TOLOSA, Leyte: ‘When I close my eyes, I can still see it all happening,’ Jerome Ibañez, one of the Yolanda survivors vividly recalls.
Nearly two years after destruction wreaked by one of the strongest storms in world history, not all of the Visayas has moved on. Survivors are still struggling to return to normal. Help they have received is insufficient.
Tolosa, Jerome’s town was one of the severely hit places in Leyte. But unlike the provinces’ hundreds or maybe thousands of survivors still living in tents and bunkhouses in over-crowded evacuation areas, Jerome and his family take shelter in their new home donated by a private sector group called Tindog Tolosa. In English, the name means “Rise up Tolosa.”
Tindog Tolosa (TITO) is a civil society group that has not ceased to aid Yolanda survivors of Tolosa, Leyte. It is run by Makati-based professionals inspired by Pope Francis’ call to help the poor, and the teachings of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. TITO aims to rebuild the virtually demolished coastal town of Tolosa and alleviate the lives of the Yolanda-stricken people.
TITO has three main projects: Construct One house, One Boat Afloat and Consumer Cooperative.
A number of storm-proof, earthquake-proof, and termite-free houses were already turned over by TITO to beneficiary families whose houses were completely destroyed by Yolanda.
The Bayanihan spirit is evident during the construction of the houses as volunteers from all over the world helped skilled workers and the beneficiary families in building their new homes. Promoting not only collaboration, but also cost-efficient construction.
Like other means of livelihood in Leyte, Yolanda massively, almost totally, destroyed the fishing industry. This left most of the town’s fishing equipment scattered all over the coast or wrecked.
That is why One Boat Afloat intends to equip fishermen with new fishing boats. So far, 11 24-footer boats powered by 16 horsepower engines have been turned over to recipients.
To give the beneficiaries the sense of ownership of their houses and boats, they are asked to pay half of its total cost at a very light schedule. Their monthly amortization then goes to the educational assistance fund of every one their children who becomes a grantee of Iskolar ng Tolosa, another TITO project.
Jerome, an Education sophomore at Visayas State University, is a TITO scholar.
“An important factor for selecting a beneficiary is that one of the children should attend and finish college or any TechVoc course, so they may later provide assistance to their own family,” Tindog Tolosa founder, Noe Palaña said.
He also emphasized that their system of helping was designed not to go the dole-out way but to create a more sustainable and later self-sufficient solution to the people’s problems.
Tindog Tolosa Consumers Cooperative (TTCC) brings the people of Tolosa together to help improve their lives. It does this in two ways: a savings association and a community store.
Joma Palaña, Noe’s brother and point person for TTCC, explained that “the savings association encourages people to save by providing a savings facility in an area where there are no banks. It is also a means for mutual help, letting people automatically pool contributions to aid families in case of deaths and emergencies.”
Meanwhile, Joma explains, “The community store provides wholesale buying so that members can get basic goods at cheaper prices. The tax-exempt privilege of the cooperative further brings the price down.”
TTCC assists in providing training and access to capital, so that members can have their own livelihood projects. It also facilitates the market demand for the goods produced.
Aside from having lowered the members’ expenses and increasing their income, TTCC aims to stimulate economic activity in Tolosa, fostering a cycle of economic progress. In the end, “TTCC hopes to give the people a sense of optimism and solidarity, to encourage them in their struggle of lifting themselves out of poverty,” Joma also.
Aside from monetary and in-kind donations, donors may also help by doing “volun-tourism.”
You volunteer to construct the houses or repair classrooms and you get to tour some of Leyte’s most beautiful places like the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines, and Kalanggaman Island, known for its crystal blue water, white powdery sand and magnificent sandbars.
It’s a tour like no other. Because instead of just taking pictures and seeing places, you are able to take memories of genuine smiles and thanks from people you have helped. Volun-tourism gives you a unique and priceless kind of fulfillment.
Even as a recent group of voloun-tourists enjoyed their stay in Tolosa, the overall experience left a great impact on them, as testified to by William Xie, a Civil Engineering student from Sydney, Australia. He said to this writer, “it was one of the most influential and life-opening experiences I have had…and we could not believe how much these people trusted us in such a short period of time just from hearing that we were there to help them.”
A Singaporean volun-tourist said, “This work camp allowed me much time to reflect on the way of life. In Singapore and Malaysia, we are really fortunate to have no earthquakes and typhoons. And yet, some of us grumble for not having air-con, not having the latest accessories, fashion and gadgets. In rural places in the Philippines, however, although there is lack of the basic necessities such as electricity and easy access to clean water, the people are really optimistic about life. They put their trust in God entirely. We certainly have a lot to learn from them.”
An Actuarial Studies/Economics student from the University of New South Wales had a similar sentiment: “I was really impressed to witness what the people in a developing country have to do to get by. Seeing their struggle taught me not to take the things we have in my country for granted.”
Voluntourists from the Makati Central Business District realized the value of human relationship when Florencia, Jerome’s mother, tearfully thanked them not only for painting their permanent house made possible by Tindog Tolosa, but more importantly, she said in Visayan, “for treating us as persons with dignity, not simply as typhoon victims.”
We have been helping people and we want to continually help further. So we encourage more volunteers and more donations for Tolosa. We are committed to meet our target of giving 30 boats, and 20 more houses to some of the most Yolanda affected families, Noe Pelaña added. (Noe can be reached for inquiries and donations via mobile at (+63) 999 883 48 46 or by visiting Tindog Tolosa’s Facebook account www.facebook.com/tindog.tolosa.community.)
When we help a family in Tolosa, we actually help the whole community. Because these people also help other people. And rebuilding their houses is rebuilding the community. But most significantly, rebuilding Tolosa is rebuilding their lives, giving back their dignity, Noe said addressing readers of The Manila Times.