Philippines: Rebuilding Homes, Rebuilding Hope

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An urban poor community of 200 families lives in the barangay or village of Dolores, in Rizal province.  It is situated a few meters from a major thoroughfare and behind a posh village with nice big houses.  A high wall divides the two contrasting communities - the big houses from the shanties, the well-off from the poor.  By some trick of fate, the ground on which the posh village rests is higher than that of the poor community, as if to say that the latter has been forsaken.

At the height of Typhoon Ketsana in September 2009, part of the wall dividing the two communities collapsed after tons of water weakened its foundation.  This was accompanied by a mini landslide.  Seven houses were completely washed away.  Luckily, there were no casualties.

Residents were very afraid.  One mother with her child was unable to get through a barrier as they tried to get out of the way of the collapsing wall.  Perhaps out of panic and instinct to preserve life, the mother threw her four month old on a grassy patch nearby.  The child was snatched to safety by his father.  Miraculously, he was unhurt.

What can people do after a storm but to pick up the pieces, start rebuilding and try to go back to normal routine.  Perhaps the most salient factor why people in Dolores coped was that residents still had that sense of community.  Though poor as rats, they still shared the little they had with those worst affected.

After the typhoon, residents rebuilt their houses out of scrap materials salvaged from old homes.  For those whose houses were totally damaged, their temporary homes were simply frames draped with blankets, foil or fabric.  As such, NCCP chose the community to receive housing rehabilitation.

This housing rehabilitation project is not so much a NCCP project but a project of the community itself.  Through its leaders, the community surveyed the amount and type of materials they needed to build or repair houses.

Among the first houses to be rebuilt was that of Jeffrey and Riza Ruiz. The women suggested this couple and the workmen obliged because it was in the most story state of all the properties.

They set up committees to canvass, procure and keep inventory of materials.  House building and repairing was done through bayanihan, meaning all community members have a role in the construction or repair of houses.  They identified carpenters among themselves to lead the building and repair, youth to build the communal toilet and bath, and the women to take charge of cooking food for the workers.

Merged with the housing rehabilitation project is the food-for-work project.  In the following visit to the community, the NCCP brought food bags for those who participated in building and repairing houses.  NCCP staff witnessed the community at work.

On the day building and repair began, each community member contributed to the project according to their capacity.   Some lent cooking pots and other kitchen utensils, some lent plates, cutlery and glasses, others donated drinking water, and still others brought vegetables from their gardens.  Others gave their time to food preparation and cleaning up.

The community felt blessed by the help of NCCP and its international partners.  When the housing materials were delivered, the community was very happy because their hope of having sturdier houses was slowly being realized.  This hope was further reinforced especially when at the end of a half-day work, the house of the couple was built.