With aid, couple builds life from tragedy
TACLOBAN CITY—Jerry Canonigo and his wife Jean consider Supertyphoon “Yolanda” more of a blessing than a curse because the typhoon has changed their lives for the better—they now run a lumber business, which is more profitable than the convenience (sari-sari) store they once had.
What could have been a shifting sign of good fortune happened at 2 a.m. in January 2014. Jean, 41, had lined up with thousands of survivors seeking financial assistance from the Tzu Chi Foundation at Leyte Progressive High School. The Taiwan-based humanitarian group was among the first to arrive in Tacloban after the city was pummeled by Yolanda on Nov. 8, 2013.
Each family received amounts ranging from P8,000 to P15,000, depending on the number of children. Jerry, 46, and his wife got P15,000, having three children—Japhet, 20; Michael Jay, 18; and Jay-ann, 13.
After 10 hours of waiting in line, Jean finally received the money past noon. “For some reason I could not understand, I felt relaxed all the time. I did not even touch the sandwich I bought with me along with bottled water,” she recalled.
“I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I would use this money to put up a business, any business that could provide good future for my family, especially my children,” she said.
Jean, a real estate agent, had been earning commissions, ranging from P50,000 to P100,000, but she said a closed deal was “very rare.” Jerry had worked for two years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as a diesel mechanic, before returning home because he missed his family.
The couple ran a small store beside their house in Barangay 91. When Yolanda struck, they lost both their house and store.
“We are determined to rise from the disaster. We want to make things better not only for ourselves but, more especially, for our three children,” Jean said.
With the Tzu Chi money, she and her husband set up the lumber business, noting that thousands of houses needed to be repaired or built after Yolanda. They didn’t need government permit to cut down coconut trees since coco lumber was available everywhere from millions of toppled trees.
The Canonigos first bought 400 fallen trees from a friend at P6 each, which they sold at P10 per board foot. They were able to earn P34,000.
Their first customers were their neighbors and friends at Kassel City in Barangay 91, Abucay District, also in Tacloban. The number slowly increased, prompting the couple to rent a vacant lot measuring 400 square meters along the main road in their village at P2,000 per month.
Jean recalled that when they were first starting out, some friends and relatives warned them that business would not last long. “They say that it is only good because of the ongoing rehabilitation works,” she said, “but we did not mind them at all.”
Five lumberyards were operating in their village. Now, there are only two.
Soon after, the Canonigos were supplying coco lumber to survivors in Samar province and even to humanitarian groups that were building resettlement sites.
They hired six workers to help cut the lumber and deliver the items to customers. A chain saw was purchased from a P50,000 financial assistance given by the Manila-based firm where Jean’s younger brother, Aldin, works.
Another chain saw and two circular saws were later acquired.
To address the growing demand, the Canonigos bought coco lumber in the towns of La Paz, Jaro and Tolosa, also in Leyte.
With their earnings, they were able to repair their house, buy a van for their business and a car for personal use, and build a 13-room boarding house. Their children are now studying in private schools.
“We could really say that Yolanda was not at all bad. It provided us a chance to do better. It turned out to be a blessing for us,” Jerry said.
To help the survivors, the couple kept the price of lumber at P10 per board foot though their competitors sell at more than P12. “We are just happy that our suppliers also understand our policy by offering low prices to us. Anyway, we pay them right away,” Jean said.
The couple didn’t also forget the help extended by the Tzu Chi Foundation. They regularly donate to the group, Jean said.
“Without their help, we would not have this business. We promise to them that their help will not go to waste. We will ensure that our lumber business will continue to thrive so in our own way, we can also help them who are in need,” she said.
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