Working Toward Recovery
With an innovative program based on neighbor helping neighbor, the Knights of Columbus is helping people in the Philippines get back to work after the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan. When the storm swept through the central portion of the archipelago in November 2013, more than 6,000 people were killed and millions more were forced to flee their homes.
Under the Knights of Columbus Livelihood Project, sponsored by the Supreme Council, laborers who lost their businesses due to the storm are being paid to construct motorized boats for fishermen whose vessels and equipment were washed away by the 195-mph winds and 20-foot storm surges. The first boats were delivered in late March, and periodic deliveries since then will bring the total number of boats to more than 100 by the end of the summer. Along with the boats, the fishermen receive fishing gear such as nets, hooks, lures, nylon string and heavy-duty rope.
The Livelihood Project also includes the delivery of seeds to farmers whose topsoil was washed away by the floods and whose land was covered by toppled trees. With financial assistance from the Supreme Council, local Knights purchased and distributed 10,000 coconut seedlings to help farmers replant and provided chainsaws so that they could clear their land of trees, which could also be used for wood to rebuild their homes.
A NETWORK OF SUPPORT
The Diocese of Borongon and the Archdiocese of Palo, the two hardest-hit areas, received more than $50,000 in emergency relief funds from the Supreme Council late last year, as Knights worked to get emergency food and water supplies to storm victims in remote areas that had not yet been reached by international relief agencies. Drawing on reports from Knights in local councils throughout the affected areas, the Visayas State Council began delivering canned food and bottled water shortly after the storm hit, and continued relief efforts for months with funds from the Supreme Council (see Columbia, February 2014). In total, more than 30,000 food packs were prepared and distributed, in addition to other necessities such as used clothes, tarpaulins, corrugated metal for temporary roofing, and handheld tools.
Now, the Livelihood Project is designed to go beyond these basic relief efforts to provide storm victims with the means to return to work so that they can support themselves and their families. The project is being funded by the Order’s Philippine Disaster Relief Fund, which grew to more than $800,000 with donations from Knights and other donors. The Supreme Council made an initial grant of $250,000 when the storm first hit on Nov. 8, 2013.
The fishermen chosen as beneficiaries were identified through a network of Filipino Knights who walked through the devastated neighborhoods to assess the needs of survivors. There are more than 300,000 Knights in the Philippines, where the typhoon was given the local name of Yolanda. Key organizers of the project include Supreme Director Alonso Tan, Visayas Deputy Rodrigo Sorongon, Visayas Secretary Anthony Nazario, and regional deputy Fred Lagria, whose home in Tacloban was damaged in the storm.
“The damage to the area has been enormous; I estimate that it will take at least three years for things to get back to normal,” Lagria said. “Everyone has worked hard to help, with those who have something sharing with those who lost everything, and people looking out for their neighbors. The Knights have been here all along, and I am very blessed to be part of this effort.”
Hilario Ando, a team leader of the boat builders in Borongon City, said, “All of us here in this fishing village are involved in the work. Now that we have this project, we can buy food for our families and send our children to school.”
COMING TO THE RESCUE
A delivery of 40 new motorized boats was made in Basey, Western Samar, in early June, with Filipino K of C leaders taking part in a boat blessing and a ceremony for transferring the boats to the fishermen and their families.
“Typhoon Yolanda damaged our house. A big tree fell on the roof, and I had a small boat that was also destroyed,” said Danilo Abayan, a fisherman in Eastern Samar, near the center of the storm. “I wasn’t able to save it because the wind was so strong.”
He added, “I feel happy and thankful for this help from the Knights of Columbus. With my age and our current situation, I never thought I could afford to have my own boat because I lost my source of income.”
Likewise, Danilo Bihas of Samar was able to get back to fishing to support his wife and their two young children.
“Our situation was difficult after Yolanda,” said Bihas, who received a motorized boat from the Livelihood Project. “I don’t know how many coconut trees fell on our house. Through God’s mercy, we were able to survive. My family is still intact. But we lost everything — my fishing equipment and our house. We saved nothing except some clothes. The rest was swept away by the typhoon. I thought I would never find work again.”
Gerardo Casilides lives on an island off the coast of Eastern Samar that was completely flooded in the storm.
“Our house was right in the path of the storm and was destroyed, so I went to my neighbor’s with one of my children,” he recalled. “But that house was also destroyed. We were right inside the house at the time and two persons were washed out by the storm surge. They were a married couple. But I was also able to rescue another couple and three more individuals. We had to hold on to anything we could find. We couldn’t cross to safer ground because the water level was too high, so we waited till the water subsided.”
After receiving a boat, Casilides said, “This boat is our main source of income because we are on an island and have nowhere to go but to the sea. I thank the people of the Knights of Columbus for this big help to our family, and not just to us but to all the other recipients.”
BRIAN CAULFIELD is editor of Fathers for Good and vice postulator for the canonization cause of Venerable Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.