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Typhoon Haiyan: three months on, villagers ‘rise up’ against the devastation

By Georgina Sword-Daniels, Save the Children Humanitarian Communications team

Leliosa teaches her class in the badly hit community of Santa Cruz
Leliosa teaches her class in the badly hit community of Santa Cruz

Driving across the island of Leyte three months after typhoon Haiyan made landfall here, the sheer scale of the destruction is immediately apparent – but so is the amazing resilience. The battered landscape still carries the scars of those 235 kmh winds – many buildings are still roofless and gutted – but signs of reconstruction are everywhere. The fallen coconut lumber is being chopped and prepared to make timber frames to rebuild houses and children play outside schools and temporary learning spaces made out of tarpaulin sheets.

Meeting Leliosa

I met Leliosa in the small mountain community of Santa Cruz, where Save the Children is assisting in everything from repairing water systems to restoring electricity. Leliosa is a gentle and kind woman, although she seems a little sad. I sit down with her and she tells me how she and her children took shelter in her father-in-law’s house the night before the storm.  She watched as the typhoon ripped through her community, tearing roofs off buildings. Leliosa’s youngest son had wanted to stay behind in their home but she had forbidden this, which probably saved his life: when they returned next day they found just a shell where the house used to stand.

“When I returned to my house I couldn’t understand what I was going to do,” she tells me. Her family are now living in a temporary shelter they constructed from salvaged materials and tarpaulin provided by aid agencies. Her funds are limited and it is clear that Leliosa has no idea how she will rebuild her house.

Signs of hope

But Leliosa does not despair. A teacher at the local school, she continues to go to work every day, despite the devastation and disruption the typhoon has wreaked on her life. The school was also badly damaged by the storm: two classrooms had their roofs torn off.  She tells me that in the first few weeks after the disaster, many children didn’t return to school as “they did not have anything: food, homes, uniforms, or schools books”.

Still, a sea of smiling faces greets me as I enter the classroom. Save the Children set up a temporary learning space here to help get children back to learning,  making temporary repairs to buildings with tarpaulin sheets and providing the teachers with chalk and story books. Crucially, our teams also trained teachers to help children come to terms with their experiences. Leliosa tells me that they have been encouraged to write and act out their experiences, which has helped them to recover.

Leliosa is just one woman who has continued to ‘bangon’, which translates as ‘rise up’, against the devastation caused by the typhoon. There are countless stories of courage here. Save the Children will continue to work in communities such as Santa Cruz to deliver much-needed assistance. It may take years for these communities to get back on their feet, but we will be here every step of the way.

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