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Tacloban women take charge

/ 03:49 AM November 12, 2014

(7th of a series)

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—On a recent November morning, six women were huddled together inside a newly constructed, rustic little hut in Barangay (village) Bagacay, 10 kilometers north of this city.

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Shelving their talk about politics, the women—all survivors of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan)—were suddenly confronted with a problem: How to provide themselves and their families with permanent roofs over their heads.

Ironically, these women had reason to be proud. They just helped build a home for a 73-year-old widow named Serapia Medalla, doing it with little help from the government.

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A pensioner and street sweeper who earns less than P3,000 a month, Medalla became the first recipient in September of a prototype low-cost, typhoon-resistant home envisioned in the Bagacay Housing Project.

The project—named after the village where the humble homes will rise—uses an existing government template to provide low-cost housing for poor families who are mostly Yolanda survivors.

While local governments—including the city of Tacloban—are facing roadblocks in securing land rights to permanently settle Yolanda’s homeless, the women of Bagacay have secured a P104-million loan from the Social Housing and Finance Corp., a government-owned firm, to buy a 3.5-hectare lot where about 50 earth-friendly houses would be built.

“One down, 49 to go,” said Dalen Palami, lead coordinator of the Bagacay project.

A sister to her more famous sibling, Philippine Azkals team manager Dan Palami, the 42-year-old social worker is showing the challenge her group must face: A seeming lack of funds to build the other 49 homes.

Financed by various donors, the houses are given free of charge but the chosen recipients have to pay an average of P706 for 25 years for the right to own the land their houses are built on.

With barely 400 finished of the close to 15,000 permanent homes to be built in this city, the problem of Yolanda’s homeless is foremost on the minds of these women.

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But unlike most of Yolanda’s victims who are dependent on decisions made for them by the government, the Bagacay women are taking charge and making sure their plans for their future are met.

“We are tired of the government neglecting us. We are just doing what is good for us and for our future,” said Virgie Lingan, 42, a widow and village councilwoman at Barangay 68 in Anibong district.

As community organizers, Lingan and housewives Arlene Ibañez, 35, Dolorosa Camenforte, 48, Lorna Lagario, 52, and Linda Lagario, 61, are the prime movers behind the Bagacay project.

Palami has found a kindred spirit in Eva Marie de los Reyes, a classmate since kindergarten, who shares with her a passion for rural development work and environmental activism.

Group of dreamers

Leaving their comfortable lives in Manila, Palami and De los Reyes—both Tacloban natives—came back to help their city heal and rebuild.

They joined hands with engineers, architects and urban planners—mostly college friends from the University of the Philippines in Quezon City—to get the Bagacay project moving.

“We realized that these women needed help. And they needed permanent homes in safe, secure and sustainable neighborhoods,” said De los Reyes, 42.

To this group of dreamers, “build back better” is not just an empty mantra—it is a mind-set, a way of life they want to impart to the women of Bagacay.

From recycling wastewater to flush their toilets and growing vegetables in their backyards, to harnessing energy from the sun for their lighting needs and the wind for cooling their homes, this breed of homeowners is creating a new way of life.

“We learned a lot of lessons from the Yolanda disaster. We don’t want to make the same mistakes again,” Ibañez said.

Built on raised concrete bases as protection against flooding and with high-rising roofs to ensure natural cooling—plus cross-braised bamboo walls that resist strong winds—the three-by-five-meter huts and their typhoon-resistant designs comply with the national building code, according to Minerva and Albert Rosel, the architects who designed the houses to be used in the Bagacay project.

“With this design, the homeowner is provided with just the bare necessities, the rest are just extra baggage,” said Minerva Rosel.

Waiting for funds

Palami said the hardships the organizers experienced during the monster storm had fired up these women and their families to change their lives for the better.

“Because of that, the chances of these women defaulting on their monthly mortgage are remote,” Palami said, adding there were enough livelihood opportunities in Bagacay.

While waiting for funding to build each house, these women now live in “butterfly” houses—so called for the way they easily open up and be ready for use.

These prefabricated houses are provided free by the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation headed by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and business tycoons Manuel Pangilinan and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.

Lingan’s neighbors and other volunteers have started the groundwork on the project’s second house. Two donors from Australia—True Freedom in Christ Church and Clothesline Pty. Ltd.—are paying for the construction of Lingan’s house.

“Finally, I will have a house that my three children and I can call home,” said Lingan, who will start paying for her 25-year loan in January.

That’s two houses built—48 more to go.

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TAGS: Rehabilitation, Tacloban, Women, Yolanda
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