Wayback Wednesday: Thoughts Four Years After Typhoon Haiyan Hit Philippines

I remember the sleepless nights volunteering after Typhoon Haiyan hit. It reminded me when I was 4 y.o. and a strong flashflood destroyed my city killing thousands of people. When will the world leaders learn?

I remember being in Subic training for Miss Scuba International when I heard about the news after it hit Tacloban, I signed up to volunteer and brought all my clothes to Red Cross HQ in Mandaluyong and went on helping out repacking goods.

Days after I saw there were already a good number of volunteers and decided to do more by signing up to be a volunteer marshal at Villamor Airbase where they were doing the evacuation.

Day in and day out we would welcome survivors and try our best to not remind them of the ordeal. There were times we went up against DSWD protocol because we knew that it was for the good of the survivors. We stayed up late and would forego sleep just to be there when they land.

It was a crazy experience. I am no different to such disaster. I was also a survivor of one of the most devastating floods to hit Philipines before Haiyan and I knew how it was to be a victim. Since my ordeal as a 4 year old kid survivor, I have become a staunch advocate for the environment and a vocal protestor about practices that hasten climate change.

I hope the world leaders are reminded of how we are destroying our own existence through unsustainable practices and I hope that the COP 21 Agreement do not remain just in paper .

Many more will suffer if we do not learn from our mistake.

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/typhoon-haiyan-anniversary-40-powerful-photos-storm-that-devastated-philippines-1473294

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My Untold Tacloban Story

January 5, 2015 started with the sun slowly beaming over the mountainous horizon. I woke up to the sight of Allen Port, the ship has finally reached Visayas. After 30 hours of travel by land and 2 hours on the ferry, I knew that my life has reached a full restart. I kept repeating “Tabula Rasa” in my head.

Traditional Costume

I will never go back to Tacloban! I swore myself this 4 years ago out of scorn. It was after I joined Ms. Pintados and lost. It was such a big dismay, I felt that I deserved at least a spot in the top five. I felt cheated and clueless. I did not know of the reasons for my exclusion in the final five.

Photoshoot at Rafael's Farm
Swimsuit Shoot at Rafael’s Farm

I felt that my performance was flawless, that they had no real reasons. It was impossible for me to mess up. I tried to see the logic behind my defeat. Perhaps because I was not a local or politics.

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I felt humiliated that night, after all, I already had enough experience. As the night ended, I was certain that I would never set my foot in Tacloban again.

I buried all that in my past til Typhoon Haiyan came. I could not help but put myself in the same situation. I almost perished during the Ormoc Flood of 1991, one of the worst natural calamities with more than 5,000 people dead. I was one of those children who would queue up for food and clothes.

As news broke of the terrible devastation, I donated half of the clothes I owned and my camping gears ( it was nothing major, I had a yearly tradition of giving away half of the clothes I own as to be a minimalist). I headed to Red Cross to join the other volunteers in the repacking but I felt I could do more.

Repacking at Red Cross Boni
Repacking at Red Cross Boni

After a couple of days, I ended up in Villamor Air Base as one of the head marshalls over seeing the flow of evacuees from Tacloban. When I went home, I was also an online volunteer, encoding all the names of the survivors of several baranggays. Although, I was doing a lot and barely getting any sleep, I felt that I needed to do more.

They called us Team Avengers after receiving 3000+ evacuees working as head marshalls for 100+ volunteers.
They called us Team Avengers.

After Miss SCUBA International 2013, I decided to use the prize money to fund my own volunteer activities. I became close friends with the fellow Villamor Air Base volunteers (we ended up being collectively called “Team Avengers” for managing to organise the simultaneous arrival of 3,000+ evacuees with only 50 volunteers).

Bantayan group
Bantayan group

We decided to support the Bantayan Back to Sea project by DAMGO Inc. As we planned our trip, I realised that the C130 plane will drop us off at Tacloban City. The place I swore to never visit again.

Of all the moments I was growing up with a military officer for a father, I have only tried taking the C130 after Yolanda.
Of all the moments I was growing up with a military officer for a father, I have only tried taking the C130 after Yolanda.
First trip back to Tacloban.
First trip back to Tacloban.

Despite the promise, I swore to do more. After a couple of checks, we boarded the C130. Without proper ventilation or seats, it was like being inside a flying sauna.

Sweating!
Sweating!

Me and my fellow volunteers managed to meet other groups also on their way to Tacloban.

Together with volunteers from other organisations.
Together with volunteers from other organisations.

The flight seemed longer than I thought perhaps because I was feeling the sweat dripping from my forehead.

Fell asleep while on the plane despite the heat.
Fell asleep while on the plane despite the heat.

It was a spur of the moment trip, we had no idea what was before us. It took a lot of effort to reach Bantayan.

Heading to Bantayan.
Heading to Bantayan.

We had to take the van to Palompon but the ferry did not leave until the next day so we had to spend the night in their terminal. I slept on top of boxes of stuffed toys that someone from Manila donated.

The next day we took a ship to Cebu then another bus to Daan Bantayan and another hour-long trip on a ferry to Bantayan.

On our way to board the ferry for Bantayan.
On our way to board the ferry for Bantayan.

When we arrived at Bantayan, I realized how most of the locals thought they have no power to change the situation.

At the port of Bantayan
At the port of Bantayan

I was lucky enough to meet the people changing the current status like Mr. Allan Monreal, Michelle Lim and Mr. Francisco Pacheco Jr. I was all smiles when I heard all their projects because I have wanted to see more sustainable changes that would empower Filipino communities. Damgo sa Kaugmaon Inc., started from a grassroots project focusing on rebuilding the lives of fisherfolks by giving them back the livelihood that they lost.

Building boats
Helping out with the Bantayan Back to Sea program

After spending days in Bantayan, you get a feel of how it would be like if every Filipino see that they are not powerless, that they can change and make things better for themselves and for the community. I left Bantayan with lots of good memories and lessons learned. It reminded me of what I dream for this country and why I have not given up on it.

We can learn so much from children.
We can learn so much from children.
Temporary shelter in Bantayan
Temporary shelter in Bantayan

After that trip, the vivid images of Tacloban haunted me. It made me wonder if what I did was enough and if I could still do more. Luckily, I met some friends from Couchsurfing who were implementing a programme in Tacloban and they asked me if I wanted to volunteer. I could not make any commitments then being tied to contracts and commitments.

A sad reminder

A sad reminder

Resillience is innate in every child.
Resillience is innate in every child.

As months dragged on, I slowly forgot about Tacloban. I got side tracked by personal issues, to the point that city life became toxic for me. My life fell into a full paralysis. I was alive and yet dead from the inside. I would spend the money I earned to amuse myself with food and sights but it was an unquenchable thirst for significance.

10580039_10203036599570850_8055695129581708513_nAs December 2014 was ending, I meet the same friends who invited me for volunteer work in Tacloban. I remembered my unanswered question. I had lost everything in Manila and felt totally helpless. I needed to find a way to feel in control with my life again. I needed an escape.

January 5, 2015 started with the sun slowly beaming over the mountainous horizon. I woke up to the sight of Allen Port, the ship has finally reached Visayas. After 30 hours of travel by land and 2 hours on the ferry, I knew that my life has reached a full restart. I kept repeating “Tabula Rasa” in my head.

“Football for Life” was the name of the programme teaching children football as a for of psychosocial support.

A photo posted by Paula Bernasor (@happinas101) on Jan 20, 2015 at 2:55am PST

I lived in the staff house and received living allowance.

At the start, I felt useless and clueless but as the days passed, I found my niche in the programme implementation.

Finding a place in the field of dreams.
Finding a place in the field of dreams.

I met the coaches, the children and the rest of the people who were working to rebuild the city. Their stories were equally vivid and it inspired me a lot.

Football is Life
Football is Life
We are all in the same boat!
We are all in the same boat!

Life was simple, everything closes by 9p.m. and there were not much to do after work. For someone living in the city for years, I was a bit in a shock ( no Family Mart, Coffee Bean, Divisoria or even 7 Eleven ).

Sunset over Tacloban
Sunset over Tacloban

The things that I got used to in Makati, nowhere to be found (like my favourite whole wheat bread or fresh basil, definitely first world problems).

At the sidelines.
At the sidelines.

Being used to living the metropolitan life, I ended up drowning in all the materialistic cravings. Day after day, I slowly managed to get used to things (except for the slow internet which I will never get used to because they are abusing consumer rights and charging to much).

Girls stick together.
Girls stick together.

I met new people who shared the same ideals and as January ended, I knew I had to stay longer. I planned to spend my birthday in Sagada and the idea of being in the office on my birthday did not bother me at all. I felt that I was where I needed to be. February came to an end, unknowingly Tacloban seduced me into staying for almost 6 months.

With the Pintadas!
With the Pintadas!
All smiles with these kids.
All smiles with these kids.
My loyal stalker Sandra
My loyal stalker Sandra
Those solo nights at Jose Karlo's
Those solo nights at Jose Karlo’s
Fun moments of Wizard and crazy talks at Naning's!
Fun moments of Wizard and crazy talks at Naning’s!
My usual order of tapsilog from Rafael's
My usual order of tapsilog from Rafael’s

The simple routines: walking to the shared office arriving with excited Sandra (the resident dog who pretended to be my pet) running towards me, staying until midnight in Jose Karlo’s while listening to a confusing playlist, and hanging out after work or taking random trips with friends during weekends, brought happiness and contentment.

Jumping at Calvary Hills with the guys of A World of Football

June came and we had to face that the programme is about to end. During the assessment, I was confident that the programme will get another year as there is none like it in Tacloban.

F4L Kids with their new jerseys!
F4L Kids with their new jerseys!
Traces of devastation remains.
Traces of devastation remains.

Everyone was rebuilding physical structures, we were rebuilding dreams. I always joked around when some of my friends from university ask if I do not want to practice my profession as a nurse. I would respond, “I am nursing dreams here in Tacloban.”

Fun time with the kids
Fun time with the kids

I never planned on staying long but I felt it was necessary. The time spent in Tacloban was not only to help the children recover but to help myself as well. The city reflected the turmoil that was hidden in me.

A dream of freedom.
A dream of freedom.

It is now funny when I remember those last few days of December where I would cry out of hopelessness. Tacloban served as my totem. It reminded me daily of life, its fleeting moments of defeats and triumphs. Moments of destruction is often followed with rebirth, a delicate balance we all need to accept. We too often forget life’s duality, not worry too much because everything falls into place.

During the CAC coaches training.
During the CAC coaches training.

We all have to embrace our nomadic nature, it does not have to be changing places but in constantly changing our minds and hearts for the better.

Leave footprints that cannot be erased.
Leave footprints that cannot be erased.

To always be open to life’s challenges and adventure, to set foot into the unknown with full trust that good things will happen.

On to another journey!
On to another journey!

I was a lost nomad with an unset direction and unclear vision. What Tacloban gave me was the priceless gift of clarity and hope.

Build your own bridges and roads to get you where you want to be.
Build your own bridges and roads to get you where you want to be.

“Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose. There is in the world only one way, on which nobody can go, except you: where does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

Beyond Play : Changing the World through Sports

“Sport has established itself as an effective tool for development and peace-building. Sport for development and peace projects around the world have addressed many of the challenges society has faced.”- Wilfried Lemke 

Football for Life children
Football for Life children

Since time immemorial, sports have been the most popular form of recreation for people. Last April 5, 2015 at Patio Victoria, Brgy. San Jose, Tacloban City, the children, coaches and staff of Football for Life programme, joined the rest of the world in celebrating not only Easter Sunday and the International Day of Sports for Development and Peace (IDSDP).

Best egg hunter!

History of International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 6 April as the International Day of Sports and Physical Activity, to celebrate the contribution of sports and physical activity to education, human development, healthy lifestyles and a peaceful world. The 1st International Day of Sport for Development and Peace was celebrated on 6 April 2014.

The choice of the date of 6 April can be explained by the fact that, in 2002, at its 55th session, the Assembly of the World Health Organization, in its resolution WHA 55.23, urged Member States to celebrate a “Move for Health Day” each year to promote physical activity as essential for health and well-being. The date 6 April has been used since the year 2003 by some civil society organizations for celebrating a “World Day for Physical Activity”.

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Potential of Sport for Social Impact

Sport, as a tool for education, development and peace, can promote cooperation, solidarity, tolerance, understanding, social inclusion and health at the local, national and international levels. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.

For these reasons, states, the United Nations system and, in particular, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, relevant international organizations, and international, regional and national sports organizations, civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, and all other relevant stakeholders are invited to cooperate, observe and raise awareness of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

She shoots, she scores.
She shoots, she scores.

Significance of Football for Life Programme in Tacloban

Football for Life (F4L) programme uses sport, specifically football, as a tool in providing psychosocial support for children who are in the process of emotional recovery. It allows children to have fun at a stressful time, connect with each other, collaborate, play and process their experiences.

Why is it important to allow these children to play? According to researches, early and adequate play therapy can:

  • Prevent distress and suffering developing into something more severe
  • Help children cope better and become reconciled to everyday life
  • Help beneficiaries to resume their normal lives
  • Meet community-identified needs

Play is what children consider as work and with F4L’s approach of engaging children through sports, they are indirectly being influenced to be active survivors not passive victime and to further develop their resilience in dealing with disasters.

Having fun in sand.
Having fun in sand.

Building Back Dreams and Communities

There are only a number of psychosocial support being provided post Haiyan. Across the Philippines, there is still a rampant misconception among Filipinos on how there is little need for caring about mental health. Disasters, conflicts and health problems have severe psychosocial consequences. These emotional wounds are less visible than destroyed infrastructures thus it is often looked over. Fact is, it takes longer for people recover from emotional impact than to rebuild buildings and houses. It affects the community and weakens productivity.

Early support and adaptation processes – which respect local customs in mental health or psychosocial healing – allow an affected population to cope better with a difficult situation. Seeing the F4L children taking leadership roles and evolving into better citizens, Taclobanons are realising that sports is not merely recreation for childrenwhere they display their physical skills but also as a way for social change.

Levelling the Playing Field in Tacloban: Empowering Women and Girls through Football

“Why shouldn’t we play? We have feet to use, eyes to see, mind to think and the confidence to win. Everything that a boy can do, we also can.”, 12-year-old Cresil Mae Penachos of Borongan said during the LFA Women’s Day Football Festival last March 8, 2014. Cresil Mae, together with 77 other girls and women went to University of the Philippines Visayas – Tacloban College football field to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Participants all lined up during the opening ceremony
Participants all lined up during the opening ceremony

Throughout the course of history, women have always been considered as the weaker gender. Football, being the most prominent team sport played by women, played at the professional level in many countries throughout the world with 176 national teams take part internationally.

Women’s football has faced many struggles throughout its history. In 1921, The Football Association initiated a ban that disallowed women’s football games from the grounds used by its member clubs and it stayed in effect until July 1971. Despite being a developing country with an immense history with European countries, football never won the hearts of the Filipinos.

Waiting for the games to start.
Waiting for the games to start.

Mention ‘AZKALS’ to any Filipino and they would immediately say “Men’s National Team for Football”, and yet when you ask them about ‘MALDITAS’, they will only give you a blank stare. It is because unlike the men’s team, there were less media exposure for the women until the recent years when our women’s team won the 2012 LA Viking Cup. Although the Women’s National Team for Football has competed since 1981, the country has yet to give equal opportunities for women seeking to have a career in football. While there is a men’s national league for football, there are no leagues for women.

Teams warming up
Teams warming up

The case is no different for Tacloban, Fundlife International however is creating a positive change in the field of sports, with their ‘Football for Life’ (F4L) programme wherein they conduct daily training sessions in nine sites across Tacloban. As a show of support for International Women’s Day, Fundlife Int’l encouraged girls under the F4L to join and was not disappointed. More than half of the participants at the festival were from the programme.

Freedom wall celebrating womanhood.
Freedom wall celebrating womanhood.

It was a fun-filled yet competitive day, where girls shared their love for football and meet new friends. One of the few sport moments, where boys and men were the sideliners ad spectators. Among the teams that joined the festival were the Tacloban Pintadas, an all-girl team formed last January to inspire the participants to actively engage in the programme. Coming back from their first competition in Thirsty Cup held in Cebu, where they managed to make it into the semi-finals beating more experienced teams, the girls once again showcased their skills during the event where they secured a 4th place finish.

F4L girls sharing their smiles
F4L girls having their Kodak moment

Fundlife International sees the vital role that football can have in a woman’s life. According to the United Nations, when girls get involved in sports they are more likely to attend school and participate in society. When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society.

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Women’s football has huge potential in the Philippines, with the Malditas currently rank 80th in FIFA despite the recent fiasco which stopped the women from participating in international competitions last year. Filipinas are the most undervalued talents in Philippine football. Let us not indignation or despondency paralyze us from pursuing women’s right to football and sports in general. We need to prove why we rank 9th in world for gender equality.
In spite of the limited promotion and opportunities across the globe, popularity and participation in women’s football continues to grow. Women’s football around the world tends be a mere speck of dust compared to the men’s but we can turn this massive stumbling block into a golden opportunity. A massive transformation has yet to happen for Filipina football players. Filipinas can excel in football given their performance in the international matches but to secure the winning formula in the global arena in the future, we have to start improving local women’s football as early as now. We can help these girls in their paths to success and equality.

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Very few girls who play Football will make it to the top-level, but more than producing champion female football players, Fundlife International’s aim is to allow girls to believe they can become champions in any career they choose to pursue. Football provides a visible stage for girls and women to stand equal to men. If we can inculcate that message to all girls to take off the field, then we’re on our way to ensuring a farer, more gender unbiased future exists.

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For now, let’s play, smile and continue to share and work on our dreams, both girls and boys, as one.

Little Champions, Big Victories

Out of the 400 kids currently under our training program, 23 kids under 15 were chosen to create 2 teams: 1 male and 1 female.

It was afternoon of February 20th when we met-up with the kids to start our journey. A lot of them were excited, they have never travelled out of their city.

Typhoon Haiyan was the worst typhoon in history and Tacloban City was left to rubbles. Communities lost everything and for people from marginalised communities it seemed like hope was lost.

Yolanda Haiyan Typhoon Victims in Tacloban City-720667

Months passed since the tragedy happened but up until now people are still rebuilding. While most NGOs and government units are busy rebuilding physical structures, Fundlife International is busy rebuilding lost dreams. Half of Tacloban’s population are youth and to deal with such a traumatic incident, with the Football for Life Project we try to introduce play therapy for psychosocial support as well as to challenge them to work for their dreams.

Playing in fields

It was around January when we knew about Thirsty Cup, it is an annual football competition in Cebu City and we knew it was the right motivation for the children to show what they were made of. Out of the 400 kids currently under our training program, 23 kids under 15 were chosen to create 2 teams: 1 male and 1 female.

It was afternoon of February 20th when we met-up with the kids to start our journey. A lot of them were excited, they have never travelled out of their city. Cebu City was one of the big cities in the Philippines and for them it was a dream to go on a ferry boat. It was a 7 hour trip and the boat left by 10p.m. but instead of sleeping early, the kids were so pumped up that they did not sleep until 11a.m. While hanging out with them, I started hearing their stories. For some it was already a big opportunity to compete in another city. Hearing their story of their first travel also took me back to my childhood. I also grew up from a simple family who was always trying to make ends meet. I remember the happiness I felt being on the boat and it was the same thing I saw with the kids. I chatted with them until all of them fell asleep.

4a.m and I woke up to the sound of the stewardess announcing the arrival of the boat in the port of Cebu and I looked at the foot of my bed and there were several girls trying to take a peek on what Cebu looked like. They kept on asking when we would go to the hostel where they would sleep. The moment they got off the boat they started seeing how bigger the city was and two of the boys even decided to sit in front of the jeepney.

Peeking through!
Peeking through!

As we arrived in the lobby, they gathered around the vending machine. They have never seen such contraption and they asked me to show to them how it works. When we got their room assignment all the kids rushed into the elevator, leaving some of them behind. I told ones left that we should just take the stairs but one little girl looked up to me and said, “Coach it’s my first time taking an elevator.” I just couldn’t deny her of it and so we waited.

After hours of preparing they headed onto the stadium where they met the other teams. Most of them were double their size and yet they did not let it scare them. The boys just lent their shin guards to the girls while both our goal keepers did not have any gloves and still they managed to give a great performance. They never backed down eventhough they went up against more trained players.

PintadosFC

The Pintados FC, our boys’ team, went up against three of the best teams but they managed to keep the score of their enemies to 1. While the Pintadas, managed to have 2 draws and a goal that secured their spot in the semis. It was so inspiring to see both teams which were formed in just a month who trained together in just a couple of weeks with barely any equipment, accomplished so much.

As we embarked on the boat back to Tacloban, they were all smiles and stories of how they made it through their first competition and for them it was just a new beginning. They were already asking me when the next training will be. The first taste of victory made them see that they can do more than just wait for people to help them.

Pintadas

Most of the time, we grown-ups do not realise how lucky we are to have certain things and opportunities. These kids made me appreciate a lot of things on the course of our trip, even just having a pair of socks where some of the kids did not even own a pair. To be reminded to not back down from our dreams just because the world seems to big to conquer. These little football players scored their first victory not only on field, but against inequality. From being mere victims of calamity, these young survivors are on their way to being champions of their own lives.

Get more updates on about them here.