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Update on Rehabilitation of Sendong Survivors: From relief to livelihood and housing programs

Submitted by: regina
On: 29/02/2012

(Sr. Carmelita Arenas and the Good Shepherd Sisters in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), with other Church groups continue to respond to the needs of the victims of the typhoon Sendong  that hit CDO and Iligan in December 2011. Following is an update written by Sr. Carmelita.)

Sendong  Tragedy:

First Response:  Relief  distribution to the Survivors

Dec. 16, 2011 signified the start of the dawn mass  (A Filipino Christian tradition of novena of masses in preparation for Christmas), the longest holiday in the Philippines. But Typhoon Signal # 2 in typhoon free CDO changed all that.  The Archdiocesan  Social Action Fellowship Day of thanksgiving  on December 17 became instant disaster response meeting.  The news of the flood destruction, the massive evacuations of peoples, the  number of dead and missing changed the  pre-christmas spirit to grief.  Immediate mobilizations were made   to provide the cooked food, the water, clothing, beddings for those in the different camps.   Volunteers for the Kitchen, packing and distribution went into full scale action. Relief goods started to pour  the first week.  Social Action Center , in Camaman-an became the  receiving center but due to the location of the Cathedral,  truckloads of relief landed in the cathedral ministry office.   Volunteers came in twenties and even reached  hundreds to sort the sacks of of ukay- ukay or used clothing, the canned goods, the rice, the noodles, the bottles of water.  Visits to the different evacuation centers  showed families exhausted  sleeping on the cardboard  in the hall ways but  the trek to the communities still buried in mud with the chaos  of debris was also heart rending:  the fallen trees, the crumpled  houses, the broken furniture or just wiped  out  river bank.  For a week or so, there was  no electricity, no water.  Finally the fire trucks came and the line of people with their buckets and plastics became familiar sight.   People, children, dogs and the few belongings filled the 19 evacuation centers.  Initial count showed a  total of 7,970 families or 39, 850 individuals in 19 centers.   News of underserved areas sent the relief workers with packs of rice, canned goods, water, noodles, sardines  to distribute.  Some donors came directly to the camps or communities to distribute their goods. 

The Good Shepherd Sisters and  the women ministry volunteers  assisted at the biggest evacuation center, the City Central.  First confined to the huge hall, they evacuees were  dazed, blank  faces, hungry,  Distribution of food was long  delayed.  Decision making unclear.  The social workers and volunteers were listing crowds of people.  No barangay leaders in the centers in the first week. The city confronted the huge problem of camp coordination and management which  necessitated meetings of those involved: the Church, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD). Mobilizations of the people were instant to accommodate the coming of the politicians and other personalities,  who distributed money, goods and gave assurance  that the government was there for them.     After a week of meeting with Dep Ed, the  CSWD/DSWD  the evacuees were distributed to the rooms.  The Daughters of Charity, experienced in disaster intervention, sent in 4 batches of 14-17 sisters to work for 10 days or so, to be replaced by another batch. They helped in the data gathering  or listing of the families in the different evacuation centers.

There were many meetings to attend: the multi-sectoral meetings called by CDO Archbishop  Antonio Ledesma to assess the situations and discuss the best action plans, the relief, the temporary housing, the roles and tasks of each group.   The ACDO Social Action Director Fr. Nathan  called for a series of meetings for each  ministry to focus on one of the 13 disaster response:  Data gathering, Relief Distribution, Supply & Management, Medical & Health, etc.  The Clergy met and shared on how they met the needs of their parishioners  and thanked those who aided them immediately. 

Dec. 30, about 100 medical services were offered to the evacuees in the St. Mary’s High School, including free medicines.

 The Second Phase:  Psycho- social Support

This  was given by a lot of professionals from the academe and hospitals who gave trainings to the local volunteers as well as directly to the survivors in the camps and in the communities. 

The Good Shepherd  Sisters  and the Women Ministry Volunteers helped in the Psycho- social support headed by Dr. Go of the Department of Health.   Wednesday meetings updated the Psycho-social cluster on the number of  trainings given  and the debriefing given to the  survivors.  Sr. Carmelita  joined the debriefing for the survivors, the rescuers and coordinated  some trainings  for the Church sectors.  Many survivors shared  many stories of survival, heroism, hope, physical and spiritual strength as well as miracles but the most haunting sound for many was   “tabang…”  (help)   when they themselves s were powerless and at risk of drowning.

On the 40th day after Sendong, the multi-sectoral group  made a touching  candle vigil  on the bridge. Testimonies came from the survivors, the rescuers and the volunteers.  Names of the dead and missing were flashed on the huge screen and a lighted balsa  or raft with candles and floral wreaths was lowered from the bridge to float  on the now still waters of Cagayan River.                                                                      

The Good Shepherd Sisters  and volunteers focused on the visits to the different camps,  the City Central, the  Iponan, the City West Elementary School, Bulua and others.  They conducted  group sessions on drawing, coloring, singing and circle talk.  They assisted in visits to the families in the different rooms or different  evacuation centers,  listing the needs of the vulnerable,  the disabled , the mothers with small children, the pregnant mothers, the sick for referral.  The mothers were grateful for the new clothing for the infants  or special food for the babies . The children loved to draw, color and share their stories.   But the most reassuring for them was the listening to their stories of survival, their loss, their complaints, their hopes and plans. The daily Mass celebrated by the priests from the cathedral and the seminary consoled and united them.  About  10 seminarians were fielded to stay for 10 days with the evacuees, sleeping and  eating with them.  The people, children were so touched that they cried when the seminarians left.  

The tragedy of a father committing suicide in front of his youngest son  compelled the DSWD, DepEd, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Church to monitor  more closely the  camps . The Archbishop challenged the sisters of CDO to  organize their  presence in the different camps.  Sr. Leah Ann Espina, RGS with the core group from the Association of Women Religious, the Seminary and the volunteers from Social Action to mobilize the service groups to the different camps.  Debriefing was  made intensive and creative with the influx of many volunteers giving Touch Therapy, Breathing, Body Talk, Acupressure, acupuncture,  Art, Drama and Music Therapy.  Women Ministry continued with the counseling and debriefing with the evacuees, the students, the teachers, the military, the rescuers and the volunteers

The Dep Ed wanted to normalize the schooling for the children and had to compromise to hold 2-4 hour classes , morning and afternoon sessions, while the families are slowly being moved to the tent cities or temporary housing. Clergy meetings were held as well for the churches/seminaries to open the areas for temporary housing for  the evacuees. 

 The Third Phase: Transitional Housing

The transfer of the evacuees to the tent cities was another adjustment for the people that made them wary, anxious, and relieved that a better place waited for them, while those left behind found it difficult to wait.  The presence of the religious, the many  volunteers  both local, national and  international  did alleviate their stress.  Psycho-social and spiritual support were continuously given.


There were many limitations: the coordination of government agencies , the  separation or duplication of tasks, the enormity of the peoples ‘ needs , the crowded space, the emotional vulnerability  of the people in their frustration to normalize an abnormal situation,  the short term and long term planning, the organization of peoples, the disparity in the  distribution of relief to those  inside the camps and those who chose to stay in their ravaged homes/communities , the many opportunists who are also poor and in need of the food, relief and other goods, hoping to have a chance for  free housing.

But  there were also the blessings:  the number of assistance that poured in:  both human resources in the medical team, the psychosocial teams from the academe & the  hospitals  as well as the many relief goods,  the medicines, the food, the  psychosocial interventions , the laughter and joy from the cultural and art groups, the many alternative healers and support. 

Photo: Sr. Carmelita with Sendong survivors

The generosity of the international  agencies and peoples, the volunteers from the different provinces, the Mindanaons, the multi-sectoral groups abound and gave hope to a devastated people.    The greatest challenge is the organization/coordination of the helping people and the  mobilization of the initiatives of the dislocated communities .  There is the willingness to learn, to work in teams, to  give time, talent, treasures, to struggle and overcome the differences, to constantly meet, to critique and assess the situation  and response as well as see the  gaps in the services, to go beyond the differences and unite in the effort to provide the appropriate response to the needs of a people to build anew  their lives.    The struggle is not over for many.

Phase III: Livelihood.

As of now, there are efforts of the people in the tent cities to engage in small income- generating by their own initiative.  Social Action states that sewing machines and tricycles are being distributed. There is the organizing of the peoples in the devastated areas as well as in the tent cities to prepare for the livelihood projects.

Phase IV: Permanent Housing

This  is ongoing through the initiatives of the city, the provincial, the multi-sectoral alliance and the church sector.

  - Sr. Carmelita Arenas RGS