Saturday, November 15, 2014

Processing Yolanda, One Year Later

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a seminar for guidance counselors and staff of private schools on Friday in Tacloban. The staff came from all over Samar and Leyte. Our morning sessions were filled with learning how guidance departments can best meet the needs of schools, students, teachers, administrators, and families in the 21st century. After lunch, we were asked to pick an object that symbolized our experiences when Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the region just over a year ago on Friday, November 8, 2013, and that symbolizes where we are now. This exercise was called "Helping Professionals as Survivors of Disaster." As guidance staff, most of the professionals are focused on always helping others. This finally gave them the space to process and work on healing from the trauma of surviving a natural disaster.

I was so moved by the responses of these men and women. Their stories and words brought me to tears on multiple occasions. I had no right to be there, yet they welcomed me into that space and allowed me to hear their experiences of one of the most vulnerable and exposed times in their lives. We were asked to discuss what we heard, what we saw, and how we felt when Yolanda hit, as well as explain the symbolism of their object.

I have collected some of their words and have been given permission to share them with you. These words are direct quotes from survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, as best as I could record them. These words are portions of the remarks that spoke to me the most. Each line reflects a different person's words.

"Trying to be strong, trying to stand, trying to grow."

"Pray, cling to my Rosary, thankful for new life."

"Dancing coconut trees...I felt exposed as the roof blew off...Thirsty, no water."

"I felt guilty because others suffered worse."

"It is the most painful part for me, knowing that my kids suffered."

"95% of coconut trees in Kananga fell. 16 people died...Students killed by cinder blocks in the house."

"There is always hope. We must be strong because we have to move on."

"Yes, Yolanda destroyed everything on Earth, but Yolanda cannot destroy what is in me, the faith in the Lord."

"We prayed, and we moved our things. We prayed hard."

"We are united in prayer. God can take my life at any time."

"Words from a multi-cab driver, 'Why should we be afraid of the typhoon if we have faith in God?' Your life itself is a sign of hope, if only you believe."

"We were able to save 70 persons."

"Dead bodies."

"It feels like an earthquake. It's all white. I can't see anything. He opened the door. It was water. RUN! I can see people floating. Children crying. Help us. I was asking God, 'Will I survive this? Will I see my family again?' God, you still have a purpose for me. I see this as my second life.

"During that time I felt very small. Yolanda taught me I was just soil, clay. I was very small."

"We are a weed. We are uprooted by obstacles, but we always grow back."

"I felt the fear of dying. At the same time, I felt faith in God."

"If we have faith in God, nothing is impossible."

"I don't have the courage to see it [video footage she took during the storm]. I remember Job 1:21 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; praised be the Lord.'"

"I tied my children to my waist."

"Lord, your will be done. Lord, please help us. I saw my neighbors on the roof. The next second, they were gone...I am a coconut tree growing back. There is a greater force than Yolanda."

"I was not traumatized actually during that day...'Is it confirmed?' 'Yes.' 'Is he recognizable?' I found the keys to the house and car in his pocket.' I thought it was just my youngest brother, but it was the whole family that was washed out with the house...'Is it ok if what I put on the cart is a dead body?'"

"I realized something could happen, and I could be gone."

"I was helping the children that were crying."

"God is good! All the time! All the time! God is good!"

"I must be an inspiration to move on. There is still hope."

"I saw the destruction. I saw dead people. The Yolanda experience was destructive, but it brought the whole world together as one."

"When Typhoon Mario [September 2014] came, the fear I felt during Yolanda came back to me."

"I was the light of my family and my friends."

After processing, we all lit candles and watched this video. It is not perfect, but it put chills on my arms and tears in my eyes.

So, I ask you, where were you the morning of November 8? What did you hear? What did you see? What did you feel? While Yolanda was wreaking havoc on my new home, I was going to class, going to work, going to choir rehearsal, going to meetings, stressing out about homework and my capstone paper. I was going, going, going. I knew that it was possible for me to go to the Philippines, as I had just finished my application to the YAV program, but this event was not a huge issue in my life. It was but a blip on my radar. Now, this small country on the other side of the world is much bigger, and much more real. It is beautiful and so complex. It is a small, yellow flower, so beautiful, yet so small, that is blooming into a huge part of my life.

My chosen symbol of how I felt during Supertyphoon Yolanda and how I feel now pressed into my notebook

1 comment:

  1. Can you tell us more about your work at the school in Leyte? Enjoyed viewing the picture diary of the Philippines on Facebook.