Still alive and kicking
Several men were taking a few moments to rest after hours of back-breaking work, picking through the rubble of their destroyed homes in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) had destroyed everything within sight just seven days earlier. It was hard to see what, if anything, they could salvage. It was equally clear that life would become even more difficult for them and their families if they could not quickly establish some sort of temporary structure, as well as some sense of normalcy in a suddenly abnormal environment.
Approaching the group, I introduced myself as an aid worker, introduced my co-worker Joseph Lumanog, and asked how they were. “Still alive and kicking,” one man replied, to which the others quickly agreed. They were warm, friendly, engaging, even gracious, despite the severe challenges of their situation. They allowed Joseph and I to ask about their families, spoke of their concerns for their wives and children, and managed to crack a few jokes – one of the many ways Filipinos cope with extraordinarily difficult and painful circumstances.
We asked them to identify the top priority needs for their community. “Water, food, shelter and work,” they declared; the latter to include income that would allow them to begin rebuilding their lives. After further discussion, I asked how they planned to address their urgent need for shelter. “Some of us have carpentry experience; he is good with electricity,” one responded, looking in the direction of the man experienced with electricity. “We built our own homes,” another said. “We can do it again.”
“Still alive and kicking” – especially the kicking – was the refrain for our first mission to Guiuan. Everywhere we went, Joseph and I encountered people who had lost all, or nearly all, of their material possessions. The entire municipality lay in ruin. Nothing missed the fury of the super typhoon – reportedly the strongest on earth in all of recorded history. Yet the people we encountered were “kicking” – picking up the pieces of their lives and their communities; figuring out how to get far too little potable water to the multitudes who desperately needed it; working together to get high energy biscuits to the many hungry thousands; starting on the herculean task of removing tons and tons of debris; and never failing to express words of welcome, to say thanks, or to wish us well.
Still alive and kicking. Indeed.