We Will Rise Together

By: Denise Cristobal

On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan, as it is known internationally) destroyed so many lives in the Philippines. Not only did it damage physical properties, but it also claimed the lives of humans and animals, and shattered the spirits of thousands of people.

One year after the calamity, one would think that people would be on their feet. But no – this is unfortunately not the case.

Take Tacloban, for example. It was hit the hardest by Yolanda, and many families ended up having to live in tents and other temporary shelters. On August 31, 2014, the Pandoo Foundation team headed back to Tacloban City to see the state of things and to meet with a couple of organizations. Entering downtown Tacloban, we saw a thriving and busy place with shops and restaurants. It was as if Tacloban were back on its feet. But outside the city limits, we saw a highway lined with tents, places called “tent cities.”

According to this report there is an estimated 15,000 people still living in temporary shelters or tents. That is still a great number of people who are living in less than desirable conditions while the rest of Tacloban city thrives, improves, and lives.

Is it right to claim that the Philippines is back on its feet when so many Filipinos, children in particular, are still struggling?

We at Pandoo Foundation view the state of education in the Philippines in a similar light. Thousands of fortunate children are able to get quality education where they learn to read well and independently, where they learn about health and their bodies. But what about children who are constantly challenged by poverty – should they simply accept the options they have for education? Why are we not giving them more opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed?

This is where our health and literacy programs come in. We believe that children who are challenged by poverty have the right to equal opportunities for learning and health like other more fortunate children. We should not hold underprivileged children to a lower standard than those of their more privileged counterparts.  Through our health and literacy programs, we hope to raise the standard of health and education, if not in all public schools, at least in two or three where we are starting the programs. We want children to know that having good reading skills can greatly improve their chances of success in the present and the future. We want children to know that doing things as simple as brushing their teeth and washing their hands can have a great impact on their lives.

We might not be able to change the whole system, but we will surely try to give children, teachers, parents, and the community the tools and the information they need to change their mindset and habits.

When Yolanda hit the Philippines, the country and the international community saw destruction on a scale beyond compare. During times like these it is easy and even natural for people to view their world with negativity. For others, however, a massive disaster can be the impetus for great positive change. It might be a terrible thing to say in light of all the deaths, but Yolanda served as a catalyst for many of the projects we are creating. We believe that it is one thing to observe a social pain, and it’s another thing to actually do something about it. What began as an immediate response to the typhoon aftermath soon evolved into a way of addressing the problems that we observed in the community.

While we may no longer be directly involved in disaster relief for Yolanda survivors, they are always in our minds and hearts. We can’t do much about their housing and living situation, but we hope that our work with their children and communities – in terms of health and literacy – will give them hope for the future. We believe in giving everyone, especially children, equal opportunities to learn and grow. We believe that no one should get left behind when it comes to progress.

To all Filipinos affected in any way by Super Typhoon Yolanda: You, most certainly, are not forgotten.