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A Dream Comes True

Written by Uro Tahup

Photos by Veejay Villafranca

A dream project finally came true last Sunday morning, Sept. 6, 2015 through the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities’ (iCSC) Solar Scholars Project.

Harnessing

A dream project which I’ve been imagining and playing in my mind for almost two years, since I first learned the stories of how Marabutnons took shelter inside big caves from Super Storm Yolanda.

A dream project arising out of the story of how Robert Bobby Garamol, a simple charcoal maker, and his friends hatched an ingenious disaster preparedness plan to bring their families and seek refuge inside a lungib or cave located atop a more than ten-storey high rock formation near the highway in Barangay San Roque, Marabut. A simple charcoal maker’s initiative saved the lives of more than a hundred children, women and men on Nov. 8, 2013.

san roque cave

Robert Bobby Garamol, his friends and the author climbed and went inside the lungib located at Brgy. San Roque, Marabut more than a week after Nov. 8, 2013.

A dream project further nurtured when I saw a baby with an unusual name Cavein Cuevas who was born inside the lungib a few days after the Super Storm battered and washed away his parents’ and their neighbors’ houses in Barangay San Roque. A mother named his baby Cavein Cuevas as a reminder to everyone that the cave or cuevas can indeed save lives.

with caven cuevas

After almost a year, baby boy Cavein Cuevas and his mother returned with the author to the cave where he was born on Nov. 12, 2013.

A dream project rooted in the age-old indigenous Baluarte Strategy or sheltering inside caves on high ground employed by our ancestors during strong typhoons and Moro raids, by Bonifacio and the Katipuneros against the Spaniards, by Macario Sakay in the Sierra Madre against the Americans, by Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese, and even by the New People’s Army against the Philippine government.

A dream project which I told and retold like a broken record to fellow humanitarian workers and DRR practitioners on dark nights while we were resting from a long day’s work and enjoying shots of Empe lights. They jokingly said, “Uro, tama lang yan ng Emperador!”

A dream project which has inspired me to take my ala-MacArthur pledge I shall return to Marabut to make the dream real.

Back to Marabut and the Solar Scholars Project

Last Sunday morning, women solar scholars belonging to the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK) led the orderly evacuation of almost 100 children, elderly, women and men from their homes near the seashore located at Sitio Sabang, Barangay Tinabanan, Marabut to the big lungib which served as storm shelter for more than a thousand Marabutnons at the height of Super Typhoons Yolanda and Ruby.

The event was not the real thing, but a community typhoon and storm surge drill as well as a simulation exercise on the application of iCSC’s TekPak as an innovative renewable energy tool in DRR. It was the culmination of the three-day Solar Scholars Training participated by PKKK staff and PKKK women leaders from 9 barangays in Marabut and Basey, Western Samar.

Two days earlier, solar scholars studied the science and economics of energy and renewable energy, climate change impacts and disaster risk reduction. They toured the RE-Charge Tacloban Facility and were fascinated with the big solar panels, charge controllers, batteries and inverters which energize the facility and the electric jeeps.

scholars

Scholars learn by doing

They learned basic electricity; the difference between conductors and insulators; the power of the sun and the magic of photovoltaic system. They computed and assessed their power needs and energy consumption after understanding amperes, volts, ohms and watts. They saw schematic diagrams of a basic solar home system and a community solar power system.

For the first time, they were introduced to the TekPak, deciphered its parts, memorized its functions, and had hands-on experience in using it for lighting, running appliances and other gadgets.

They made disaster risk maps of their communities and fine tuned early warning systems and evacuation plans. They rallied community participants in Sitio Sabang, Tinabanan and discussed with the people the details of the community drill and TekPak simulation exercise inside the cave.

trainers

Trainers in action

That Sunday morning of Sept. 6, 2015, everything was set for the execution of the community drill. Representatives from Food for the Hungry Philippines, Plan International, Asian Development Bank Yolanda Response and barangay officials were present to witness the event and act as drill evaluators.

Ready, Get Set, Go. The drill commenced and almost 100 participants composed of children, elderly, women and men bringing along family go-kits, mattresses and other necessities evacuated to the big lungib at Sitio Sabang, Tinabanan.

Using iCSC’s TekPak, PKKK women solar scholars brightened up the dark chambers of the big cave with LED lights, charged mobile phones and powered up a nebulizer to heal a hypothetical asthma victim. Cameras clicked and documented the exercise, while residents and NGO evaluators watched and were awed by the power of women in harnessing the power of the sun through the TekPak to make sheltering inside the lungib more comfortable than before.

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The only glitch was when a TekPak inverter overheated, supposedly because of overloading or a faulty wiring. The Solar Scholars and TekPaks are works in progress. It is the first time for women solar scholars who have no previous technical education in and experience with electricity and electronics to try their hands at mobile solar technology.  In my book, they passed the test with flying colors despite the glitch. The task ahead is further enhancing their knowledge, skills and self confidence through more training, self study and learning by doing.

One of the drill evaluators, rightly commented, “That’s exactly the purpose of the drill and the simulation exercise – to determine strengths and weaknesses”.

All in all, the NGO drill evaluators gave the community drill and TekPak simulation exercise a high rating, proving that women can effectively scale up their role as bearers of solar power in DRR. They are ready to explore joint initiatives with iCSC in rolling out another Solar Scholars Project in their adopted communities.

During the pocket program inside the lungib, Mana Lorna Dela Pena, PKKK Marabut leader and solar scholar, posed a great challenge to Marabutnons, “the lungib has protected and save us from storms, but we must also protect it from our own destructive behavior”.

“The garbage we bring in to the lungib must be taken out from it; we should not vandalize it; we should protect it from people who want to steal its natural treasures; we should continue to use it as a shelter from the storm, but we must use the lungib wisely with tender love and care”, she stressed in Waray.

Last week, I returned to Marabut at last to make a dream come true in partnership with fellow iCSC workers (Andrea, Glinly, Jeffrey and Jason), PKKK leaders and organizers, fellow NGO and development workers, and most of all, local women leaders, their families, friends and neighbors powered by bayanihan and the sun.

scholars in the cave

Before leaving the lungib, I led everyone in singing a familiar Batibot children’s song:

ako ang kapitbahay, kapitbahay ninyo

laging handing tumulong sa inyo

kilala ninyo ako, kilala ninyo ako

ako’y isa sa kapitbahay, kapitbahay ninyo

 

ako ang kapitbahay

laging handa

laging handang

tumulong sa inyo…

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