaster response communications officer for Habitat for Humanity Philippines, a shelter-focused development organization.

3 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.