“All we need for Christmas is a roof over our heads”

You can take the girl out the field. But I guess you can’t take the field out of the girl…

Last week, I had the chance to visit Caritas CH programs in Bantayan Island.  This is my little tribute to Universal Children Day, the article I wrote for Everything Cebu.

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On November 8, 2013, the typhoon Yolanda disfigured most of the paradise island of Bantayan. Thousands of children and their families flew the rains of stones and the collapses of their houses by finding shelter in schools. It took Yolanda 3h to leave eternal scars in the hearts and minds of Bantayan people.

The resilience of the Filipinos is not a legend. In spite of all the destructions, the children of Madridejos are still the smilest and most cheerful ones. I only asked them one question: what do you want for Christmas?

A resilient roof, the uttermost protection.

Abigail (11 y.o.) is studying in Talangnan Elementary School. Like her friends Julie Anne (12) and Rensi (16), she bears the 8 Nov 2013 as her worse nightmare.

With my 7 brothers and sisters, and my parents, we stayed in the school. We were so scared, the noise was terrible and everything was falling, everywhere. It lasted forever. Even the boys were crying and shouting. Our building collapsed so we had to run to the next one, I was so scared I could not walk”. For days, Abigail and the hundred of children who were stuffed in the temporary shelter had nothing to eat but bananas, coconuts, sardines and leftover of rice.

Rensi, Julie Anne and Abigail had found refuge in their school during the passage of Yolanda.
Rensi, Julie Anne and Abigail had found refuge in their school during the passage of Yolanda.

My house had vanished, all that was left was the flooring. I was so sad. So sad.” Rensi is trying hard to hold in his tears. He stared at his feet and would not look at me. I could feel the lump growing in his throat at the end of each sentence. “I have 7 brothers and sisters and my Mum is the only adult. I don’t have a Dad, so I am responsible for them. I held them, protected them the best I could. No, I did not cry. I prayed. All the time I prayed”.

Julie Anne’s story conveys the same fears, the same anxiety, the same losses. A year after the typhoon, you would think that those 3 devastating hours belong to the past. But when you ask those kids what they would love Santa to bring them, they all shout the same present “a house with a solid roof!”.

Ian Barco is one of the carpenters employed by the Swiss organization. See the lola on the left of the picture below? That‘s his mother.

Ian Barco, a carpenter from Caritas CH, with some of his family members (he actually has 8 children and another due in a few months).
Ian Barco, a carpenter from Caritas CH, with some of his family members (he actually has 8 children and another due in a few months).

She was very sick when Yolanda hit her place.

My son carried me all the time. I kept on telling him to leave me to take care of his young family, but he never let me down.” She can not hide her tears, the trauma is still so vivid. If her son has managed to somehow fix her house, she is still very scared of the thunder and the heavy rains. “A resilient roof is all I need”, she cries.

Schools must be typhoon and earthquake proof

The teachers from Malbago Elementary School want just the same: protection for their families and their schools to be all typhoon and earthquake proof. “Who can say that Yolanda will not happen again? We need to be prepared”.

Caritas had stand by us since the beginning.

Marcel Reymond, top left. The woman in the center is Rafunzel Roska, community mobilizer, my precious field officer during my visit to Bantayan
Marcel Reymond, top left. The woman in the center is Rafunzel Roska, community mobilizer, my precious field officer during my visit to Bantayan

Their assistance was crucial in answering the essential needs of all those families: food, water, hygiene kits”, recalls Mrs. Elsa Ribo, one of the teachers from Malbago Elementary School.

They are still helping by us, building better and more protective schools. Building in which we all feel really safe”.

Caritas Head of Mission, Marcel Reymond, adds: “Our mission goes beyond the mere construction of schools destroyed by Yolanda. We are building back safer, as all our schools are typhoon and earthquake proof. We are training all the carpenters and masons working with us so to all those new techniques”.

Protecting schools means more than protecting the basic right to education. In Bantayan notably, schools are used as evacuation centers, they must also be protected from the violence of natural disasters.

A resilient school can save the lives of its pupils, and the lives of their loved ones too.

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7 thoughts on ““All we need for Christmas is a roof over our heads”

    1. Oh yes! When I asked them the question, they did not even look at each other before answering. Indeed a good reminder of how privileged we are. I was wondering if Maelle, 4 yo, would be able to understand it all, so I told them the story of the kids having to study under plastic sheeting under the hottest sun. Her reaction? “waou, they are so lucky! they can stay out all day!!”. Maybe a bit too young 😉

    1. Thanks a lot. I worked for a decade with the International Red Cross, and I love to report on humanitarian stories. If I can contribute at my own little level to raise some awareness to the situation of those kids, I would be happy. Your encouragements mean a lot, thanks a lot again 🙂

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