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Life not normal year after storm


CHILDREN survivors of the 2011 Tropical Storm “Sendong” tragedy in Cagayan de Oro have learned to cope with despair over the past year. Life, however, has not returned to normal for many others. Most of the children have struggled hard to overcome their trauma by continuing their education and participating in psychosocial activities. CAI PANLILIO/INQUIRER MINDANAO

Mary Rose Dumaguit, 12, lost her mother and 8-month-old sister when floodwaters destroyed their house in Sitio (sub-village) Cala-Cala in Barangay (village) Macasandig when Tropical Storm “Sendong” struck a year ago today. Like many children, who lost not only family members but also their homes, her life has never been the same since then.

She had to endure sleeping on the cold, cemented floor of the Macasandig evacuation center for months.

“Although we had food and water, it was not easy to be cramped in a place with so many other people,” she said.

Mary Rose was rescued by a fishing boat near Camiguin Island on

Dec. 17, almost 12 hours after she was carried by floodwaters into the sea.

Although she was reunited with her father, she could not help but ask God why her mother and sister were not spared.

“I was somehow relieved that my Papa was alive but I cried a lot when he told me that my mother and sister were still missing,” she said.

Her older brother and sister, both working, decided to leave their jobs to be able to take care of Mary Rose.

A new woman

The Dumaguit children were beginning to feel adjusted to life at the evacuation center when their father decided to leave for Davao, where he was to try to get some work. He came back after a couple of months only to tell them that he had found another wife and had decided to settle there without his children.

“Though we did not want him to leave us, we could not do anything but just to let him go,” she said.

Left without both parents, Mary Rose and her siblings continued to struggle with their lives, along with hundreds of others who waited to be relocated in permanent homes. Unlike some of the children who survived the Sendong tragedy, she continued her studies as a Grade 5 student at Macasandig Elementary School.

“I want to study hard because I want to help my family,” she said. “I also want to pursue my dream of being a singer,” she said.

Like Mary Rose, Aubrey Torres, 9, is trying to get over despair by simply looking forward to celebrating Christmas.

“I just want to be able to give something, even just a small thing, to my brothers and sisters because last year, we really had nothing,” she said.

Father returns

A few months ago, Mary Rose got an early Christmas gift. Her father returned to live with her and her siblings. They also welcomed their stepmother into their lives.

The experiences of the two girls, along with 12 other children survivors, are recounted in a book called, “Sa Kagabhion sa Sendong [On the Night of Sendong],” which is published by Capitol University Press.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to a scholarship fund for the 14 children, whose stories are narrated there, and other children survivors who would like to avail themselves of help in financing their education.

The book is more than a documentation of the painful experiences that each child went through on that tragic night. It provides readers with an opportunity to hear the voices of the suffering, who have not only survived the calamity but continue to grapple with poverty.

Aubrey and Mary Rose, like many of the children survivors, hope to be able to finish their education as a way out of poverty. These were the dreams that Sendong appeared to have taken away.

What Sendong failed to take, however, is the continuing hope of the children for a better life, to overcome difficulties.

Surrogate parents

Aside from being survivors of Sendong, the children have another thing in common. They are all productive members of their families as they play the role of surrogate parents to their siblings.

The family of Manilyn Molion, originally from Sitio Cala-Cala, had to be relocated to the Macapaya resettlement site in Upper Camaman-an. According to Molion, her children had to transfer to Indahag Elementary School, roughly 3 km from their house.

The children are transported by a dump truck to school. Sometimes, if the truck bogs down, the children have no choice but to walk the distance.

“They have a hard time studying because by the time they get to school and to the house, they are already tired. They also need to help out in the house,” said Molion.

The children are forced to skip classes when it rains too hard, as the dump truck that serves as their school bus does not have a roof and walking is nearly impossible in muddy roads.

Aside from dealing with the children’s difficulty in getting to school, the families at the resettlement sites also have to deal with barely any access to water and electricity.

Rhodora Balusan, chair of the Survivors of Sendong (SOS) Alliance, said that life hasn’t returned to normal for survivors.

“Not all the survivors have been provided with an environment conducive for living,” Balusan said.

“It is not true that all the survivors and victims of Sendong have recovered a year after the flood,” she said.

P5 for gasoline

According to Molion, residents in Macapaya have to pay P5 a day so the community can buy gasoline for a generator set that provides electricity a few hours a day.

“We have to buy the gasoline so our streetlights can be used,” Molion said. “If we want to charge our cell phones and other electronics, we pay an additional amount,” she said.

The SOS Alliance claims that in Calaanan, people found that for every family that has five or more children, one child has dropped out of school.

“Calaanan is far from the colleges in the city,” said Molion. “Some of the high school children would rather drop out than attend classes in a different school. The issue here is the transportation expenses that the families have to incur,” she said.

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