Tragedy and Hope

Today (Saturday) we flew out of Tacloban, the coastal city where we’ve spent the last three days. We headed back to Manila where we’ll spend our last afternoon before flying back to the States on Sunday morning. I’m sorry I haven’t posted more these last few days but there has been too much to see and process. These days were the central purpose of our trip. It was in Tacloban that we talked to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, to the people who have helped them recover, and to the incredible community leaders who are taking steps to make their communities safer.

Driving now through the streets of Tacloban City, especially at night, there is bustling activity and life. Restaurants and street stands selling food are busy, everywhere there are vendors, people, pedicabs and “jeepneys” crowding the streets. It was a very different scene two years ago. Many of these streets were impassable with debris, piles of it, up to five or six feet high. Almost every building is new – most were completely destroyed in the storm. The human toll was even worse. As we drive through the surrounding countryside into neighboring towns we pass multiple common graves where the hundreds of bodies that filled the streets were carried in the horrific days following the storm.

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A memorial site at one of the common graves.

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The Anibong district of Tacloban City is famous for the photos that appeared all over the world on news syndicates of huge tanker ships that were washed ashore here. Today, most of one of the famous ships has been removed and what is left is being constructed into a memorial.

Views from the top of the tanker ship washed ashore during the Typhoon. Informal settlement communities have sprung up just as before up to the water's edge once again, even though this is a

Views from the top of the tanker ship washed ashore during the Typhoon show informal settlement communities that have sprung up all the way up to the water’s edge even though this is a “no build zone.” It looks much as did before the typhoon.

From the roof of the tanker ship some of the destruction from Haiyan is still visible.

From the roof of the tanker ship some of the destruction from Haiyan is still visible.

It’s been only two years, not much time to recover from a disaster of this scale, but during our time here we spoke to family after family who has somehow managed to pull together the pieces of their lives again in that short time. Without fail, everyone I talked to would cry at some point remembering the disaster; the memories are still very fresh. But the majority of our conversations centered on their recovery. I spoke to business owners who are back and making higher profits, to families whose living situation is finally being regularized thanks to housing projects that have moved them off of “no dwell zone” land, to people who in the rebuild process finally have a toilet to call their own after a lifetime of little privacy.

Angel and Mariane are best friends. Their school was used as an evacuation center during Haiyan, but now it's reopened, and equipped with hand washing stations through CRS. They say they're happy they don't have to walk across the school to fetch water anymore.

Angel and Mariane are best friends. Their school was used as an evacuation center during Haiyan, but now it’s reopened and equipped with hand washing stations through CRS. They say they’re happy they don’t have to walk across the school to fetch water anymore.

Edito lay on the second story of his house for more than 12 hours with his children, grandchildren and four other neighborhood families during the Typhoon. They covered themselves with a tarp and didn't leave until the storm was over. Part of the roof was blow off. What kept him going then and in the months that followed was the need to stay strong for his grandchildren, he said.

Edito lay on the second story of his house for more than 12 hours with his children, grandchildren and four other neighborhood families while the Typhoon raged around them. They covered themselves with a tarp and didn’t leave until the storm was over, even when part of the roof was blown off. What kept him going then and in the months that followed was the need to stay strong for his grandchildren, he said.

Mary Jane was a small convenience store owner before the storm. Her entire business and her family's home were completely swept away in Typhoon Haiyan. Through help from CRS and her own entrepreneurial spirit she's built her business back stronger than before.

Mary Jane was a small convenience store owner before the storm. Her entire business and her family’s home were completely swept away in Typhoon Haiyan. Through help from CRS and her own entrepreneurial spirit she’s built her business back stronger than before.

This Neighborhood

This Neighborhood “captain,” an elected official, helped his community survive after it was completely wiped out after Haiyan. Now they are one of the most advanced villages in terms of disaster preparedness. Here he demonstrates the town’s early warning system. His voice echoes on megaphones throughout the neighborhood.

At the moment, I am overwhelmed with all I have seen this week. I’m overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster itself, so much worse than I imagined when I put faces to the tragedy; the poverty, which is desperate; and the unfairness of the fact that a changing climate, which these people did the least to cause, will mean that these kinds of tragedies will, without doubt, continue. However I am also overwhelmed by the resilience of these people, by their kindness, their amazing sense of community, the stories of heroism and courage that I’ve heard this week. I am also so very impressed by the work of Catholic Relief Services here and proud to be a part of the U.S. Catholic Church. It’s a lot of conflicting emotions, and over the next few days it will be my job to somehow translate them into news stories that somehow do justice to what I’ve seen here.

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These children live in extreme poverty and at high risk of water-borne disease; many are sick already. But, like the adults in the town, they’re smiling. It’s part of the Filipino culture to wear a smile and laugh, even in the worst of times. Many of the people I talked to believed that’s why they’ve been able to recover so quickly.

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