This week, as part of the workshop that ActionAid and its partners are using to produce collective ideas about our response strategy going forward, the team documented the disaster trends experienced by the Philippines for the past 30 years. Our Filipino colleagues were able to remember - off the top of their heads - no less than 43 disasters - since 1983.
Since arriving in the Philippines, the ActionAid team has met many, many people in communities severely affected by the typhoon. We’ve all found that the Filipino people are very open people. They’ve shared their experiences with us in great detail, without hesitation and with incredible generosity.
The stories of the people we meet are often very sad – stories of loved ones lost, of homes partially collapsed or blown away entirely, of livelihoods stolen by the force of Typhoon Haiyan. We’ve spoken with people who – more than a month later - still don’t know how they will recover after the storm.
And of course, these stories are overwhelming.
But more overwhelming is the hope. People hold onto hope with a determination that has to be experienced to be believed. Even when their story brings tears to their eyes as they tell it, even when they speak of nights sleeping under the stars in the place that their house used to be, and even when they speak of children lost – every person we speak to speaks of hope. Without exception. It is like a mantra that echoes from person to person, from village to village.
It is reflected in signs, hung around cities and villages to remind communities of their strength. On the fence of a village hall in Palo, with its roof blown off:
We will rebuild Palo!
On the trees on Bantayan Island where the ferry docks: "We will rise again." And on a building in the centre of Ormoc City, "Roofless, homeless but not hopeless. Bangon Ormoc!"
Bangon, in the Philippines, means "rise".
In Palo, when I spoke with 17 year old Shonalle Ballon, she told me of the friends she had lost, and of the fear that Typhoon Yolanda brought with it, and of the nights she and her family spend without a roof over their heads to stop the rain that keeps coming from falling on them. But the thing she said with the most passion - the thing that affected me the most, was:
"We have gotten food and clean water and my hope has started to return. Whether we like it or not, we will rise again. The support of others gives us this.
We just want the world to know that people here are strong. We lived through this. We can rise again, but we need support to do this.
The past few days that the ActionAid team has spent with our partner organisations has, above all else, highlighted – once again – the resilience of the Filipino people, who have already lived, as Shonalle said, through one disaster after another. Even as they recalled these disasters in great detail, our Filipino colleagues laughed.
Together, they committed to working with affected communities with ActionAid’s support over the coming months and next few years – and to provide the support that Shonalle and the affected communities need to recover. There is still much work to do, but above all else, this week’s workshop has shown that together, we can contribute an enormous amount to the rising again of the communities we’re working with.