SIGNS OF LIFE AMID MISERY REVEAL FILIPINOS' SPIRIT

As a foreign correspondent working in the middle of a horrendous disaster zone, I didn’t expect to see people having a good time — or asking me to play ball. I was even more stunned when I learned that the basketball goal was one of the first things this neighborhood rebuilt. It took a moment for me to realize that it made all the sense in the world. The kids wanted to play so they can take their minds off what happened, said Elanie Saranillo, one of the spectators. “And we want to watch so we, too, can forget.” 'We will rise again, as we have done so for the countless times. There is not a single calamity that can break us. We will get up, face the odds and win again and again... Go Filipinos!'  from A Dedication To Courage - The Filipino Spirit -Submitted by MGASPAR.


ALSO: After battle to survive Yolanda, the struggle to live

Cecilia Beltran, a 47-year-old mother of three, was queuing outside city hall in Tacloban for a power socket to charge her mobile phone as she told of her family's hourly struggle to subsist. "It's difficult. We beg for food from neighbors because relief aid has not arrived. We only eat once a day," she told AFP. "Our house is gone. We now live in a tent on the street.


SIGNS OF LIFE AMID MISERY REVEAL FILIPINOS' SPIRIT


In this Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 photo, Typhoon Haiyan survivors play basketball in a destroyed neighborhood in Tacloban, Philippines. They found the hoop in the ruins of their obliterated neighborhood. They propped up the backboard with broken wood beams and rusty nails scavenged from vast mounds of storm-blasted homes. A crowd gathered around. And on one of the few stretches of road here that wasn’t overflowing with debris, they played basketball. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES, DECEMBER 2, 2013 (MANILA BULLETIN) By Todd Pitman, AP - They found the hoop in the ruins of their obliterated neighborhood. They propped up the backboard with broken wood beams and rusty nails scavenged from vast mounds of storm-blasted homes.

A crowd gathered around. And on one of the few stretches of road here that wasn’t overflowing with debris, they played basketball.

I didn’t know what to think at first when I stumbled upon six teenagers shooting hoops over the weekend in a wrecked neighborhood of Tacloban, a city that Typhoon Haiyan reduced to rubble, bodies and uprooted trees when it slammed into the Philippines Nov. 8.

As a foreign correspondent working in the middle of a horrendous disaster zone, I didn’t expect to see people having a good time — or asking me to play ball. I was even more stunned when I learned that the basketball goal was one of the first things this neighborhood rebuilt.

It took a moment for me to realize that it made all the sense in the world.

The kids wanted to play so they can take their minds off what happened, said Elanie Saranillo, one of the spectators. “And we want to watch so we, too, can forget.”

Saranillo, 22, now lives in a church after her own home was leveled by the storm.

Countless families lost loved ones to the typhoon, which killed more than 4,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of survivors have endured unimaginable suffering: hunger, thirst, makeshift shelter, little if any medical care, and a desperate, dayslong wait for aid to arrive. Tacloban was filled with hopeless, fear-filled faces. Even now, blackened bodies with peeling skin still lay by the roads, or are trapped under the rubble.

But as the crisis eases and aid begins to flow, hope is flickering. People smile, if only briefly, and joke, if only in passing. They are snippets of life. They do not mean, by any stretch, that people are happy in the face of tragedy. But for some, there is a newfound enthusiasm for life that comes from having just escaped death.

When a kid with mismatched shoes rolled the grimy, orange-and-yellow basketball my way, I was encouraged to attempt a slam dunk. I opted for free throws instead, and miraculously sank the first two, to immense cheers all around.

My third shot hit the rim, circled twice and rolled the wrong way. The crowd roared a sympathetic “Awwwwwwwwww.” There were a lot of laughs.

In Saranillo’s neighborhood, I saw four giggling children jumping up and down on two soiled mattresses strung across a cobweb of smashed wooden beams that had once formed somebody’s home. Two women stood on a hilltop high above, dancing.

A few yards (meters) away, a 21-year-old named Mark Cuayzon strummed a guitar. He too, was smiling. And in this city virtually erased by nature, I had to ask why.

“I’m sad about Tacloban,” he said. “But I’m happy because I’m still alive. I survived. I lost my house, but I didn’t lose my family.”

I covered the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and cannot recall a single laugh. Every nation is resilient in its own way, but there is something different in the Philippines that I have not yet put my finger on.

While walking through Tacloban’s ruins, I and my colleagues were almost always greeted by kind words. When I asked how people were doing, people who had lost everything said, “Good.” Superficial words, of course, but combined with the smiles, and with hearing “Hey, Joe” again and again (an old World War II reference to G.I. Joe), they helped form a picture I have not encountered in other disaster zones.

Perhaps it has something to do with an expression Filipinos have: “Bahala Na.” It essentially means: Whatever happens, leave it to God.

Elizabeth Protacio de Castro, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Philippines in Manila, said her nation has grown accustomed to catastrophe. Some 20 typhoons barrel across the nation every year. Add to that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, armed insurgencies and political upheaval.

“Dealing with disaster has become an art,” de Castro said. But Typhoon Haiyan “was quite different. It was immense, and no amount of preparation could have prepared us to cope with it.”

And yet, they must cope.

“So rather than screaming or staring at the wall in a psychiatric ward, you do everything you can. You do your best, then let it go,” said de Castro, who helped provide psychological aid to victims of the 2004 Asia tsunami during a previous job with the U.N. Children’s Fund.

People playing music or sports in the rubble, de Castro said, “is a way of saying, ‘Life goes on.’ This is what they used to do every day, and they’re going to keep doing it.”

“It’s not that Filipinos are some happy-go-lucky people and don’t care,” she added. “It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. They’re saying: ‘I can deal with this. I’m at peace, and whatever happens tomorrow, happens.’ … They need help, of course, but they’re also saying, they’re going to get by on their own if they have to.”

De Castro has been counseling students in Manila who lost parents and siblings to the storm, and said some have displayed incredible determination. “They’ve lost their entire families, and they’re telling me, ‘I have to finish my studies because my parents paid my tuition through the end of the year.’”

That sense of determination is literally written in the ruins of Tacloban.

One handwritten message painted on a board outside a destroyed shop said the “eyes of the world” are on the city. It added, “Don’t quit.”

Those who have gotten a chance to leave Tacloban have done so, of course, though many will no doubt return one day.

On Monday, I rode on a U.S. Air Force C-17 out of Tacloban to Manila, along with about 500 people displaced by the typhoon. There were babies and pregnant women. Some had tears in their eyes. One man held a doll with stuffed animal-like angel wings. He stared at it intensely, kissing it over and over.

As the plane neared Manila, an American crew member held her iPhone to her helmet’s microphone, which was linked the aircraft’s speaker system.

She hit play, and Earth, Wind and Fire’s 1978 hit “September” belted out. The sea of eyes squatting on the cargo plane immediately turned radiant.

Men twirled their arms. Women swayed back and forth, and the words echoed through the plane’s cargo hold:

“Do you remember …

While chasing the clouds away,

Our hearts were ringing,

In the key that our souls were singing.

As we danced in the night. Remember,

How the stars stole the night away.”

FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK

After battle to survive Yolanda, the struggle to live By JASON GUTIERREZ, Agence France-PresseNovember 14, 2013 11:19am


Dead pose a problem to the living post-Yolanda. A wooden cross rests on a body bag containing the remains of a victim of super typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban on Wednesday. Decaying corpses in the ruined city compound a growing health menace after one of the strongest storms on record killed thousands. AFP PHOTO/Philippe Lopez

Tacloban – People who clung to power cables or cowered in concrete buildings as an apocalyptic storm blew through the Philippines may have thought they were lucky to live, but for many, the struggle to survive has only just begun.

Those who made it through the terrifying winds, which hurled cars and parts of buildings around as they brought a surge of seawater ashore, each have a story to tell about the day Super Typhoon (Yolanda) Haiyan struck.

But all now face the slow-motion disaster of life in a lawless wasteland, where food and water are scarce, medicine is in short supply and gunfire rings out.

On a road behind Tacloban airport, Nelson Matobato, 34, and his wife Karen, 29, sat at night in a pedicab beside an improvised plywood coffin holding the bodies of their two daughters, aged seven and five.

Their two sons, one aged four and the another only three months old, are still missing.

"The water came at 7:00 a.m. and our house was submerged instantly," Nelson Matobato said, as a can of floor wax, used as an improvised candle, burned nearby.

"By 9:00 am we were already on the rooftop. Then all of us were swept away as the house disintegrated. We could not do anything."

His neighbor Dennis Daray also sat by the road, with the body of his sister wrapped in a white sack, one of thousands of people feared to have died in one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.

Daray said he was waiting for authorities to start retrieving bodies.

"It needs to be collected by the authorities. It's starting to smell," he said.

Angeline Conchas and her seven-year-old daughter were trapped on the second floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

They made their way to safety by clinging on to an electricity cable to get them to a higher building where they sat the flood out.

"It is a good thing the electricity had already been cut off or we would have died," Conchas said.

The World Health Organization said a number of the survivors have significant injuries that need attention. Medics say wounds left untreated in the heat and humidity can quickly become infected, leading to severe illnesses or death.

The cramped living conditions of those made homeless by last Friday's disaster provide a breeding ground for contagious diseases, while the lack of clean drinking water could give rise to diarrhea – which can quickly prove fatal if left untreated.

But the WHO also cautioned that regular health needs still have to be met, including the 12,000 babies expected to be born this month to the more than 11.3 million people affected.

One of those infants came into the world at a makeshift medical center at the battered airport.


Hospital in Tacloban, which ran out of medical supplies.

Bea Joy's first look at life was one of dirty plywood resting amid broken glass, twisted metal, nails and other debris. Her exhausted 21-year-old mother cradled her, a miracle that she never thought she would see when the ocean swept her wooden home away.

But with no more antibiotics available, doctors worry that infection could yet bring a tragic end to this small story of hope.

Local doctor Corazon Rubio survived last week's typhoon, which killed 10 of her neighbors, but she said it was the aftermath that left her terrified.

"What is frightening is the looting," Rubio told AFP.

"They would get TV sets from the houses. Of what use are they? We don't even have electricity," she said.

Psychiatrists say some of those pillaging are doing so because of the hopelessness and desperation they feel having lost almost everything.

Others may be doing it from economic necessity. The International Labor Organization estimates that three million people have lost their livelihoods. It says nearly half of these are vulnerable workers – subsistence farmers or fishermen.

Tourism, a mainstay of the Philippine economy, will also have been hit by the latest tragedy in a country prone to natural disaster.

But for many, worries about jobs are something for another day. More immediate fears have taken precedence.

Cecilia Beltran, a 47-year-old mother of three, was queuing outside city hall in Tacloban for a power socket to charge her mobile phone as she told of her family's hourly struggle to subsist.

"It's difficult. We beg for food from neighbors because relief aid has not arrived. We only eat once a day," she told AFP. "Our house is gone. We now live in a tent on the street.

"We scavenged pots from the debris and washed them. We just picked up our clothes from the street and then laundered them. We have nothing left." – Agence France-Presse


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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