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My story: Surviving Typhoon Haiyan and the road to recovery one-year on

By Zacarias ‘Dondon’ Mate, Manager Perpetual Help Multi-Purpose Cooperative,

Tacloban, Philippines

My story could just be one of many stories told and re-told by people who experienced and witnessed the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan. What happened on that fateful day was a life changing experience and will never be forgotten in my lifetime.

I woke up at about 5:00 o’clock in the morning of November 8, 2014 from a text message from my wife who was in Cebu to attend a meeting with their company.  She was anxious to know the weather condition in Tacloban knowing that Typhoon Haiyan would make landfall in the early morning that day.  I noticed then that the wind outside was strong but I assured her not to worry.  All our windows and doors were shut so that the rainwater could not go in the house as we started to gather our things to the bedroom.  After about thirty minutes I noticed it was quite dark outside as I tried to open the door to the garage to check my wife’s car and my service vehicle park outside the gate.

It was raining heavily and the canal and drainage started to overflow down to our garage. By about 6:30am, I could hear the sound of the strong wind and as I peeked out from the half open jalousies I could see debris flying outside.  I gathered my two sons and the babysitter who was taking care of my 10 month old son to prepare for the worst and be ready with their emergency provisions.

At about 7:00am, the power went out as well as the cellphone signal. Flood waters started to go in the house as we started to lift some appliances to our bedroom.

After about 10 minutes my eldest son called me up upstairs as he noticed the flood waters outside started to rise.  My wife’s car started to float and my service vehicle outside started to move.  As the wind became stronger the house started to shake and the roof in the sala and kitchen was blown off.  We were cramped together in the bedroom as I tried to calm my two sons down and the babysitter was crying as she was too terrified.

For the first time in my life I felt fear and panic as I watched my baby who was soaked and cold.  I tried to overcome my emotions as my eldest son suggested that we should leave the house as the water level inside started to rise.  As we started to move from the room down to the garage the flood water was up to our necks. I had to carry my baby as we tried to get out of the house and swim to the school building across the street.  We were lucky enough to hold onto a cable of a fallen electric post as we negotiated the rushing waters and were able to reach the second floor of the building.

Unmindful of the danger of flying debris that could possibly hit us I then realized how dangerous our decision was.  As soon as we got inside the building we were able to secure ourselves in a small room and we stayed there until about 1:00 in the afternoon.  As I checked my baby he was already cold and trembling and water started to come out from his nose.  I realized then that I could have submerged him in the water as we were trying to cross to the building.  I didn’t know what to do with my baby except to beg to God to spare him and wait for the storm to calm.

At about 1:30pm, the storm was over although the flood did not subside; we started to look for dry clothes for my baby and the rest of us.   We could not find any so I decided that we should move and I was thinking of my office (PHCCI). As we left the building I could see the devastation of typhoon Haiyan.  I could not help but cry and embrace my baby and two sons.  I thought God heard me and spared us as we walked on the flooded road and saw a lot dead bodies along the street, how was it possible that we had survived?  I could not imagine the destruction of Tacloban and I thought that Mother Nature has something to tell mankind.  We reached the PHCCI office in more than an hour and we stayed for three days until relief arrived after about a week.

For about three days we survived on leftover biscuits and a few bottles of water and without clothes to change into, until a relative of mine from our hometown arrived with food and some clothes.  I could not sleep for several nights because I was so worried on the safety and health of my children. Looting was rampant in the city and there were reports of violence and robbery aside from the absence of government help.  On the fourth day I decided to try one of the service vehicles parked beside our office to see if it could be used and luckily despite of damage on its body and a smashed windshield the engine, it still worked.  My plan was to bring my children to our hometown and in the afternoon we were able to finish cleaning it and decided to leave the office.

Despite of the very difficult and dangerous journey considering the damage on most parts of the highway we were to reach our place safely.

After a day of rest I requested one my relatives to take care of my children and decided to go back to Tacloban to check our house.  It took us a week to clean our house and made some temporary repairs so that I could stay during the night while I was trying to figure out how to restore the office.  Damage to the computers and equipment was so extensive and I didn’t know where I should I start.  I have no communication with my staff and the officers so it was really difficult to decide. On the 6th day I tried to reach out to our Chairperson in her residence and discuss with her my plan.

The following day I tried to personally contact some of my staff living within the city and check on their situation and ask them if they could possibly report to the office for an emergency meeting. The majority responded but I could also understand the situation of those who were not able to come. It was one of the most memorable and emotional meetings we have had because we were sharing our ordeals during the typhoon and I told them we were lucky God spared us and that I believe he has a plan for us.  I discussed with them my plan and then they all agreed to volunteer to work to restore the office despite of their situation.

With the help coming from the federation especially food, clothes and some cash we started cleaning up mountains of debris outside the office and started fixing the equipment and computers.  It was a tough job and we had to work day and night even in the absence of electricity.

I witnessed the spirit of volunteerism even in the most difficult of situations because all of us are also victims of the calamity; we worked together and shared whatever we had. Less than a month after the typhoon we were able to re-open the office to the members. In the first few months however, we faced a huge challenge of coping with the demand of the members considering the limited resources we had during this time.  Most of the banks were still closed and we were the first cooperative to open in the area. The pressure was on us, as anxious members demanded to withdraw whatever savings deposit they have in the cooperative. Aside from heavy withdrawals, members were demanding relief and emergency loans and we were not ready to answer all their demands.

Although I recommended to the board that we allocate P2 Million for relief and P39 Million for calamity loans which they approved the amount is not enough to meet their demands considering the extent of the damage.  It takes a lot of effort to explain to our members that the cooperative could not possibly answer all their needs considering its limitation in terms of resources.  It’s a tough situation but we had to face the reality that we are not prepared in this kind of situation and we anticipated a worst scenario however as the days pass by except for some minor complaints and huge withdrawals no incidents happened.

It took several months before the operation was back to normal but I believe the road to recovery will take several years.  There is no certainty however for some of our members especially those who are financially and physically incapacitated as a result of the calamity if they could ever recover.  But as far as the cooperative is concerned we are committed to help our members in whatever way we can.  We learnt our lesson and best we could do is move on.

Recovery and rehabilitation is our priority right now and to come up with a sustainable and comprehensive plan to prepare for the future. Before we were crawling but with the financial assistance from the Haiyan appeal we are now able to stand on our own two feet and now in a much healthier financial position to assist our members’ livelihoods.

Perpetual Help Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PHCCI) despite devastation to its main branch and one of its satellite offices was one of the first providers of financial services in the immediate area, not only providing calamity, housing repair loans and moratorium periods for members but also relief goods and emergency shelter for staff and officers who lost their livelihoods.

The swift response by PHCCI to reopen has resulted in increased trust and confidence by not only members but also within the wider community with membership numbers increasing from 90,109 to 92, 492 in the eight months following the typhoon.

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PHCCI is one of nine cooperatives that are receiving assistance as part of the Haiyan appeal, and all nine cooperatives extend their gratitude to the supporters of World Council of Credit Unions, CUFA and the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation who contributed to the appeal.

To the people around the world the Cooperatives of the Philippines say thank you for your generous support and for helping them get back on their feet to assist their members in rebuilding their livelihoods.

 

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