Written and photographed
By Jude Bautista
100 days after Yolanda, the signs of destruction are still all over the city of Tacloban. Rooftops of most buildings and houses are completely bent out of shape or gone. Some would consider those structures ‘lucky’ as foundations and walls remain. Residents still live in tents initially supplied from the United Nations. Water and electricity remain a problem for the majority of people.
Slowly bit-by-bit things are starting to get built back up. One of the difficult decisions that had to be made was what to rebuild first and why. Back in November immediately after Yolanda, the Red Cross Society of China decided they were going to build 500 homes for those affected in Tacloban. They soon found out the definition of a family in terms of number were different from what they were used to. The dimensions of homes in their design were for a family with one child. The average family in Tacloban had six children.
Through their coordination with Red Cross Philippines, they found out they had to redesign their plans. Phil Red Cross heads were able to suggest the alternative of building schools instead. School structures also become emergency shelters in time of calamities. Phil Red Cross CEO Richard Gordon related, “What you see here is just one facet. Although very very significant nonetheless, is the fact that today we will be inaugurating 166 classrooms. Now this started with the desire of China to help right away. They were going to build homes but they forgot we have 6 to a family here and that in China they have one child only per family. We have a 20-meter square room, good for one family. But when I found out they were going to put 2 families I said no we cannot do that.”
Gordon talked about converting the idea, “We all had to come up with a solution to the problem. Fortunately my own staff helped me out here he said instead of hospitals why not a school? He beat me to it. We’ll build schools we counted the square meters for the school. He said 63 and we said 3 homes of the 500 we’d make 166 classrooms.”
Last February 10, 2014, Intl Federation of Red Cross Societies Vice President & Red Cross Society of China EVP Dr. Baige Zhao, Red Cross Hong Kong Deputy Chair Madame Ivy Wu Kwok Sau-ping and IFRC Country Representative Marcel Fortier helped inaugurate the classrooms. Mayor Alfred Romualdez was there to welcome the group that included Phil Red Cross CEO & Chairman Richard Gordon, PRC Sec Gen Gwendolyn Pang, IFRC Sub Regional Office Anne De Clerq, IFRC Head of Operations (in Phil) Steven McAndrews, Phil Red Cross Chairman of Board of Dir. Atty. Mike Unson , Dir Go Tek Ching, Phl Red Cross Asst Sec. Asst. /Board of Dir. Atty Inky Reyes, Board of Governors member Jay Jalandoni.
The literal groundwork had to be resolved on the area. December had been uncharacteristically rainy which made the site muddy and very difficult to build on. Phil Red Cross contribution was to build the foundations of the structure. Gordon said, “We found out they had no floors. We had engineers from China. We have supervisors and some cash donors from the Philippines cooperating with one another. When I saw them we had no floor, we undertook to make the site development. You saw the pay loaders were all used for site development this is the Phil Red Cross part as part of cementing or concreting the flooring.”
When the structures were made furniture and equipment became the next need they had to fill, “After the schoolroom we were looking for school equipment and Red Cross Hong Kong stepped up to the plate and they would make the classroom seats.”
Gordon again appealed to Red Cross Society of China and Hong Kong Red Cross, “Now I have a big problem because I asked a friend to donate 6,000 classroom seats. So now it is China’s turn to solve my problem. I solved their problem. They were gonna build homes we built schools. Now they have to solve my problem, I have seats so we have to build more schools. So Hong Kong, China we have to build more schools. First we built in Tacloban then we will build in Palo, at the last minute I said we should go to Dulag, we should go to Tanauan, we should go to Tolosa so we did build schools.”
The need to build more schools, homes and infrastructure can never be over emphasized. Any one who is able to visit Tacloban now and other affected areas can see that. The cooperation between Chinese, Hong Kong and Phil Red Cross chapters has been fruitful. The role of the people themselves, volunteers both foreign and local have been able to pull off the construction of the 166 classrooms in a miraculously short time. Although the need still remains great, it is an achievement.
Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez during the hand over ceremony praised the immediate response of Red Cross Society of China and Hong Kong. He inspired his constituents to rebuild their lives with the assistance they’ve received. He was sure that their improved lives was the best way to thank the hard work and sacrifice of Red Cross volunteers from not juts the Philippines but from around the world.
Gordon described the Red Cross spirit, “So what you see here is not a hand out but all hands carrying the load. When there is a load in the country or in the Red Cross movement, all hands are not there to extend themselves and say ‘give me give me give me’. You all know me I do not approve that so we have to carry the load. And we all feel very good about it because no one is beholden to anybody because our objectives are the same. That is to alleviate suffering and to make sure dignity is upheld.”