Like so many Filipinos Annabel Decio has known heartache having seen her home and life ripped apart by the devastating effects of Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.
The typhoon, the strongest to ever make landfall, killed more than 6,000 people and left more than 1.1 million homeless. Mrs Decio, a mother-of-six in Tacloban City, Leyte, was just one person in that frightening number to be left fighting for survival after the storm.
Now, almost two years after the typhoon, she is part of a far more heartening statistic. Mrs. Decio’s family is one of 40 in the Tacloban community of Barangay 83-C, who have all recently moved into their own new two-and-a-half story home built by All Hands Volunteers.
The American NGO arrived in Leyte just weeks after Yolanda had wreaked havoc on the island. Initially, All Hands Volunteers focused on deconstruction and aid relief in the region before switching its attentions to rebuilding.
The 83-C Disaster Resilient Core Homes Rebuilding Program, which began in December 2014, finished this week and Mrs. Decio is heartfelt in her praise for the work of volunteers and local carpenters in giving her family a fresh start.
“Before it was difficult because a lack of space. We have a big family so there was not enough space to move. Now it is so much better. We can actually move again,” the 47-year-old said.
“All the volunteers who worked on our house have come to us and said goodbye. I told all of them I will never forget them, and all the memories I have I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Mrs Decio’s close connection with the volunteers – she even helped with the groundwork on building her home, just as many beneficiaries did – is common among so many of the families All Hands Volunteers has helped.
While building sturdy and long lasting houses is crucial to the organization’s plan, equally it is noticeable how strong friendships are formed between the community, volunteers and local carpenters.
Oleta Hendricks, 21, of London, England, was just one of the volunteers who helped build Mrs Decio’s house, and she remembers fondly her time working on the site alongside the beneficiary.
“Over the course of the five months I spent volunteering in the Philippines, getting to know the local people such as Annabel was what I remember most,” Ms Hendricks said, “I took every opportunity I could to get to know them, their stories and become friends with them.
“Working alongside Annabel was a true highlight of my time on project and it was an honor to be a part of the team that built her home. She and her beautiful family all deserve it, and the chance to live their lives peacefully and in a safe house.”
Such a deep connection between volunteers and the community was emphasized when the barangay paid tribute to All Hands Volunteers and other NGOs by holding a sponsors evening.
It was an emotional night and fitting end as both All Hands Volunteers and the community paid tribute to one another, before everything was capped off with food, drink, music and dancing.
Project Leyte’s beneficiary coordinator Lydia Benson, who was in charge of selecting the families who would receive a new home in the community, said: “Through the core homes program we have been able to build back for families in situ so they didn’t have to change their livelihoods and move away from their friends and families.
“It was really satisfying to be able to tell a family that we wanted to build for them and then one month later move them into a safe new home. For me that was the most rewarding part of the job, that the results were so fast. That and watching the trust of the community build with each completed house.”
Reflecting on the final night in the community, Ms Benson added: “I think it’s a period that everyone involved is not going to forget. It was really touching to see all of the beneficiaries and neighbors that we’d worked so closely with for so many months come together. It was the perfect opportunity for us to say goodbye and thank you, and then to relax, eat drink and dance.
“It was an honor, for all of us, to work in a community that has seen more than we can imagine and yet welcome us into their community with such warmth. The graciousness of the community, whether they were beneficiaries or not, was overwhelming. “
Cliché as it may sound, months of blood, sweat and tears has unquestionably gone into ensuring the people of the Tacloban community, Barangay 83-C have somewhere they can proudly call home again.
While work may be over in the 83-C, it does not spell the end for All Hands Volunteers in the Philippines. Project Leyte continues to rebuild almost two years after Yolanda wreaked havoc.
Currently, All Hands Volunteers is building an evacuation center in the Samar Municipality of Hernani, constructing temporary community inspired buildings in Magallanes, Tacloban and with helping fellow NGO Streetlight, an organization that helps look after street children in Tacloban, to relocate and expand to a safer area in the north of the city.
To support Project Leyte’s work, click here to donate.
All Hands Volunteers accepts volunteers from around the world and locally, including day volunteers. To apply, click here.