Despite hardships, challenges, tragedies—and yes, colossal storms, both figurative and literal—that people face in their lives, there is always the promise of tomorrow. That hope, which pushes even the most downtrodden to move on, move forward, and live life anew.
With unbelievable resilience and unwavering faith in God, Filipinos in Central Visayas who survived the most catastrophic typhoon in recent history on November 8, 2013 are a testament that anyone can overcome that hardest of times.
They are known as “Yolanda’s survivors,” and they are an inspiration.
Today, as the month of March comes to an end, The Sunday Times Magazine especially salutes the inspiring youths of Central Visayas who despite losing family, friends, homes and belongings joined the rest of their peers across the nation as graduates of batch 2014.
Whatever it takes
Each student among Yolanda’s graduates has his or her own story of tragedy, loss and survival. But they all chose to do whatever it takes to reach a milestone they almost thought impossible.
Kahlil Apolinar is a 15-year-old Yolanda survivor and student from Sacred Heart High School in Tacloban City, Leyte. She and her family lost everything to the super typhoon and were left with no choice but to move to Metro Manila just months before her high school graduation.
“Adjusting to city life was hard at first,” she told The Sunday Times Magazine. “We were always used to the province where there was hardly any traffic and everything was affordable. But we all had to get used to a different environment.”
Ian Brent Maceda, who was also on his final year of high school when Yolanda struck, made the same move with his family to the capital.
“We were no longer able to see our grandparents and aunts who were living on the other side of town. It’s been such a long time since we last saw them, and now that we’re still trying to cope with our own lives, it seems like we won’t be able to see them time soon,” he said. After a long pause, Maceda quietly added, “We don’t even know what’s happened to them.”
With adjustments and disappointments often more difficult to make and overcome for the young, going back to school and completing high school, at that point, was the farthest thing from Maceda and Apolinar’s minds.
In Manila, the displaced families were taken in by the benevolent community of the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines (UECP), which also runs Hope Christian School, a Chinese-Filipino learning institution in the heart of Binondo, Manila.
UECP opened doors on November 15, 2013 to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda and has since offered free lodging, food and clothing for families, and schooling for those with young children.
In total, Hope Christian School took on 181 students from Central Visayas public and private schools, giving them the chance to complete the school year.
Maceda, Apolinar and their peers who were in their final years of high school were all the more encouraged to make up lessons so they could graduate along with their batch.
Ten of them did so on March 24.
An inspiring group of teenagers, Maceda, Apolinar and eight other Yolanda survivors did whatever it took to secure their high school diploma despite such a difficult time in their young lives, because they realized, with the help of those around them, that the rest of it was still ahead of them.
“Just a week after my family arrived in Manila, I already joined other fourth year students at Hope,” Apolinar related. “I didn’t want to start school at first because I wanted to wait until our school opened in Tacloban again.
“I wanted to graduate with my friends in the school where I grew up in, but my mother insisted I go back to classes here in Manila. I guess she knew school would help me cope with what happened to us over there.”
The 15-year-old also shared that when she and the other students from Tacloban arrived at Hope, the graduating batch was in the middle of a spiritual retreat, which the facilitator invited them to join.
“He made us talk about what happened, and we were able to release every bad memory we had,” Apolinar recalled. “Somehow it helped us to accept our fate and encourage us to move on.”
Students who were taken in to study at Hope Christian School came from different schools in Tacloban, among them Bethel International School, Sacred Heart School, Leyte Progressive High School, St. Therese Educational Foundation Tacloban Inc., St. Therese Child Development Center Foundation Inc., Angelicum Learning Center, Liceo Del Verbo Divino, Center International Education, Pawing Elementary School, and other public schools within the province.
Besides the retreat, UECP also conducted psychosocial counseling and debriefing for the students after school, and even took them on recreational trips to Star and Manila Zoo to help them get over their devastating experiences back home.
Julie Pearl Guanzon, 25, and a former teacher at Tacloban’s Bethel International School, also found her way to Hope Christian School through the help of a student, bringing her entire family along with her.
Still distraught as she recalled how Yolanda washed away their entire home, she said she chooses to focus on the goodness of people around her nowadays.
“Aside from our basic needs, they gave out school supplies and uniforms to the survivors’ children. They were also encouraged to join the school’s sports programs as a form of therapy, and my nephew made it in the track and field team,” Guanzon shared, adding that Hope Christian School even offered her a permanent job.
“It really helps to regain your faith in humanity knowing that in time of need, people you don’t even know are capable of helping you out unconditionally.”
What lies ahead
Just like the rest of batch 2014, Yolanda’s graduates still have college to look forward to. And happily, the students that The Sunday Times Magazine met intend to embark on another educational journey.
“I want to take up Accountancy and probably try corporate work afterwards; but I want to pursue those dreams in my
hometown,” Apolinar declared
“I still want to go back to the Leyte. I want to be with my friends, and I want to live with my family there.”
Maceda, on the other hand, is still undecided on a course at the moment. “Although I am still uncertain on what course to take in college, I know I still have time to figure it out later on. Right now what’s important is for my family to stay together and continue getting up on our feet.”
The teenager also hopes to return home to Tacloban but his mother is hesitant to do so any time soon. “I’m scared of diseases, and our house was totally ruined. We have nothing to return to. We now live in Batangas with some relatives and we’ll stay there for now.
“I take each challenge as it comes,” continued the strong willed mother. “I’ll do what we have to, and my children understand that. What is important to me now is for all of us to be together. I will find work in Batangas and my kids will continue their studies there. I want them to continue their studies, now more than ever,” she added.
For the mothers of Yolanda’s graduates, pride was not they only thing they felt when their sons and daughters went up the stage for their diplomas. As Maceda’s mom movingly said, it symbolized a greater hope for all of them, yes, the bright future they had always dreamed of for their children can still be had.
“All of us, especially our young children, even after everything that happened to us, still have tomorrow,” she said with certainty.