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After the storm

A first hand account of the Typhoon Haiyan disaster and CAFOD's role in rebuilding the Philippines in its wake

A first hand account of the Typhoon Haiyan disaster and CAFOD's role in rebuilding the Philippines in its wake

Father Edwin Gariguez works with NASSA, one of the local partners of CAFOD; a development charity working to increase access to clean water, education and a better standard of living across the globe. We interview him following his work in the wake of the Typhoon Haiyan disaster, and the role of CAFOD supporting local partners.

I grew up in a rural area and really loved life

I felt that we were part of nature. I felt part of something else. Being part of nature and the world we lived in played a great part in our lives. It was a very beautiful place to live. We lived at the foot of a mountain park and we had many trees. I loved going to the mountain and swimming in the river and just being amongst nature. It was an environment that required that we do something for others.

“Everything in front of me was gone. Houses had been destroyed. The land was flat. There were no trees. People had nothing.”

Father Edwin Gariguez, NASSA

My mother was a pastoral worker

She wasn’t an activist. She enjoyed being a leader in the community and it was a small community where people met to study the Bible. She died in 1993, the year I was ordained to priesthood. It was a very difficult time. I felt her loss greatly. She was the one who influenced me to decide to enter the seminary. It wasn’t so much that a part of the Bible influenced us in our home…it was just the idea that we should work to help others.

When I came back to the islands to work with the indigenous people, it felt good

I was at one with Creation. I lived with the people on the island from 1993 to 2010. Then I became director of the National Secretariat for Social Action or Caritas Philippines and so I had to move to Manila.

I was in Typhoon affected areas and I took the lead in assessing the impact

I dabble in photography. I took my camera with me to look at the devastation and to take some pictures. But as I looked, I could see total devastation. Everything in front of me was gone. Houses had been destroyed. The land was flat. There were no trees. People had nothing. I realised at that moment that I couldn’t take pictures any more.

I felt a heaviness in my heart

All the house were levelled. Everything was levelled off. It was very disheartening. It was even more difficult talking with people who had lost relatives in the flood. And despite my heavy heart, I had to meet with Church organisations to try to conduct a relief operation.

“I received a warning about Haiyan while I was at the conference and I had an idea something terrible was happening. It was.”

Father Edwin Gariguez, NASSA

I was in Negros when the typhoon struck

We were having a conference on agrarian reform. Negros is near the area that got hit. I could feel the strong winds and we have experience of typhoons each year. But this was different. I felt something beyond the ordinary. I received a warning about Haiyan while I was at the conference and I had an idea something terrible was happening. It was.

Haiyan was the strongest typhoon to make landfall in the Philippines

On the first day, there was a news blackout – even text messages couldn’t get through. This was because the storm destroyed everything. In the days after, it was incredibly difficult to get anywhere – communications were down, roads were unpassable. On the third day we could move and by the fourth day, we could try to get out to areas.

In the immediate aftermath, it was very difficult getting supplies to islands

We contacted neighbouring dioceses to provide foods with money to supply affected dioceses with help. The strength we have in the country is our national network of churches. That’s what we did – we asked neighbouring dioceses to make immediate and urgent responses.

Looting was also a problem

People needed fresh food and water, but they couldn’t get any. So they had to loot department stores. I had a conversation with the father of three children who admitted to looting. He came from a good family and he said to me, ‘Father, I took part in the looting, but what could I do? I have three children. They have nothing. I can’t bear the thought of my children starving, having nothing. All I could do was loot the supermarket for food.’

It was days before humanitarian workers arrived

The most difficult times in a disaster are the first few days. This is when we just don’t know the extent of the damage and we have to assess what has happened. In the most affected areas there was chaos. Humanitarian groups came in and built command centres, but there was commotion everywhere. But the first priority is to establish order. Many INGOs, including the UN tried to do this. It took time to get order, even the local governments were paralysed. The first thing we did was to get support from our partners with a global teleconference in Rome.

11325642703_246d3ee18a_o 320Since the beginning, CAFOD in England and Wales has been our major partner

Because CAFOD is somewhat different in its approach – they trust us to do the work. They channelled a big chunk of money to us. Over the two years, this has seen £3m for the relief and recovery operation. This is something quite commendable. While CAFOD trusts us, they also provide technical support with WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene projects. We are able to ensure that we are doing the work well and that we have support from CAFOD.

In many areas people needed housing

If their house had been completely destroyed they might have to be rebuild it, but if it hadn’t been too damaged, then we help them to rebuild them.  In areas where the houses and neighbourhoods have been devastated, we help people to relocate or to help them to reconstruct houses and this will take time.  It’s good to know that a year after Typhoon Haiyan, we were able to reconstruct more houses than the government. It’s not easy to construct permanent shelters in those areas.

CAFOD also helps with creating jobs and helping people to work again

It’s useless if people cannot find their own source of livelihoods, so we help them to do this.  The secret is that we have our own network. And we have our own workers in the dioceses that will implement the work. That’s the beauty of the network. At the minute, we are in year two and people need to understand we aren’t just a relief organisation. We try to make people understand our approach is different. We are helping them back on their own feet again. Making sure they have jobs and we are targeting the most devastated areas.

“Sometimes people forget when a calamity is over. People still need help.”

We are in the recovery phase now

The people in the UK can help because they should know that we need sustainable projects. We are slowing down on housing construction. We are empowering people in communities so that they can do their own work. We are now providing for a longer period of recovery. Sometimes people forget when a calamity is over. People still need help.

I know that the land is sacred

Mountains are sacred. Trees and the rivers are sacred. We are so involved with protecting the environment, but it’s not just ecology; The people here believe spirits are in the trees and rivers and rocks. It is something sacred. They believe that if you destroy something, it’s spirit will get angry. They also believe in one, supreme creator who is kind and created everything. The name of this supreme God is different for each tribe. In one tribe, the name is Kapwan, in another Ambuwaw or MahalMakakaako.

They believe in a supreme being, but they respect the spirits of nature.

They see nature as sacred. This is worth thinking about as the Christian tradition can be very anthropocentric; the idea that man alone is important and we use the earth for our own ends.  I find this disturbing. We need to learn from the people I have worked with. We need to see inherent sacredness in everything: mountains, fields, rivers. Everything.


Words Tom Owen   Photography Ben White/CAFOD

Project CV

CAFOD is the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and part of Caritas International. Across the world it brings hope and compassion to poor communities, standing side by side with them to end poverty and injustice. CAFOD works with people of all faiths and none. Inspired by Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching, and the experiences and hopes of people living in poverty, CAFOD works for a safe, sustainable and peaceful world. CAFOD works in partnership with Triodos Bank.

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Dreda Todd 5 years ago

Helpful and informative because it is written by someone who was actually there and who understands how people there think. It is also encouraging to learn some good news about what is being achieved to rebuilt this community.

Flip Bakker 5 years ago

so what was the exact link with Triodos bank?

Reply to Flip Bakker
wferguson 5 years ago

Triodos Bank works in partnership with CAFOD. For every new savings accounts opened at http://www.triodos.co.uk/cafod, Triodos will donate £40 to support CAFOD’s work in the poorest countries around the world. You can find out more here: http://www.cafod.org.uk/Give/Major-giving/Companies/Triodos