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Classrooms of Hope: Typhoon Yolanda One Year On

When Typhoon Yolanda, internationally known as Haiyan, struck the central Philippines in the early morning of 8 November 2013, the trail of devastation left behind was immense: 6,200 people died and more than 1 million people had their homes, possessions and livelihood damaged or destroyed. Some lost everything but their lives. The Bislig district in Tanauan, Leyte province, was also badly affected by the tropical storm. A total of 28 people from this tightly knit community perished when the typhoon hit the area. Those who were lucky to survive were left with very little.

Facing the storm

Like all their neighbors, Raul and Arlette Molina have a story to tell about Typhoon Yolanda. When the storm was approaching, they sought refuge with their four children in the house of a relative, only to find themselves trapped inside by the rising water. Raul had to break through the ceiling, pulling himself and his family up to safety on the roof.

    We were perched up just above the water level. I was afraid because had it gone up by one more meter, we would have been washed out and died.

“We were perched up just above the water level. I was afraid because had it gone up by one more meter, we would have been washed out and died,” he says.

When the family returned to their home after the water subsided, all they could find were piles of debris. They could hardly recognize the area where they were born and had spent their entire lives. In the aftermath of the storm, Raul, Arlette, and their children had to make do with whatever they could salvage, drinking coconut water, and eating a little rice they recovered from the debris. Relief agencies finally reached the area, distributing water and basic food. “After five days relief arrived,” says Arlette.

But Raul was still concerned about Arlette, who was heavily pregnant at the time. On 19 November, 11 days after Typhoon Yolanda hit the area, a healthy baby girl called Cherrylette was born in a hospital in Tacloban City.

Twelve-year-old Honeylette Molina, daughter of Raul and Arlette, was with her family when Typhoon Yolanda hit the area. She feared for her life and those of her relatives on that fateful day when Yolanda struck. Luckily, she survived with her entire immediate family. One year on after that fateful 8 November, life is back to normal for her.

Green shoots of recovery

A typical day for Honeylette begins at 6 a.m., when she is up to prepare for school. After getting dressed, she has something to eat, packs her bag and hits the road. The school is a 5-minute walk from home.

The only elementary school in the district, Bislig Elementary School was badly damaged by Typhoon Yolanda and little was left of the classrooms, desks, and teaching materials. For months Honeylette and her classmates were being taught in makeshift classrooms under tents, sitting in chairs and desks salvaged from the site, with no access to proper toilets or wash areas. “For a long time, our classroom was a tent. But we would get wet when it rained and hot when it was sunny,” she says.

Things are very different now. Out of a $20 million grant to the victims of typhoon Yolanda, the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, which is administered by ADB, supported the construction of three classrooms through the implementing agency, the Philippines' Department of Social Welfare and Development. The new classrooms are spacious and fully equipped with chairs, desks, and a blackboard. They also have separate toilets for girls and boys and a wash area where the children proudly take part in a toothbrush program. Moreover, the classrooms are far more solid and secure than the old ones that were lost in the typhoon. “Now that our classroom has been repaired things are better and we find it easier to study. Our teachers can hold class even if it's raining or hot,” says Honeylette.

The students’ performance has greatly improved since the new classrooms were handed over to the school, confirms Wilma Bayaya, Principal of Bislig Elementary School.

Classrooms of hope

More classrooms are also being rehabilitated on the site as the reconstruction phase kicks in. A lot remains to be done though, both in Bislig Elementary School and beyond. With 20,000 classrooms destroyed or damaged throughout the region, building them back better will require some time.

In the meantime, for Honeylette and the children at her school in Tanauan a new life has begun, as Typhoon Yolanda did not dent their hopes of a better future. “When I grow up I want to be an engineer,” she says, perhaps inspired by the work done by the men and women who contributed to rebuilding her school. ###

*KC JFPR