Benigno Cabalsa, a village councilman in Busuanga, Palawan, has a brighter outlook today compared with the time before Typhoon Yolanda cut a path of destruction across central Philippines two years ago.
Like in many places, Cabalsa’s fishing village, Concepcion, was flattened by Yolanda. But even before tragedy struck, rising up from the hardship of life was already difficult. His eight children, for instance, had to travel far just to attend school. The nearest was located 16 kilometers from their home.
As his children were growing up, an annex school eventually opened in their village. But the building, with its light materials, was no match for a Category 5 super typhoon, and neither were the people in Concepcion and elsewhere in northern Palawan prepared for anything like it.
In November 2013, Yolanda, which was known by its international name Haiyan, pummelled the Philippines with winds reaching 315 kilometers per hour. The devastation was worst in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, where the official death toll exceeded 6,300. More were believed to have died, but the government had stopped counting bodies.
At least, no one from Concepcion died in the storm.
Hope for the youth
Cabalsa has another reason to be thankful. For today, not only does hid grandson attend first year high school in their home village, but the poorly constructed school had been rebuilt with help from a number of charitable organizations.
Just in mid-December, Secour Populaire Français (SPF), a private non-profit organization based in France, turned over two buildings, each with four classrooms.
These schoolrooms were but the latest development funded by the French foundation. It had earlier built a fully equipped library, which the Department of Education officials now consider a model library in region. Moreover, Concepcion National High School now has an electrical and water system, also courtesy of SPF, for the entire school compound.
Robert Raguin, teacher-in-charge at Concepcion, told The Sunday Times Magazine that enrollment has swelled from 128 before Yolanda to 326 today, mainly because of the new facilities that have been donated.
He added that because of the new classrooms and other facilities, Concepcion was prepared for the transition to K to 12, and was even qualified to offer senior high school next academic year.
Indeed, there is new hope for the youth of Concepcion with the situation today a far cry to what both teachers and students experienced when school eventually opened after Yolanda.
Raguin said they were holding classes by the roadside back then, under the heat of the sun. He added they could not even go under the shade of trees, because there were none left standing.
Looking at Concepcion’s school compound today, Danilo Cabalsa, another village councilman in Concepcion, is convinced that progress follows tragedy.
“Nagpasalamat kami sa Yolanda [we’re thankful for Yolanda],” he said
Partnership also born
Like many charitable institutions around the world, SPF was alerted early to the tragedy brought about by Yolanda; but the French foundation had no presence in the Philippines.
Eventually, it connected with Filipino socio civic volunteer Danny Rayos del Sol, who was then mobilizing relief efforts with help from his Facebook friends.
Rayos del Sol later on set up Mirasol Outreach Foundation Inc., and together with SPF, their collaboration has extended beyond the Philippines.
In March 2015, the two organizations have worked together on relief efforts for the victims of Tropical Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, and then in April for earthquake victims in Nepal.
But as they widen their area of concern, the work of SPF and Mirasol Outreach Foundation continues in the Philippines.
“SPF is interested in helping the Filipino people because we suffered phenomenal devastation brought about by the strongest typhoon ever recorded in human history,” Rayos del Sol said. “SPF feels that the French people have a responsibility to help the Philippines. Solidarity and humanitarian efforts are the raison d’etre of the SPF.”
Julien Lauprete, president of Secour Populaire Français, said that this year, SPF’s humanitarian work has benefited 2.8 million people around the world.
He was in Palawan early December for the turnover of Concepcion’s newest school buildings, along with colleagues Marie Francoise Thull, Sebastian Thollot, Dr. Ismail Hassouneh, and Valerie Trierweiler, the former First Lady of France.
Lauprete told The Sunday Times Magazine how difficult it was to send help from Europe. Speaking through an interpreter, he explained, “When you want to help, you simply have to see how you can help.”
He added they decided to focus on Palawan, because they “noticed that there was an island that no one was helping.”
He acknowledged that more work are needed to be done.
Lauprete also said that sometimes, the help given may seem like a drop in the ocean, but for the people receiving assistance, that drop may seem like the entire ocean itself.
Mirasol Outreach Foundation declined to disclose the total amount donated by SPF to Palawan. But according to sources, the amount exceeded P20 million.
The near 90-year-old Lauprete said that for SPF, the decision to rebuild a school was “strategic.”
“For us, the school is the same as the future,” he explained.
In the aftermath of Yolanda, an Education department official said that more than 90 percent of the schools in Palawan were affected. But he added that Concepcion was the worst hit.
During the turnover ceremony for the new school buildings in Palawan, former senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacscon said, “This is an opportune time to thank the Secour Populaire Français on behalf of our people in general and those along the Yolanda corridor, for serving us exemplarily well from the relief phase up until the rehabilitation efforts in order to alleviate the suffering of the typhoon survivors.”
After Yolanda, Lascon was appointed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd as Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery. He resigned earlier in 2015 in preparation for his senatorial bid in this year’s national elections.
Besides the school buildings, SPF and Mirasol Outreach Foundation also constructed a livelihood center for local basket weavers. SPF further hosted two children from Busuanga on an all-expense paid, three-week visit to Paris.
Lacson said in a speech during the turnover ceremony, “Typhoon Yolanda taught as many lessons—mostly about the generosity of the bleeding heart.”
Lacson added that Yolanda’s wrath spared no one along its path, and made no distinctions in race or between rich and poor. “Indeed, when the heart bleeds, it forgets race, color, age, and language.”
Lauprete expressed a similar view when he tried to explain why the French were helping Filipinos and others around the world. He quoted the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, who said, “I’m not asking you for your opinion or religion, but what you are suffering from.”