CLOWNS WITHOUT BORDERS: HEALING WITH LAUGHTER IN TACLOBAN

The saying that laughter is the best medicine proves to be a truism even in times of
disaster, as it was for survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” who had a good laugh after witnessing the acts of Clowns Without Borders (CWB), an organization that offers entertainment in crisis situations. “Clowns Without Borders believes in the power of laughter as a way to relieve suffering,” said Tim Cunningham, director of the CWB. Cunningham, an American, is a 34-year-old professional clown. Thirty-seven-year-old Samantha Holdsworth, a CWB member from the United Kingdom, said bringing joy to the children still reeling from the destruction caused by Yolanda would somehow bring a “healing effect.” “We believe in the healing and the cathartic potential of the art to effect change,” said Holdsworth, a theater director and producer in London. This belief is validated by the children’s positive response to their performances. The group first arrived in Eastern Visayas on the third week of December last year, performing in evacuation centers in Basey and in Tacloban, to the wild acclaim of the audience, composed mostly of children. They also performed in Hernani, Balangkayan and Llorente in Eastern Samar, and in Baybay City and Tolosa in Leyte. They will perform again in Tacloban City on Friday.

ALSO: Buddhist group aims to spread love amid devastation

Beyond just rebuilding villages destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda, one organization
has been helping survivors heal from within, repairing the deep wounds of grief and loss by living up to its name: Tzu Chi, Chinese for “compassionate relief.” The Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian nonprofit group established in Taiwan in 1966, has been quietly working on the ground across devastated Leyte, on a mission to revive a “circulation of love” in places that hope may have momentarily abandoned. Led by its Philippine branch, Tzu Chi, an organization that commands a 10-million strong membership across 47 countries, has brought relief to some 60,000 families across the disaster zone, initiating cash-for-work programs in the worst-hit villages and installing prefabricated schools and houses for the displaced. In the words of its founder, globally renowned Buddhist nun and Ramon Magsaysay laureate Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi’s work is one of giving survivors the confidence that they could begin again: That is, to “uplift their body and spirit with love and motivate them to take action to rebuild their own lives.”

ALSO: DPWH: No more bunkhouses; victims to get housing assistance

Instead of building more bunkhouses for the survivors of Super Typhoon “Yolanda”
in Eastern Visayas, the Department of Public Works and Highways will provide them with construction materials under its Permanent Shelter Program for typhoon-ravaged places. This was announced on Tuesday by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, who said families whose homes were destroyed would get P30,000 worth of building materials while those whose home were damaged would get up to P10,000 worth of materials. Singson said in a radio interview that priority would be given to families living in coastal areas of Leyte and Eastern Samar provinces because “they will be resettled in areas which are much safer than the coastal communities where they used to live.” “It would be good if a cash-for-work component is included in the reconstruction of typhoon-damaged homes,” he added. He welcomed the “participation of donors who are willing to provide financial assistance” under the project. Meanwhile, Singson disclosed that the DPWH has a “new design” for disaster-resilient school buildings which would be presented to the Department of Education shortly. “As soon as we get the DepEd approval, we will start working on the contracts for the reconstruction of schools that were totally damaged by the typhoon,” he said, adding the reconstruction of damaged bridges in Eastern Visayas will start shortly following the arrival of materials needed for the project.


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Clowns without borders: Healing with laughter


HOLIDAY MAGIC A member of Clowns Without Borders performs in front of young survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” at a tent city in Tacloban City. AFP FILE PHOTO

TACLOBAN CITY, FEBRUARY 10, 2014 (INQUIRER) By Joey Gabieta Inquirer Visayas - The saying that laughter is the best medicine proves to be a truism even in times of disaster, as it was for survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” who had a good laugh after witnessing the acts of Clowns Without Borders (CWB), an organization that offers entertainment in crisis situations.

“Clowns Without Borders believes in the power of laughter as a way to relieve suffering,” said Tim Cunningham, director of the CWB.

Cunningham, an American, is a 34-year-old professional clown.

Thirty-seven-year-old Samantha Holdsworth, a CWB member from the United Kingdom, said bringing joy to the children still reeling from the destruction caused by Yolanda would somehow bring a “healing effect.”

“We believe in the healing and the cathartic potential of the art to effect change,” said Holdsworth, a theater director and producer in London.

This belief is validated by the children’s positive response to their performances.

The group first arrived in Eastern Visayas on the third week of December last year, performing in evacuation centers in Basey and in Tacloban, to the wild acclaim of the audience, composed mostly of children.

They also performed in Hernani, Balangkayan and Llorente in Eastern Samar, and in Baybay City and Tolosa in Leyte. They will perform again in Tacloban City on Friday.

Performing with Cunningham and Holdsworth at the Yolanda-hit areas are: Mexican Gabriela Muñoz, 32, a theater clown; and Americans Micael Bagar, 32, a professional clown and Brendon Gawel, 34, a puppeteer.

All five provide laughter to their audience and interact with the children.

Their performances include circus acts such as ball juggling, walking on stilts and magic, the most anticipated part of their performances.

For several days now, CWB have been performing in several Yolanda-hit areas in Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte and Tacloban City, considered the ground zero of the world’s strongest typhoon to make a landfall.

In all their performances done in open spaces, town gymnasiums, schools and evacuation centers, laughter and loud applause from the children were the usual response.

Sixteen-year-old Trisha Cyrelle Candido from Hernani town traveled all the way to Balangkayan, about 64 kilometers away, just to watch the CWB performance on Feb. 2.

“They really made us happy and made us laugh again,” Candido said.

For Camille Calvadores of Salcedo town, watching the CWB was a “mesmerizing experience.”

“It was the first time I ever saw clowns perform. They made us laugh and we were dazzled with their performances, like when they performed their magic act. My thanks to them,” the 11-year old said.

Holdsworth said they find it heartwarming that the children, who may initially show a tentative kind of reception, always give them a robust and warm reception at the end of the show.

“We draw our strength from their smiles. Children loved our acts. I mean, they are excited, playful. They are even talking to us,” she said.

According to Cunningham, the positive reactions they get give them a kind of “high” that makes them give their all in their performances as jesters. It serves as a validation that they have accomplished their mission.

He said the main goal of their group is to ensure that the children, who have been exposed to traumatic events in the wake of the supertyphoon, will be able to laugh again.

Chris Sibugon, communication officer of Plan Philippines, said the CWB members are the “perfect” persons to provide entertainment to children who are still feeling the brunt of the aftereffects of Yolanda.

“We could not think of any other group except Clowns Without Borders. It is necessary to give our children a sort of respite from the Yolanda experience,” Sibugon said.

Gawel and Bogar expressed admiration for the kids who still manage to laugh even after suffering from the devastating impact of the supertyphoon.

“Their resiliency is something,” Gawel said, noting that this has inspired them to keep going despite their physically challenging routines.

Cunningham said Filipino children, just like the children from other countries they have visited, gave them a rousing welcome.

“Laughter among children appears to be universal,” he said.

Buddhist group aims to spread love amid devastation By Tarra Quismundo Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:13 am | Monday, February 10th, 2014


Each family receives a bagful of relief items including eating utensils, local blanket, and sleeping mat. Photo by Nyanza Nakar】On January 30, a relief activity was conducted for 47 fire-stricken families in Barangay San Antonio, Quezon City. Almost 17 Tzu Chi volunteers and staff, who took part in the relief operations in Leyte, joined the said activity. Staying true to his vow as a volunteer for Tzu Chi Foundation, 47-year-old Edison Hina actively participates in almost all charitable activities led by the organization in Metro Manila.

TACLOBAN -Beyond just rebuilding villages destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda, one organization has been helping survivors heal from within, repairing the deep wounds of grief and loss by living up to its name: Tzu Chi, Chinese for “compassionate relief.”

The Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian nonprofit group established in Taiwan in 1966, has been quietly working on the ground across devastated Leyte, on a mission to revive a “circulation of love” in places that hope may have momentarily abandoned.

Led by its Philippine branch, Tzu Chi, an organization that commands a 10-million strong membership across 47 countries, has brought relief to some 60,000 families across the disaster zone, initiating cash-for-work programs in the worst-hit villages and installing prefabricated schools and houses for the displaced.

In the words of its founder, globally renowned Buddhist nun and Ramon Magsaysay laureate Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi’s work is one of giving survivors the confidence that they could begin again: That is, to “uplift their body and spirit with love and motivate them to take action to rebuild their own lives.”

“Our philosophy is that the suffering of others is like our own suffering. That is the teaching of our founder.

When we help others, we must do it with a pure heart, and we must give without expecting anything in return and at the same time be thankful that we are given the opportunity to serve,” said Alfredo Li, Tzu Chi Philippines president.

The businessman, one “used to staying in five-star hotels,” had spent 34 days on Ground Zero as he led Tzu Chi’s operations. No complaining from Li, but sleeping on floors of damaged classrooms or what was left of a resort in Tacloban City, foregoing showers and meals, was truly a humbling experience for him.

“Before I joined Tzu Chi, my thinking was that I am the giver, so I have a higher standing than the beneficiaries. Then I came to Tzu Chi, the teaching was so different: That we should be the ones thankful, because they give us the opportunity to do good. It shifts the paradigm,” Li told the Inquirer.

“We had no right to complain. We have only one mission—to alleviate the sufferings of the people. So with that shift in paradigm, when we go to Ground Zero and meet with the victims, we have that respect in our hearts. So our attitude is to always put a smile on our face, we always bow, we always respect them,” he said by phone on Thursday.

Speed and efficiency

Far from the glare of media cameras, the foundation, described by Time magazine in 2011 as being “known for the astonishing speed and efficiency with which it brings aid to victims of natural disasters,” has so far brought some P1.2 billion in aid to hard-hit villages in Leyte, Li said.

He said the amount was pooled together from donations collected from Tzu Chi branches around the world, from the United States and Indonesia to Cambodia and Honduras.

Tzu Chi volunteers also flew in on their own account from around the world—Taiwan, the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong—and logged some 7,000 man-days of work on the ground. There were simply too many who came for Li to remember the exact count.

The roster of volunteers also included members from Marikina City—themselves survivors paying it forward after becoming recipients of Tzu Chi’s aid after the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009.

The post-Yolanda response has been the largest Philippine operation for Tzu Chi, the world’s largest Buddhist charity that conducted extensive relief and early recovery operations in quake-hit Haiti and in Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“All volunteers paid for their own hotels, plane fare. So all donations are sure to reach the beneficiaries, and we directly give it. We can’t give it through other organizations or agencies. [The assistance] should go from our hands directly to the beneficiaries,” Li said.

Cash-for-work program

A major part of Tzu Chi’s mission in Leyte was the 19-day cash-for-work program held in some 60 barangays (villages) in Tacloban, a debris-clearing scheme similar to that implemented by the United Nations and the government to bring much-needed employment to survivors, albeit temporarily.

From some 610 participants when it began last Nov. 20, the program mobilized up to 34,000 survivors daily in cleaning up their villages until Dec. 8. Each earned P500 a day—an amount that workers used to buy food for their families, revitalizing the local economy.

In all, Tzu Chi distributed P150 million in the cash-for-work program.

“If you are just sitting there, your mind just dwells on negativity. But when you start cleaning your own place, especially when you get thousands and thousands of people, there is strength. There is strength in unity,” Li said.

Circulation of love

“It’s the circulation of love. When we started the cash-for-work, that started the circulation of love. It’s synergy. When there are thousands of you working together, it’s like a fiesta. There is that one common goal, and you see the results right away,” he added.

Working with local officials to identify beneficiaries, the organization also provided shelter assistance to nearly 56,000 families, distributing aid amounting to P8,000, P12,000 or P15,000, depending on their needs.

After this first phase, Tzu Chi began the next step in its long-term mission in Leyte: providing temporary shelter for the displaced and prefabricated classrooms for schools that lost much of their infrastructure.

It has so far built some 263 classrooms for various schools that lost facilities, plus 12 on the University of the Philippines campus in Tacloban.

Tzu Chi is also identifying sites for the construction of transitional shelter in Tacloban, Palo town and Ormoc City, with the goal of building up to 5,000 units. It aims to build similar facilities in conflict-stricken Zamboanga City and quake-hit Bohol.

It was not all work, though, as Tzu Chi made sure that survivors also had time to share their experiences among themselves—a vital step toward healing.

“We don’t just tell them ‘OK, you work and we pay you.’ We are with them. Before we start working, we have about one hour of sharing. We don’t talk about politics or religion, we don’t convert them to our religion. All we do is spread the seeds of love. From there, we share beautiful stories,” Li said.

Cycle of goodness

Tzu Chi encouraged the workers to “be part of the cycle of goodness” by helping each other out.

It was a lesson that Leyte Provincial Hospital’s resident physician, Dr. Rufina Bato, among those who lost loved ones to the typhoon, took to heart: that it is in the time of terrible loss that people should, more than ever, be there for one another.

“Even though we are in a disaster area, we still should do something to help. I am tearful actually. It moves me that people are helping us although we don’t know them (volunteers from around the world),” Bato was quoted by Tzu Chi as saying in a statement.

For Florentina Meneses, among recipients of its shelter assistance, the Tzu Chi program was a blessing that helped her finally surrender her woes to higher power. She had lost her sister in the disaster.

“Through the program, I lightened up. I have been keeping a heavy feeling since then [the typhoon]. But I have come to realize that there really comes a time when we have to let go and let God take over,” she said.

Thanksgiving program

They were among nearly 40,000 people who gathered on Jan. 19 at Leyte Grandstand for a thanksgiving program with Tzu Chi, all unmindful of persistent rains and mud puddles. The turnout, many carrying letters and improvised banners of thanks, proved to be an overwhelming expression of gratitude for volunteers.

“From the time we went there, we saw in their faces that there was no hope, there’s no glow in their eyes. Until we started cash-for-work, we saw that they were more energetic, that there was a smile on their face. That keeps us going. We draw strength from the people and also that sense of responsibility that we are given the opportunity to be able to make a difference. That keeps us going,” Li said.

DPWH: No more bunkhouses; victims to get housing assistance By Jerry E. Eesplanada Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:23 pm | Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


BUNKHOUSES, INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Instead of building more bunkhouses for the survivors of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” in Eastern Visayas, the Department of Public Works and Highways will provide them with construction materials under its Permanent Shelter Program for typhoon-ravaged places.

This was announced on Tuesday by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, who said families whose homes were destroyed would get P30,000 worth of building materials while those whose home were damaged would get up to P10,000 worth of materials.

Singson said in a radio interview that priority would be given to families living in coastal areas of Leyte and Eastern Samar provinces because “they will be resettled in areas which are much safer than the coastal communities where they used to live.”

“It would be good if a cash-for-work component is included in the reconstruction of typhoon-damaged homes,” he added.

He welcomed the “participation of donors who are willing to provide financial assistance” under the project.

Meanwhile, Singson disclosed that the DPWH has a “new design” for disaster-resilient school buildings which would be presented to the Department of Education shortly.

“As soon as we get the DepEd approval, we will start working on the contracts for the reconstruction of schools that were totally damaged by the typhoon,” he said, adding the reconstruction of damaged bridges in Eastern Visayas will start shortly following the arrival of materials needed for the project.

In a related development, Rolando Asis, director of the DPWH office in Eastern Visayas, reported that 30 more bunkhouses were completed last week by private contractors, bringing to 165 the total number of temporary shelters put up for typhoon survivors.

“Work on the remaining 57 temporary shelters is ongoing. These bunkhouses are actually substantially completed,” he told the Inquirer.

Earlier, he expressed confidence the construction of the remaining bunkhouses would be finished by the end of January. The government had planned to put up 222 bunkhouses in Leyte and Eastern Samar.

According to Asis, construction of the bunkhouses had been hampered by continuous heavy rain.

Only 122 temporary shelters were put up before the Christmas break. Two of them, both in Barangay (village) Candahug in Palo, were turned over to typhoon victims by President Benigno Aquino during his visit to the area on December 22.

As of January 27, only 58 of the 165 completed bunkhouses have been occupied. The Department of Social Services and Development is tasked to identify their recipients.

In Tacloban City alone, there are a little over 1,000 families who are still living in different tent cities and evacuation centers, according to the DPWH.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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