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Life in Transition: Stories from the temporary shelter

We gathered the kids inside the day care center and spread out sheets of manila paper over their desks as they sat around it.  We distributed a few boxes of crayons along with small packs of chocolates.  Merlinda went around asking the kids their names, how old they were, and in what grade they were in.  Some can confidently talk in front of this young crowd while others answered in low shy voices.  They were the children whose families have been living in the transitional shelter for more than a year as a result of being displaced from the coastal communities after typhoon Yolanda.

Merlinda’s instruction to them was to draw what they wanted for Christmas.  Knowing they were both eager to eat the chocolates as soon as they finish drawing and knew well what they wanted for Christmas, the kids easily did their sketches.


At this time of the year, many children would be dreaming of remote-controlled toy trucks and fancy dolls with a whole set of wardrobe.  The kids of Cabalawan transitional shelter, being survivors of the storm surge, see life in a different perspective.  More than ninety percent of them drew houses with colorful gardens, a tree where a swing hangs,  and their family sketched as stick figures.


It is sad that these children are confronted with so much struggle from the disaster up to being displaced and still be living in transitional homes two years later.  The kids dreamed of moving into their permanent housing for Christmas, a dream that up to now still holds blurry.

Cabalawan is twelve kilometers north of the current city center in Tacloban. How they are still in transitional shelters while timelines indicate they should be in permanent housing already is still a puzzle.  Many families here used to live in San Jose, one of the most badly hit areas in the city.   One kid who sketched a house as her Christmas wish wrote a small note on the side “sana makasama ko na si Papa kasi wala pa siya dito” (I hope I could be with my father because he is not here yet).  Either that meant his father was in some other place for work or that he is still one of the thousands declared as “missing”, proved that there were stories in every family and in every child, and in drawing they are able to let these stories out without having to ask outright. “Iniisip ko na lang nasa Cebu sila, nakasakay ng C130.  Balang araw babalik din sila sa Tacloban at magkikita kami na dalaga na sila” (I just imagine that they are in Cebu, went aboard the C130. One day they will come back to Tacloban and we will see each other again.  They will be grown up by then), a mother tells of how she is coping up with the loss of her two daughters.


Cabalawan lit up by the RE-Charge TekPak with the lights of San Juanico bridge in the background

Merlinda Bobis is a contemporary writer who was born and raised in Bicol and is now residing in Canberra, Australia.    She visited Tacloban for a week last October to gather stories from the survivors, among which is the Cabalawan community.  An environmentalist herself, she advocates river restoration and preservation in Legazpi, Albay.  She is one of the contributors for iCSC’s Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change, winner of the 34th National Book Awards for Anthology in English Language Category, her Bikolano piece entitled Sampulong Guramoy (Ten Fingers).


Agam contributors (from left) Merlie Alunan and Merlinda Bobis with RE-Charge Team


iCSC and RE-Charge Tacloban has recognized the good level of organization in the community of Cabalawan that they were selected as one of the participants during last May’s Solar Scholars Training.  Three fathers from the community were taught about renewable energy, electricity, DRR, and how to operate the RE-Charge TekPak.  The Solar Scholars was held for three days at the RE-Charge facility and concluded in Cabalawan for a community night and graduation ceremony.


The Solar Scholars of Cabalawan

To date, the community is still able to benefit from the TekPak as their portable power source, and our Solar Scholars continue to participate in solar installation projects of RE-Charge Tacloban.


Kuya Jessie of Cabalawan during the Solar Installation at Tanauan, Leyte