Rebuilding Tacloban

by Alda Tan

Apr 30 - May 4 was a memorable and meaningful week that I will always remember as an eye-opening and humbling one.

Typhoon Haiyan - one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded at landfall, killed more than 6000 people in Philippines alone.

5 months on, Credit Suisse partnered with Gawad Kalinga ("GK") - a local organization aimed at building wholistic and sustainable communities in an effort to end poverty - and brought 37 volunteers to partake in the Bayani Challenge 2014 (aimed at gathering 1 million volunteers from Apr 9 - Jun 12 to showcase the largest volunteerism that the country has ever seen). 

One of the key objectives on this trip was to help victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan rebuild their lives and communities in the aftermath of the catastrophic natural disaster. About 70-80% of Tacloban was flattened in this typhoon, and I was able to witness this devastation during our visit around the area, where most of the collapsed houses were not fit for staying and families had to stay in makeshift shelters made out of driftwood and wooden planks. Some were lucky enough to have received a relief tent from the likes of Red Cross and Unicef.

We spent these 4 days building houses, painting schools, forming human chains to transport sand and bricks to make up for the lack of machinery, distributing school supplies, and bonding with the local community. It made me realize how fortunate we are to be free from natural disasters and blessed with the abundance of airconditioned shopping malls, and yet we complain incessantly on what we deem as obstacles to survive this rat race. Through my interaction with the kids, I found that the Filipinos are naturally a happy-go-lucky lot; this echoed throughout my entire visit as wherever I went, I was greeted by their wide smiles and heartfelt thanks.

As a city-dweller, I am proud to say I have now honed the skills of:

- hacking walls

- digging trenches/holes

- mixing cement (3-parts sand, 1 bagful of cement)

- a super fast human chain transporter

Sure, we suffered under the blistering sun, gained blisters from all that shovelling and hacking, but the lessons learnt are invaluable and life-long.