Months after ‘Yolanda’, survivor still homeless, hopeful

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QUEZON City, March 18, 2014—‘Yolanda’ survivor Lenny Sabañao fled Samar for the safety of Metro Manila, thankful that at least she and her family were not among the casualties.

After all, her birthplace of Basey, a sleepy farming town known better for its handcrafted mats, was not as hard-hit as the Southern towns of Leyte. But it was leveled just the same, and had its share of the dead and the injured, never mind their humble hut and their small plot of land where they process copra. God has a way of replacing these material possessions in time, she reasoned.

Sabañao is one of many survivors who, despite ongoing challenges, remains hopeful. (Photo courtesy of Raymond A. Sebastián)

Yes, they’re stunned, demoralized. But what matters to them more than anything else is that they are all alive. She just comforts herself with the thought that everything, including the monster that was ‘Yolanda’, happens because the Lord wills it.

“Bahala na (Let it be),” Sabañao would often be caught muttering like a powerful, ancient mantra. But little did this 44-year old mother of four know that she would end up having to face more tragedy in the Big City than what she had left behind in Samar for. Only this time—sadly—the tragedy is man-made.

“Hanggang ngayon wala kaming natatanggap na tulong mula sa gobyerno” (“Until now, we haven’t received any assistance from the government”), Sabañao explained in Tagalog with a thick Visayan accent. “Karamihan sa amin wala pa ring matinong bahay na matirhan. Wala ring mapagkukunan ng hanapbuhay dahil lahat halos ng puno ng niyog pinadapa ni Yolanda” (“Most of us still have no decent dwellings to live in. Also, we have no earnings because Yolanda felled almost all the coconut trees”).

Months after the disaster, 'Yolanda' survivors are left to pick up the pieces of the life they once knew. (Photo courtesy of Roy Lagarde)

Fed up with waiting for the government to do its part, Sabañao along with fellow survivors, came to Manila recently to petition the Aquino administration to make good on his promise to Warays.

Through the help of People Surge, an alliance of non-government organizations (NGOs) for ‘Yolanda’ survivors, they were able to find their way to the gates of Malacañang Palace on February. There, they voiced out all their grievances to PNoy—but to no avail.

Topmost of their grievances is the earmarked P40,000 monthly financial aid each ‘Yolanda’-affected family should be receiving.

The survivors also complain of the “No Build” zone policy in coastal areas. They believe this policy favors only big investors at the expense of local fisherfolks, and amounts to stealing their livelihood.

Another complaint involves relief. Sabañao said, relief efforts are to be stopped by the end of March. But the survivors would have none of it. They demand that relief work be extended until such time that they can already stand on their own feet.

Sabañao currently stays at a shelter run by a religious congregation in Cubao with her youngest child, a girl of four, and other survivors. Her grownup kids arrived ahead of her here, while her husband opted to remain in Basey to look after what little they have left. The eldest child already has his own family.

Beginning in Baclaran, the survivors tour the churches of Metro Manila to raise awareness about their struggle and about what is really happening back in the areas destroyed by ‘Yolanda’.

People Surge organizes an exhibit of photographs showing the everyday battle each survivor has to go through just to keep body and soul together.

In spite of their disappointments, Sabañao still hopes that everything will be as it was before ‘Yolanda’.

Like many survivors, she looks forward to going back to Basey, to pick up where she had left off, and start life all over again. (Raymond A. Sebastián)

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