A week ago, my colleagues and I flew to post-Yolanda Tacloban as part of our work with an international aid organization. Weeks prior to arranging our trip, the only information we had about the disaster-stricken prov–ince was mostly gathered from the news.
At 4 a.m., we were quite surprised that the airport was brimming with early travelers like ourselves. As we settled in our seats at dawn, we noticed that many passengers on the plane were groups of foreign volunteers from various organizations also bound for Tacloban.
From above, the greenery of the landscape and the pristine waters around Leyte and its neighboring islands are quite a sight. But as the plane began its descent, one begins to see marred structures and makeshift houses along the peripheral areas. Nine months since Typhoon Yolanda struck, one will realize that Tacloban and its people have been forever changed.
What might have once been the way of life in Tacloban was completely overturned when Yolanda hit, and you still sense that today. Long after the typhoon had hit, the communities still struggle to get back on their feet.
Even in the capital itself, what were once decent and sturdy homes did not withstand the howling winds and the fury of the storm surge. As we moved away from Tacloban towards the town of Palo, our guides pointed out coconut trees literally cut in half, rice fields slowly being replanted, hospitals in make-shift structures, and shanty-like homes seemingly put together from scraps.
The road to rehabilitation and reconstruction seems still long and onerous. The task of re-building is quite overwhelming even for aid organizations. As our guides narrated the harrowing experience of Yolanda, their chilling accounts seemed as fresh and distressing as if it happened just a day ago.
The one lesson though that Taclobanos seem to have accepted is that one’s possessions can be gone in a blink of an eye.
It seems, though, that bits and pieces of the old Tacloban are slowly beginning to emerge. The city now seems busier and orderly—a far cry from the scenes of chaos that transpired a year past. With a mall recently re-opening its doors, Taclobanos are hopeful that the city will reclaim its former stature.
The people have kept their spirits up, with warm greetings and smiles as we met them. What an eye-opener it was for us all to have seen resilience and faith spoken and lived by townspeople who were hardest hit.
As one drives through the towns and barangays around Tacloban, you will inescapably ask yourself about your own needs and what are most important to you. The scenes remind you of how far removed and distant these communities are from the accouterments of city living and the comforts offered by corporate careers.
Scene after scene, you will begin to think about these words: “Live simply so others may simply live.” These words of wisdom from Mother Teresa certainly find meaning in these surroundings.
Coming back to Manila saw my colleagues and I all changed, albeit more self-discerning. The stark contrast between our city lives and the lives of people in post-disaster communities was quite unsettling. We all left the province with a deep and honest respect for human-itarian workers and community volunteers who have immeasu-rable empathy for people in need. We realized how much courage and a sense of selflessness it takes to work in aid organizations and to volunteer in communities.
I know that in time, the spirit of giving, hope and community will rebuild these disaster-stricken towns. And all being well, the people will have reclaimed their means of living and communities once again. And we can only pray that that time comes soonest for all.