The municipal building of New Bataan in Compostela Valley is teeming with people going about their transactions. Nearby, the small wet market is likewise crowded, mostly by women buying fresh fish and vegetables.
Chattering students are coming out of their rooms in the adjacent elementary and high school buildings. Motorcycles, tricycles, buses and the unique “Skylab” ply the highway.
Already, it is “business as usual” in this once devastated town in Compostela Valley province.
A short distance from the municipal hall are bunkhouses where victims of Typhoon “Pablo” are staying while their permanent shelters are being built. The bunkhouses were put up by the provincial government, using funds from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Life is returning to normal for these families.
In Unit No. 57, Normelita “Neneng” Rivera, 45, and her neighbors are preparing for the launching of a communal garden. They are making labels for seedlings they will be planting. The seedlings were donated by Operation Compassion, an international humanitarian organization helping the affected families cope with their situation by planting fast-growing crops, such as okra, tomato and pechay.
“A communal garden will augment our food sources and provide us with livelihood, so we are not just dependent on food rations. Working in the garden is also a positive thing to do, rather than sitting around dwelling on the past tragedy. It is one of the projects that we keep busy with, helping ourselves toward recovery,” Rivera explained.
According to one volunteer, each family is given a plot and five kinds of seedlings. The plants can be harvested in a month, and the excess can be sold in the public market for the family’s source of income.
Rivera was elected president of the bunkhouses neighborhood association comprising of 72 families.
“We have organized ourselves to oversee the various concerns in our small community, such as sanitation and maintaining the cleanliness of our surroundings. Likewise, we support one another, encouraging and strengthening each other,” she said.
She pointed to the posters pasted on the walls of the bunkhouses, reminding the people to keep their surroundings clean as a precaution against dengue and other diseases.
While her husband, Geronimo, 47, works as a part-time construction worker, Rivera keeps busy, attending to her children and the community’s needs.
“I used to work in a beauty parlor in Tagum City, but after Pablo, I have to stay here and take care of our children,” she narrated. Her youngest is 10 years old.
The Riveras were among those who were given priority to occupy a bunkhouse because two of their children have disabilities. Her father, 80-year-old Raymundo Tuba, also stays with them, as well as her 21-year-old nephew, Jessie Rivera.
Like other displaced families, the Riveras receive a family food pack every two to three weeks, which contains basic commodities such as rice, noodles, assorted canned goods and coffee.
The packs are distributed through the municipality. International and local humanitarian organizations also donate goods every now and then.
Rising from disaster
Gloria Diaz Bosbos, 48, a beneficiary of the government’s cash transfer scheme for poor families called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino, recalled the tragedy that befell her family when Pablo struck. Knowing that hundreds had died in New Bataan, Bosbos is thankful that “we are all still together, and we have a place to stay.”
She and her husband, Arturo, who is also a part-time construction worker, have six children—ages ranging from 9 to 24. She considers their bunkhouse unit their haven.
Rivera, Bosbos and the other women in the neighborhood try to make the bunkhouses homey by adding such little touches as window curtains, flowerpots, and colorful wall posters.
“We are all looking forward to moving into our own homes. Once settled, we know that there will be better days ahead of us,” they said.
(Editor’s Note: Triccia Dacer is the external communications adviser of Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman)