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Fire victims laugh off fears, woes

By: - Reporter / @jgamilINQ
/ 01:18 AM March 23, 2015
FIRE victims of Kaingin Compound in Quezon City join a Laughter Yoga session, part of the psychological intervention program launched for residents by the De La Salle University, to help them get back on their feet.  Jaymee T. Gamil

FIRE victims of Kaingin Compound in Quezon City join a Laughter Yoga session, part of the psychological intervention program launched for residents by the De La Salle University, to help them get back on their feet. Jaymee T. Gamil

The way longtime best friends Gloria Napocao and Linda Roque were giggling and horsing around together Sunday, no one would have ever guessed that they were still struggling to rebuild their lives after a fire took everything they had on New Year’s Day.

The two women in their late 60s were among the 4,000 families of Kaingin Bukid compound in Barangay (village) Apolonio Samson, Quezon City, who were left homeless when a blaze believed caused by a firecracker razed the impoverished community.

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Napocao and Roque were among dozens of eager residents—members of the Kababaihang Yumayabong Tungo sa Kagalingan (Kayumanggi)—who joined the hourlong “Laughter Yoga” exercise in Kaingin Bukid as part of the Kayumanggi-Quezon City chapter’s seventh anniversary.

Laughter Yoga is a form of communal exercise using prolonged, voluntary laughter to promote relaxation, improve breathing and one’s mood. It also lowers stress levels and blood pressure.

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The exercise on Sunday was led by family counselor and Pinoy Laughter Yoga founder Paolo Trinidad.

Nearly three months after the fire, most houses in the area remain ramshackle; standing without roofs and walls. Some are still blackened by soot and littered with mounds of ash and debris.

Her grim surroundings didn’t seem to bother Roque, who earned peals of laughter from her neighbors for her side comments during the Laughter Yoga session. She asked Trinidad at one point: “What am I supposed to be doing? I just keep laughing.” Later on, she quipped: “I can’t sweat anymore. I’m all dried up.”

Hell on New Year’s Day

Roque’s levity belied the hell she went through on New Year’s Day. In an interview with the Inquirer after the session, she recalled that when the fire broke out, “I just kept crying. I wasn’t myself. All I rescued were my 19 grandchildren. I didn’t think about anything else.”

The same could be said of Napocao who was all smiles, roughhousing with Roque during the session. But at the time of the fire, Napocao was still reeling from the loss of her husband who died last year. And up to now, her ravaged house has yet to be

rebuilt.

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Despite their dismal experiences, the two women said they prefer to laugh their troubles away.

“I just hate it when I see sad people around me,” Roque said as Napocao added: “I just think of my grandchildren and children. I don’t know what will happen to them if I give up.”

“This [laughter exercise] is good for the body. It energizes me,” Napocao said. “There are those who are younger than us who choose to sulk, like they’ve already lost hope. We don’t because we want to live long lives,” Napocao said with a laugh.

Trinidad explained that laughter exercises could be used in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or as a means for “hopeless cases” to cope. According to him, he has used Laughter Yoga as a form of therapy for survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” for displaced residents during the Zamboanga siege as well as prisoners or those suffering from terminal illnesses and depression.

“When they laugh, you see the effect: They’re more relaxed. Laughing brings them back to the present moment,” Trinidad said.

“Filipinos are always so happy which is why Laughter Yoga is so successful here,” Trinidad mused. So successful, in fact, that Trinidad quipped to the women during the session: “It seems I’m the one learning from you!”

Trinidad was introduced to the community by the De La Salle University (DLSU) Center for Social Concern and Action which has been conducting its National Service Training Program at Kaingin Bukid through Kayumanggi.

Carl Fernandez, community service coordinator, said the DLSU started helping the fire survivors through a relief drive for food and clothes. Since then, its assistance has included “psychosocial intervention” such as the laughter exercises.

 

Psychological intervention

“That intervention is very important. We’ve gotten used to the idea of relief by just giving material goods, without processing the trauma. But addressing psychosocial stress and trauma is the long-term [response]. If you don’t address that, a [survivor] may get nightmares or PTSD, which may affect how the person would relate to others,” Fernandez said.

“Psychosocial intervention would normalize their lives. It’s part of the recovery and rehabilitation of people,” Fernandez added.

Fernandez noted that the receptiveness of Kaingin Bukid’s residents to such efforts emphasized their resilience.

Kayumanggi local president Maricar Malate, also a resident of Kaingin Bukid, said their participation in the laughter exercises was part of the community’s efforts to rebuild and get back to normalcy as quickly as possible. “We need to push [ourselves] to rebuild. If we leave things hanging, we might all get relocated,” Malate told the Inquirer.

Of the 4,000 families affected by the fire, more than 250 families have already been transferred to a government-run resettlement site in Bulacan province.

But around 800 legitimate homeowner-families would rather stay put in the area, despite memories of the New Year’s Day inferno and despite the fact that up to now, electricity has yet to be restored to the

community.

“I’ve been here for 30 years, some have been here for 50. We love this place too much. All our memories are here. All we want is to remain here,” Malate said.

Malate added that the city government had expressed openness to building a tenement in the area for the in-city relocation of homeowners.

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