LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – Scott Chen is a 25-year-old American with a degree in criminal justice.
But even with no experience in carpentry and construction work at home in Los Angeles, he is building houses in the hilly village of San Isidro in Tacloban City, the capital of the central Philippine province of Leyte.
Chen, along with other foreign volunteers under the U.S-based All Hands Volunteers nongovernmental organization, is helping the International Organization for Migration build transitional shelters for victims of super typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year.
The site, which targets 120 shelter units, is the second transitional housing project of the IOM in Tacloban City. The first project, completed in September, is in the Tagpuro district further north of the city, with 86 units.
Manuel Pereira, an IOM field officer, told Kyodo News the San Isidro transitional housing project is expected to be finished before the year ends. He stressed that both sites are safe from a storm surge a typhoon as strong as Haiyan could generate in the future.
Haiyan, regarded as the strongest typhoon to hit land with its winds of up to 235 kilometers per hour, triggered a deadly storm surge that topped 6 meters, left 6,300 people dead, more than 1,000 missing and 4.1 million displaced.
It destroyed more than 1.1 million houses, flattened schools and government buildings, cracked bridges and roads, and ravaged farmlands.
The government estimates the damage at nearly 89.6 billion pesos ($2 billion).
“It gives me a warm feeling, a very nice feeling deep inside seeing the people move in and expressing gratitude to us when they started moving into the 86 transitional houses we helped build in Tagpuro,” said Chen, who arrived in the country in June to start his volunteer work.
“I think lots of work still needs to be completed, like houses and other structures. Also, children need lots of help. So, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Volunteer Mikee Hill, 26, from London said he finds satisfaction from his daily physical job, mostly under intense heat, when he sees the smiling faces of children and hears personal stories from local people, especially their survival during Haiyan.
Others agree: “This is a bit more rewarding, although not financially, because the impact we’re making, while it may not involve some money, is leaving a big difference to the lives of the survivors,” said Gary Pitts, 35, also from London, who is the All Hands Volunteers program manager at the project site.
IOM’s Pereira, who is Portuguese, said his organization has shifted over the year from providing immediate relief to shelter projects because these are gaps the government coordinates with donor organizations.
Pereira’s colleague Laurence Wood said job creation and skills training for local people are also incorporated in their assistance projects, citing, for example, the hiring of around 150 workers at the San Isidro transitional housing site.
Meanwhile, in Leyte’s Dulag, 37 km south of Tacloban, Yoshiyuki Shiomi of the Japan-based International Children’s Action Network is overseeing completion of repairs to classrooms at San Jose Central School.
All 13 buildings that house 31 classrooms were destroyed by Haiyan and its gate collapsed when it was hit by the storm surge. When classes resumed weeks after the storm, students were forced to hold classes in makeshift classrooms.
Teacher Nerissa Rivas and Mary Jeane Advincula said the school has 752 students from kindergarten to sixth grade, and more than 20 teachers.
“We are getting fine because of ICAN’s help, and the support of other NGOs,” Rivas said. “Although, in truth, at present, we are not really OK yet because our equipment, our instructional materials were damaged. And it’s so hot in the makeshift classrooms. So, we continue to adjust and endure the inconveniences.”
Advincula said they could not wait for the day when they will all be able to use the new classrooms, which ICAN assured are of standard in makeup.
Aside from the education aspect, ICAN also extended housing assistance to Dulag residents by providing shelter materials, for example, to 107 families in the interior village Romualdez.
ICAN officer Joan Javier said they want the families to build their own shelters “so they can have a sense of ownership.”
Mylene Openiano, 22, a mother of four, said her husband completed erecting their new house after they received shelter materials from ICAN in June. She said their original house, a nipa thatched house, was blown away by Haiyan.
“We are more comfortable now because it’s more spacious than our old house, and we feel a lot safer because this is now made of wood and our roof is a (galvanized iron) sheet,” Openiano said.
ICAN Philippines Executive Director Sadakazu Ikawa said his organization intends to continue assistance to Leyte for two more years, with a new focus on sustainable livelihood.
It will also promote participatory governance.
“We are there to alleviate the suffering of the affected people and build stronger communities. Disaster will be repeated if the communities just go back to their original state. Therefore, it is important that we do not end with just providing the basic human needs, but try to make strong communities with more resilience through sustainable livelihood, participatory governance and others,” Ikawa told reporters.
Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Dominico Petilla said more than the aid itself, the help that came from the international community has sparked hope among the people, helping them to recover fast.
“It sparked the hope of the people — seeing new faces which are of different colors, and talking, speaking in different languages. It’s a big relief and that really contributed,” Petilla said.