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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'

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Una sa Serbisyo, Huli sa Benepisyo
by Mark Lawrence Cruz

One year after Haiyan, Arnel and Feliza Abas find purpose in helping fellow Leyteños
rebuild their lives in the face of waiting, danger, and even death.

Read more Hope Stories of Haiyan

The memories of those who survived Haiyan (Yolanda) are filled with stories of death, destruction, and pain. It’s been a year since the typhoon but the sense of loss of the people of Leyte is still fresh and palpable. Perhaps it will be so until they have succeeded in their current efforts to reclaim the normalcy of their lives.

Just like all the other residents of Brgy. San Roque in Tanauan, Leyte, Arnel and Feliza Abas lost their home and a number of loved ones during the height of the storm. But unlike most victims, Arnel and Feliza have chosen to rebuild not just their lives but the lives of so many others. This free-flowing desire to serve and help others is what makes this husband and wife tandem a great inspiration for the rehabilitation efforts in Tanauan, Leyte. The story of this couple is about not being able to keep themselves from helping others even in the face of danger and death.

Feliza and Arnel back in the Tanauan gymnasium, but this time not to evacuate from Yolanda. This husband and wife tandem is now conducting Gawad Kalinga’s values formation program for their neighbors living in danger zones.

The day before Haiyan, Feliza was among the first to evacuate her family to the Tanauan gymnasium. Upon learning that so many of their neighbors did not want to evacuate, she immediately went back to San Roque and started a house to house campaign to explain the dangers of the storms and the benefits of moving out early. By 10:00 PM of November 7, most of her neighbors were finally with her in the safety of the evacuation center. Today, many of these neighbors are well and alive enough to keep on thanking her for insisting on the evacuation.

This stubborn drive to do good also thrives in Arnel. Just like most of the men of San Roque, he decided stay behind to watch over their homes and boat. Being a seaside community, they were among the few who experienced the full brunt of a combined battering of waves and wind that went on in full fury for two and a half hours. The homes and boats that they sought to protect were instantly dismantled and soon became the deadly ingredients of the flood that engulfed them. Arnel fought to stay afloat in these waters peppered with galvanized iron sheets, splintered wood, and similarly struggling neighbors. Instead of hanging on to a safe spot, he decided to swim and float around to encourage his neighbors to relax and not panic. He just kept on shouting “Wag kayo mag-panic! Wag kayo kabahan! Basta lumutang at sumabay lang sa agos!” (Don’t panic! Don’t be nervous! Just float and try to go with the current!)

At one point, Arnel saw someone who could no longer swim because his foot got caught in the debris. He stayed by his side to keep calm him down and help him, but his efforts were effortlessly overtaken by the rapid rise and fall of salty floodwaters. Arnel had to swim on to look for others whom he could help and save — something which he did for as long as the floods kept him afloat.

Arnel used to be by the sea everyday. But since Haiyan, he has kept his distance from the sea, not wanting to be reminded
of the 2-hour ordeal he went through. But last August, he braved to come near the sea again because we had to talk to fishermen who would be our partners in the would-be fishing enterprise for Tanauan.

Being qualified beneficiaries themselves, they were included in the first batch of awardees but they refused to transfer until all of their neighbors in the tent city had first been given a new home. They finally agreed to be transferred along with the last ones batch to be moved out of the tent city. According to Feliza,

“Ayaw naming maunang lumipat kasi baka isipin ng mga tao na kaya kami tumutulong ay para magkaroon kami. Ang gusto lang talaga namin ay lahat ng tao magkaroon ng malilipatan. Gusto lang talaga namin tumulong.” (We didn’t want to be the first to transfer because we didn’t want people to think that’s the reason why we’re helping out. We wanted everyone in the community to be given their houses first.)

Many of Arnel and Feliza’s neighbors are grateful for their servant leadership and stubborn drive
to make sure everyone is alive and well.


Arnel echoes Feliza’s sentiments: “We didn’t mind the wait. We just really wanted to make sure that all our neighbors from the tent city moved into their new homes first.”

Today, this amazing husband and wife tandem are part of the community organizing team that is conducting values and community-building activities for the 1,200 families who would be the future residents of GK Tanauan.

One year after the devastation of Haiyan, Arnel and Feliza, as well as the rest of the families who used to live in the tent city,
now have homes to call their own.

Read more

'Hope Stories of Haiyan'


GK Tanauan in Brgy. Pago, Tanauan, Leyte, stands today because of the bayanihan of the typhoon survivors, volunteers, the local government, and partners 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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