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Helping the Philippines Stand Up

By Laura Sheahen, with CARE in Ormoc, Philippines

© CARE/ Peter Caton
Michelle Gestopa, 6, peers over a plank in the middle of her nearly destroyed village near Ormoc in the Philippines.

Bangon Ormoc!—these Tagalog words are scrawled on walls that Typhoon Haiyan has stripped of their metal railings. They're written on plywood stacked against bent electrical poles. They're on T-shirts. In the city of Ormoc, nearly brought to its knees by the typhoon's massive destruction, they mean "Stand Up."

The people of the Philippines are standing up.

Typhoon Haiyan had a paralyzing strength, but in Ormoc, people aren't paralyzed. Piles of wires surround electrical crews working on restoring power. More and more stores are opening up, short on supplies and dimly lit by outdoor light, but there. At an outdoor market, there's a brisk trade in flashlights—alongside barbecued food, oranges, and ever-present, ever-necessary bottled water.

People who saw their possessions whirled away by 370-kph winds smile and say "Good morning" to me in English. They wait patiently in long lineups at banks and at generator-powered phone-charging stations. Twice now I've made a purchase and left without my change, and people come running after me, waving it.

The villages outside the city are full of the sounds of hammering and sawing. Half the men in any given village are on their roofs, trying to repair them enough to keep out the rain. They pull out nails from salvaged wood and pound them straight to reuse them. They don't have enough building materials, but they make the most of what they do have.

CARE is working with partners to deliver emergency relief to communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Our initial response aims to reach 200,000 people, or 40,000 households, with lifesaving food, shelter, and non-food items. CARE is working to not only meet urgent humanitarian needs, but to help communities recover in the months and years to come.

The Government of Canada has contributed greatly to this effort with the gift of much-needed shelter supplies and kitchen sets, coupled with the generous support of $1 million to CARE to provide emergency shelter support to 20,000 female-headed and vulnerable households in Leyte and Southern Leyte.

This week, CARE has been distributing food in these villages. Waiting in the hot sun for their turn, community members talk about their houses—and shield me with their sun umbrellas.

"If we cry, our house will not come back," says a remarkably self-possessed 14-year-old girl in one village. Her family home was wiped out, and she's now living with relatives. As we watch men pull debris from classrooms, I ask what she does to fill up the time now that schools are closed. "We sing," she says—and proceeds to do so.

Not everyone impacted by the typhoon is singing right now, of course. Families have suffered painful losses. But in this region of the Philippines, people have shown astounding patience and resilience as they start to rebuild.

One Bangon Ormoc sign sits atop a destroyed building that flies the flag of the Philippines. Underneath the slogan is another message, this one written in English: "We are homeless, roofless—but not hopeless."