'Yolanda' survivors return home

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

IT'S still dark outside the evacuation center, but Benedicto Colanta and his wife Anita are already up and ready for their bus ride home - back to Tacloban City.

The couple, together with 26 other families temporarily housed at the Jose Fabella Center in Mandaluyong City, is finally returning to their respective hometowns in Eastern Visayas to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

This initiative is part of the Balik sa Bayan project organized by the Salubong Movement, a group of professionals, in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), with the support of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Philtranco, PLDT-Smart Foundation (PSF) and Smart Communications Inc. (Smart).


The Colantas and the other families comprise the third batch of Balik sa Bayan beneficiaries, bringing the total number to 86 families. The first batch already went home late December. The second batch left the day before.

"Having lost everything to Yolanda, many of the survivors went to Manila to get help from their relatives or to find jobs. While a number of them were able to secure jobs or stayed with their relatives, a greater number ended up in evacuation centers and we want to help send these people back home with a little help so they can regain their footing," said Ramon R. Isberto, head of Smart Public Affairs.

Tatay Benedicto and Nanay Anita, just like the other 70 or so Yolanda survivors, are bringing home with them a pedicab, a three-wheeled vehicle that is moved by foot pedals complete with a repair kit; a shelter kit comprised of corrugated iron sheets, plywood, lumber, various sizes of nails, hammer, saw, tape measure and chisel; and a new mobile phone.

The pedicabs and shelter kits were donated by Smart employees and business partners, and PLDT-Smart Foundation, while the phones came from Ericsson. The pedicabs and the shelter kits will be loaded in trucks that will be in convoy with the passenger buses carrying the beneficiaries from Metro Manila to Leyte and Samar.

"We are not going home empty-handed. We are so blessed that a lot of people and organizations like Smart extended their help so we can recover from the Yolanda devastation," said Benedicto, whose left leg was amputated in May last year due to complications of diabetes.

The Colantas stayed at the Fabella Center for over two months in hopes of getting much-needed help after they lost their home and all their belongings to the super typhoon.

The other Yolanda survivors, who also benefited from this initiative, were stationed at the Tent City in Pasay City.

The beneficiaries are taking the bus to Tacloban courtesy of Philtranco. From there, local government units (LGUs) will help transport other beneficiaries that will travel on to other towns.

While most of them no longer have their houses to go home to, the couple and the rest of the beneficiaries are going home with renewed hope that things will work out for them in the long run.

The couple, who are residents of Barangay 56, will be staying with their son's family temporarily. Their house was washed out by the storm surge that hit over 11 feet. They lost everything. The couple is, however, thankful that they and all their children and grandchildren survived the disaster.

The Colantas are also bringing with them food items that they have accumulated from all the relief that came their way while staying at the evacuation center. The couple has saved up three sacks of rice, one-and-a-half box of canned goods, and another box of noodles.

"Yolanda has taught me to be prepared and to save up for rainy days. We used up whatever assistance given us sparingly to help tide us over when we go back to Tacloban. This way, we won't be a total burden to our son and his family," said Benedicto.

He said the pedicab will help his son earn money in between local employment contracts, and will save the family from paying for the fare of the youngest child when going to and coming from school. Meanwhile, he plans to use the new mobile phone to start a Smart reloading business.

"Yolanda has reinforced in me the value of family, of being prepared for any eventuality like disasters. It also restored my faith in humanity, how everyone reached out and pitched in to help us recover from the devastation," said Benedicto in the local dialect.

"What we are bringing with us are not just material things but symbols of hope that despite everything we have gone through, we can still recover and start our lives anew," says Benedicto.

This is part of a series of recovery and rehabilitation initiatives that Smart has been supporting to aid Yolanda survivors. Smart has enabled the rollout of mobile cash transfers for beneficiaries enrolled with the United Nations Development Programme's emergency cash-for-work program.

Smart has also provided livelihood packages in partnership with the Department of Labor and Employment and communication kits with Ericsson and Nokia Philippines.

Smart is now working with the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR) for the implementation of Project Noah's Ark in calamity-stricken areas to help build their capacities to deal with disasters.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 20, 2014.


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