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If each of us takes part in caring and sharing, the overwhelming challenge of poverty can be addressed. Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.

'Hope Stories of Haiyan'

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Let There Be Light

by Gia Leanne Luga

One year after Haiyan, we are inspired by the generosity of our partners and reminded that more than giving new houses, it’s about presence – getting to know the beneficiaries personally and showing them that truly, we will not leave them behind.

Read more Hope Stories of Haiyan

New Washington is a story of man versus nature. A tiny strip of land in the province of Aklan, it’s surrounded by two bodies of water: the Sibuyan Sea and the Lagatik River. Hardly mentioned by media, it’s difficult to describe or imagine the kind of devastation Super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) caused. A quick visit to the coastal community of Sitio Bato in Barangay Fatima would show you stretches of ruins and debris – Haiyan’s bitter aftermath.

But even before the typhoon, Fatima was already one of the poorest barangays in New Washington. The makeshift houses along the coast barely protect residents from the forces of nature, and the coastline itself seems to get engulfed by the sea as the years pass. If the future of Brgy. Fatima was already bleak, Haiyan only made it bleaker.

Haiyan’s bitter aftermath is still clearly seen on the coastline of Brgy. Fatima,
even in the months following the typhoon

Where There is Darkness

Haiyan struck on November 8, a month before Christmas. It placed a dark cloud of despair not only over Aklan but the entire Visayas, and somehow, we all knew that Christmas 2013 would be different.

Back in Manila, the employees of Thomson Reuters began thinking that they should forego their annual Christmas party, even if it’s something everyone looks forward to all year long. They thought it didn’t seem right to celebrate Christmas when there are so many people suffering, and they wanted to channel the funds to those who needed it the most. Management supported the idea, and this is how the solar-powered Thomson Reuters-GK Village for 20 families was born.

According to Peter Buenaseda, the Senior Site Officer and Head of Human Resources for the Manila Operational Center of Thomson Reuters,
“In New Washington, we partnered with Gawad Kalinga Foundation to build homes for the Yolanda survivors. It’s small help compared to the need, but this comes from our employees who guided our decision to cancel our Christmas Party in 2013. We know that the recover and rehabilitation need brought by this calamity is great, so in our own little way we’d like to help.”

Like many of Gawad Kalinga’s partners who have answered the call to become heroes to the typhoon survivors, Thomson Reuters understood that while Haiyan enveloped the country in despair, we CAN be the light that pierces through that darkness.
But there was one other thing Thomson Reuters understood: that to rebuild an entire coastal community, it’s never just about giving new houses. It’s also about getting to know the beneficiaries personally and showing them that truly, we will not leave them behind.

It Takes a Village

Thomson Reuters employee volunteers help build their village
and bring hope to Brgy. Fatima during Bayani Challenge 2014

Last May 2014, about 35 Thomson Reuters made their way to New Washington to participate in the Bayani Challenge and physically help build the village that they were sponsoring. When they weren’t carrying hollow blocks, mixing cement, or painting, the employee volunteers were interacting with the future beneficiaries through the workshops that they prepared themselves (on Basic Financial Management, Sports, Health & Wellness, and Arts & Storytelling).

My Shelter Foundation Executive Director Iliac Diaz also gave a skills workshop on how to install and operate the solar-powered lamps that will light up the Thomson Reuters-GK Village.

But perhaps the highlight of the entire trip was when the employees visited the coastline, where the beneficiaries currently live.

Avon Crissta Igloria describes the experience in this excerpt from her blog:
“Upon arrival, we saw the remnants of the houses that were swept away and destroyed by the typhoon Yolanda. It was an awful thing to imagine that the beautiful sea engulfed that poor community. I held back my tears when we met the settlers and they told stories about the typhoon… For three days, we were not only employees of Thomson Reuters, but also volunteers for the community... Our beneficiaries were grateful that we came for help, but we were more grateful that we are able to.”

The stories of the families who will be moving into the Thomson Reuters-GK Village
brought many of the employee volunteers to tears.

Marla Alvarez, the Thomson Reuters Manila Program Manager for Site Strategy, Communications, and Corporate Responsibility, adds: “I’m very proud to be working for a company that’s really made it possible for us to be able to help others and make a difference in their lives.”

One year after Haiyan, the 20 homes that Thomson Reuters has built are now accompanied by many more rows of new units from other partners. Unlike last December, this coming Christmas will truly be a season of hope for all, especially for the residents of Brgy. Fatima who are now in the process of rebuilding their lives.

Today New Washington has become a place for convergence – where corporate partners, local government, surrounding schools, current and future GK residents, and volunteers from everywhere continue to come together in bayanihan. Slowly but surely, this story of man versus nature into a story of man RISING above nature. Above darkness. Above poverty. 

That said, there are many things we don’t have control over: when the next typhoon will strike, the strength of the wind and the rain, the extent of the next calamity’s wrath, and the darkness caused by devastation and pain. But even before the next Haiyan, there IS something we can do.

Just as Thomson Reuters and all the other partners came together to light up an entire village, we can all come together to light up more villages, towns, and provinces. Eventually, we will light up the entire country with constellations of hope. And sooner rather than later, the darkness of Haiyan and more importantly of poverty will be no more.

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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'


GK New Washington in Brgy. Fatima, New Washington, Aklan, stands today because of the bayanihan of the typhoon survivors, volunteers, the local government, and partners like Thomson Reuters, Globe, Friends of the Philippines, Filipino American Association of Northeast Florida, The Women of Bel-Air Foundation, Church of Rye and others who generously gave towards Gawad Kalinga’s Haiyan Reconstruction Efforts.

But the work is far from over, and there are thousands more who need to be relocated to safe communities like this one. Find out how you can help #endpoverty today.

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