33-year-old mother works to bring typhoon relief to neighbors

TACLOBAN, Philippines
By Dennis Sadowski

Community members still struggling to rebuild, recover after Typhoon Haiyan

Shirley Boco wants anyone who will listen to know that the 1,297 people she represents deserve more attention than they are getting as the recovery from November's Typhoon Haiyan begins to gain momentum.

Boco, 33, is captain of the barangay, or local community, in the poverty-stricken Anibong section of Tacloban. She advocates for a larger cash-for-work program so that more community members can clear debris left by the storm. She wants more shelter kits to be distributed to families living in makeshift housing, or no housing at all, in the poverty-stricken community in the western part of Tacloban. Food packs from nongovernmental organizations could include things other than rice and sardines, she believes.

And Boco worries about what will happen to the fragile homes that have sprouted on the shore since the storm: Many probably will be destroyed again as efforts continue to refloat at least one of the seven large ocean vessels washed farther ashore at the peak of Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

People salvaged material to rebuild their homes where they had lived prior to the storm because they had no other option, said Boco, the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 15. People are building temporary housing thinking they may be forced to move again because the government is prohibiting the construction of permanent housing within 125 feet of the shoreline.

"Our people came into our area just to have partial shelter right now because the government has not offered a permanent relocation. Right now, we have to go back to where Yolanda landed," Boco explained.

At the height of the storm, thousands of Anibong's residents fled to higher ground by climbing a nearby hill and riding out the storm. People clung to trees for hours until the water subsided. But the danger they faced did not deter them from wanting to stay in Anibong.

As captain of the barangay, Boco aired her concerns to Catholic Relief Services representatives visiting Anibong Feb. 4.

Boco credited the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency for its programs in the barangay since the storm, but she also asked for additional emphasis on hiring people for debris removal.

Although Boco feels city officials had treated the community fairly, she said the services offered have fallen far short of meeting the immense need.

That makes Boco's regular treks into town that much more important so she can keep the needs of her constituents in front of city officials.

"I go the city hall to follow up on the benefits for the people in our areas. Right now we are always waiting for their command," she explained.

Returning home, Boco sometimes has good news and other times not.

"I say to them we have to stand on our own feet, find some job if ever we can find," she said. "I worry about all the persons who don't have a job. We have to get income for survival, to meet our daily needs."

Many of the men in Anibong are fishermen who lost boats in the storm. Some supplies were delivered, enabling some fishermen to repair their boats, Boco said, but for most, there are no boats left to repair.

Some families who have not rebuilt homes have taken up residence on a few of the cargo ships that were tossed ashore. On one ship, residents painted the message in capital letters: "We need foods, rice and water."

Philippine cardinal: Haiyan recovery can show world a united church

MANILA, Philippines
By Dennis Sadowski

An emotional Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila welcomed U.S. Catholic leaders reviewing Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts, saying that the work to rebuild devastated communities can show the world a church united in the service of people in need.

With tears welling up as he described the utter destruction he saw during a visit to Tacloban soon after the Nov. 8 typhoon swept in from the sea with 195-mile-an-hour winds and a tsunami-like storm surge, Cardinal Tagle reminded the international delegation Feb. 3 that storm survivors can teach visitors about the importance of perseverance and maintaining faith in God.

"I don't know how we could make the whole world realize how much we could help. For a few days (during my visit) we knew it was possible for humankind to be together, to be one, to feel for one another and to transcend the barriers, all the baggage, the history that religion, that politics, the financial economy has imposed on everyone," Cardinal Tagle said in a meeting at the offices of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

"In that regard we saw the response and demand here," he told a delegation of more than a dozen representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Australia. "There is so much hope for the world. We just prayed that this will be sustained and will not become sporadic, only occasional. We hope it becomes a lifestyle to be spearheaded by Christians."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., USCCB president, who was leading the delegation on its weeklong visit to the Philippines, told the cardinal that the U.S. church wanted to work side-by-side with Filipinos in the long recovery process.

"We know there is one church and we want to be partners with you," he said.

U.S. parishes still are collecting funds, most of which have been designated for humanitarian needs. USCCB officials project that about $9 million will be raised in parish special collections for the recovery effort.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila
Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila wipes away tears as he discusses Typhoon Haiyan damage with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Manila, Philippines. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Meanwhile, CRS has raised about $48 million, including $28 million from private donors and $20 million from public sources, reported Joe Curry, the agency's country representative in the Philippines. All of the funds are being used for humanitarian needs, he told CNS.

Cardinal Tagle acknowledged that recovery and rebuilding is likely to take years because the devastation was so great, reaching across 12 dioceses in the central part of the country with the Palo Archdiocese and Borongon Diocese experiencing the most serious damage. In some locales, 90 percent of buildings and homes -- more than 550,000 in all -- were smashed into matchsticks.

As of Jan. 29, more than 6,200 people had died and more than 28,600 were injured in the storm while nearly 1,800 remained missing, according to the Philippines' National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. More than 4 million people were displaced by the storm.

Damage was set at $877 million by the council.

Two tropical storms swamped parts of the same regions in January, forcing some who lost their homes in November and were living in tents to flee to higher ground again.

Cardinal Tagle said natural disasters are the norm for the island nation and that he has come to see how important local parishes have become in offering shelter and becoming centers for sanitation and hygiene, the distribution of food and support for displaced people.

"At least for me," he told the delegation, "it has become a special lesson, because in moments like these a place of worship also becomes a place of charity. The place is made sacred not by sacraments and prayer but by the belief that we can find a refuge here. It is our home."

Compounding the challenges, the cardinal added, is the trauma experienced by priests, women religious and lay leaders at parishes, who are struggling with their own losses of family, possessions and secure housing.

"The church structure is in a state of shock," Cardinal Tagle said. "We have been offering emotional and psychological first aid."

CRS' Curry explained during the 45-minute meeting that agency staff members are attempting to develop creative responses to the disaster because the devastation is so severe. With a shortage of construction supplies and tools and a lack of capacity on the part of local and national governments to remove debris and improve infrastructure, the agency is attempting to find enough clear land to build temporary wooden shelters so people can move from tents into more secure housing, he said.

The agency has begun hiring people in cash-for-work programs to remove debris in some areas to pump much-needed funds into communities where people lost jobs, farmers lost cropland and fishermen lost boats, Curry said.

Catholic News Service - February 4, 2014