TACLOBAN CITY – November 8, 2014 was not an ordinary Saturday for Jolina Preska Villones (pictured above). The 20-year old Tacloban City resident woke up early to join the Commemorative Walk for the victims of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which swept through central Philippines, leaving millions of people injured, destitute, or dead.
Organized by the City Government of Tacloban, the Commemorative Walk was part of a whole-day series of activities of “pagdumdum ug pagpasalamat” (remembrance and thanksgiving) for thousands of people who bore the brunt of the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in history.
For Jolina, who now works as Purchaser for Handicap International’s Emergency Response Team in Tacloban City, joining the Commemorative Walk was a way of saying thank you to the countless humanitarian organizations and donors worldwide who helped affected communities recover after the typhoon. Forty-eight staff members of Handicap International joined the Commemorative Walk that lasted from 5:30 to 7:30 am. Wearing white shirts and carrying white balloons to symbolize the victims of the typhoon, the Handicap International contingent walked alongside other humanitarian partners and agencies.
“Without the generosity of all the kindhearted people who gave their time, money, and effort into helping us, the Tacloban of my childhood would have been lost forever,” Jolina says. “Because of their help, we are now on the road to recovery.”
As a Haiyan survivor who lost two family members, not to mention their house, to the typhoon, Jolina acknowledges that the disaster was a “life-changing” experience.
“The loss saw during and after the typhoon prompted me to realize the importance of having my family. It also taught me to expand my perspective to include the welfare of my entire community. I realized that if I want Tacloban to go back to its former beauty, I need to do something to help my community recover. Life is too short to be self-centered,” Jolina says.
The devastation she experienced spurred Jolina to joining Handicap International’s emergency relief efforts in Tacloban. Initially working as a logistics assistant, Jolina took part in the various projects launched by Handicap International – from the logistics platform, cash-for-work, shelter, livelihoods, and rehabilitation and specific needs services.
Jolina adds that working with Handicap International has given her confidence. “It makes me happy to know that even in my own small way, I am part of the recovery efforts not just for me and my family, but for my community and other areas affected by the typhoon,” she says.
Looking back, one year later, Jolina says that while she is amazed by all that has been achieved, she knows that recovery will take a long time.
“There are still a lot of people who need help, especially persons with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. But I am hopeful that, with the support of generous people all over the world, we will succeed in rebuilding our communities,” she says. ♦