Every volunteer on Project Leyte can recollect their first day. Most understandably feel nervous when contemplating the prospect of the tireless work they are about to embark upon in helping the people of the Philippines recover after one of the most devastating typhoons on record.
It was no different for Colombian site leader, Maria Romero Guzman, 26, who dropped her plans of traveling the world to come to Tacloban and join All Hands Volunteers in helping the city get back on its feet after Super Typhoon Yolanda caused mass destruction back in November 2013.
“I arrived on October 21 last year,” recalled Ms Guzman, “I was a little bit nervous about living with so many people. I arrived at 4pm when everyone was coming back from work. Immediately I went to Little Dreams [an event where the NGO shows a movie to kids in a community they have worked in].
“I remember being on the jeepney on the way back from Little Dreams. I knew I had only been here for a couple of hours but I felt this amazing feeling. I knew I was in the Philippines, in the middle of nowhere, doing this amazing thing for the people here. I thought, ‘I am not changing this moment for anything.”
Ms Guzman’s decision to help – like so many volunteers – came from a desire to help All Hands Volunteers support the Filipino people, with close to 500,000 people still remaining homeless or living in inadequate conditions 20 months after the disaster wreaked havoc and caused widespread despair.
All Hands Volunteers is a volunteer-led organization that responds to natural disasters immediately and aims to help affected countries and their associated communities both recover and rebuild. Project Leyte is the sixth Filipino disaster project the organization has run, while internationally there are currently projects in Nepal and Malawi.
The organization set up Project Leyte in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda and having initially helped to remove rubble and deconstruct houses, it is now firmly involved with rebuilding in Tacloban.
Since December last year, All Hands Volunteers has been building two-story homes in an impoverished Tacloban community called Barangay 83-C. The program is due to wrap up in August and by that time the organization will have completed 40 homes, all complete with their own kitchen and double chamber septic tank.
While work in Barangay 83-C may be due to finish, All Hands Volunteers’ work is not over. The organization already has four other varying building programs running. One is in helping to build community inspired ideas such as basketball courts in the Tacloban district of Magallanes, while another is building an evacuation centre in the Samar municipality of Hernani. Elsewhere, the organization is busy helping fellow NGO Streetlight, which looks after street children, to expand by building a clinic, dormitory, study and office. And finally All Hands Volunteers is still running its boat building program in Pinabacdao, Samar, which was badly hit by Typhoon Ruby last year.
However, the importance of the work in 83-C cannot be doubted and it has played a huge role in Ms Guzman’s volunteer experience. For the Colombian, the reason to come out to the Philippines was simple and she hopes many more people worldwide will resonate with her feeling. “I wanted to help,” she added.
“The feeling of what I’m doing is not going to change. I’m extremely happy with what we are doing. I’m at my happiest when we get into the community. At the moment it is the best process because we get to know the beneficiaries.”
All Hands Volunteers has built up a strong reputation in the Philippines, working closely with local people to identify what they require most to rebuild their lives, be it homes, kindergartens or community centres.
The esteem the NGO is held by in Barangay 83-C shines through, with the community always thrilled to see the volunteers turn up each morning in jeepneys, six days a week, ready to work in searing heat alongside local carpenters for eight hours a day.
Beneficiary Jennylin Avila, who recently moved into her new home, said: “We are grateful you have built a house for us. It’s a different feeling waking up in the morning.
“We see the volunteers are already working for us at 7.45am and are making sacrifices just so they can build a house for us. It’s a different feeling that we can’t explain, it means so much.”
The close bond between the volunteers and carpenters is also evident – “I love working with them. There’s no better way to improve your skills,” added Ms Guzman – with 25 of the local skilled workers helping to build homes at Barangay 83-C.
Rane Manaog, 49, is just one of many carpenters the volunteers love and he has worked with the NGO for more than a year on several different building programs. His dedication to the cause and helping his countrymen means each day he leaves his wife and eight children in the neighboring island of Samar in order to travel to work in Tacloban.
“I’m very happy to work here so I can support my family and help educate so many volunteers,” he added. “I came here to help my people because of Yolanda [local name for Super Typhoon Haiyan] and I’m very happy to try and help the victims.”
Put simply the volunteers, beneficiaries, and carpenters are all part of the All Hands Volunteers family and you can be too.
Click here to volunteer: http://hands.org/projects/leyte-typhoon-rebuild/
Published with the permission of Dom Bryant.