In ruins — this is how super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) left San Joaquin, Palo, a coastal barangay in Leyte after it hit the Visayan region of the Philippines. Next to Tacloban City, Palo holds the second highest number of casualties recorded during the catastrophe with almost 70 percent of the costal barangays washed out.
The disaster happened more than a month before Christmas. One can easily say that it would not be possible for people who lost almost everything to remember such a holiday of joy. But for the children of San Joaquin, Christmas is a special celebration, and not even Yolanda can take it away from them.
To feel the Christmas spirit amid the ruins, the children made ways to share the sheer hopes that they have to other survivors of Yolanda. One of which is cleaning their ruined parish church. Instead of holding toys, they are seen carrying mops taller than them to tidy up the church. They said it is their contribution to the collective efforts that the survivors in their barangay are doing to gradually recover. It saddens them to see their church disarranged.
The simple clean-up activity, however, evolved into something extraordinary. After mopping the floor, their voices can be heard echoing through the broken windows and dilapidated roofs of the parish church as they start gathering and singing.
Fifty-four children survivors of San Joaquin gather every afternoon to rehearse for simbang gabi. According to Eunice Alcober of St. Joachim Parish Youth Ministry, most of these children lost their homes and their loved ones. In order to not let such a tragedy deprive them of the spirit of Christmas, they decided to form a chorale that will serve as a beacon of hope to the survivors who go to the church to pray. The children sang songs for simbang gabi as well as carols for the people.
What may seem a simple entertainment for others is something that the children consider their way of coping from the tragedy and putting hopes in their fellow survivors’ hearts. Even if they were not able to sing Christmas carols in the neighborhood, which is one of their Holiday traditions, they could still feel the Christmas spirit by joining the chorale.
Beverly and John Paul Arcena, both beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, did not only lose their house but a brother as well. They recounted that their mother was the only one who held them (ten siblings) together, but due to the strong surge their four-year old brother drowned – adding him to the hundreds of children killed by Yolanda in their barangay. Their loss may have given them sadness but it brought them even more hope.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme, started in December giving out emergency cash grants to the beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program who were heavily affected by typhoon Yolanda. Each household-beneficiary gets Php1,300.00 per month aside from the regular cash grant that the CCT provides. Ten kilograms of rice is also given to each affected family for the months of December and January.
Josephine Arcena, mother of Beverly and John Paul, sees the cash assistance program as a good head start in the new chapter of their lives with nothing but themselves and the help they constantly get from DSWD. “Pagkatapos ng bagyo, basang bigas lang ang kinain naming pamilya (after the typhoon, we only ate wet rice),” recalls Inay Josephine who is very thankful for the supply of rice.
“Ngayon nakakakain naman kami ng maayos kahit hindi pa nakakabalik yung asawa ko sa pangingisda dahil sa tulong ng DSWD. Na-wash out lahat ng notebook at libro ng mga anak ko sa eskwela kaya bukod sa pagkain, siguro uunahin ko din muna mga gamit nila eskwela para may magamit sila, (Even if my husband has not gone fishing yet, we can still eat because of the assistance of DSWD. My children’s notebooks and books were all washed out so I guess, aside from food, I will also buy them school supplies that they can use),” said Josephine when asked about how she will spend the cash grants that she will receive. She also shared the happiness she gets whenever she sees her children sing joyously.
The children’s chorale also performed in the misa de gallo of their parish. They all looked forward to this mass as it is the night they sang for their fellow survivors in San Joaquin. They celebrated a humble and meaningful Noche Buena under the roof of their own parish church.
The children of San Joaquin are testaments that kids understand things from a different perspective. For them, lanterns did not have to light the streets and carols need not be sung in porches to celebrate Christmas. The season of giving can be celebrated even if the only thing they have is the shared courage and hope of all the survivors in San Joaquin, Palo as they start their lives anew.
Also posted in CNN ireport.