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First published (without photos) at the IloiloMetropolitanTimes on February 02, 2014
Culasi, Antique: We woke with the dawn that Sunday of January 05 for a walk toward the sunrise at the boulevard. It is a stretch of tiled pavement adorned with calesa-typed benches and customized lounge of wooden table and chairs at the back of the town’s public market, facing islets and islands: Malalisun and Batbatan.
The sea was calm. Small boats rested on the shore; no fisher folks with nets and catch. By the seawall, a father and daughter clutched to each other. Where’s the mother? We did not ask. We have heard enough stories. One by a family of 9 from one of the islands: the mother and her two young children died with the storm and flood. The father relocated to a shack in the backyard of a relative in town with the remaining children, whom he eventually ‘distributed,’ people said, to those who cared.
We walked to this boulevard for a ‘morning ritual’ – prayers of thanksgiving and petition led by Nene Faith, our eldest. My 35th birthday. I’m not one for ‘drama’ and so it was touching, to say the least, for this life that has given me so much. Always, I say: ‘Gracias ala vida’ (Thanks to life). This is a composition of the Chilean musician Violeta Parra in the 60s, popularized by folksinger Joan Baez, and arrived to me via YouTube in the rendition of Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa.
It was an overcast sky and not for long, drizzle dropped. We headed back to Maida’s place, our local host and coordinator, my high-school pen pal. After breakfast, the Dream Team at personal grooming, this scene at the bedroom: Maida reading aloud one of my letters in my high-school handwriting (very clumsy) in the ‘I Love You’ fold (fashion of our time!) in a scented stationery (of course!). We shared giggles and laughs as we congratulated ourselves for an enduring friendship, that was to say, um, we are like ‘endangered species’ and to the millennial generation – drool! ☺
Anyway, fast forward. This time, back at barangay Janlagasi for the 2nd and last day of the project. We came ahead of the scheduled time. At the one- room barangay hall, Dr. Heath Motley of the United Nations Chiropractic Center-Manila treated more patients.
At the chapel nearby, Pearl Joy and the rest of the Dream Team facilitated the capacity-building seminar on psychosocial and mental health support services for the community leaders. In between assisting and translating for Dr. Motley and checking out the animated conversations at the chapel, a birthday surprise: Grace, member of the Dream Team who is a god sister, lined up the children for their cupcake gift (they were the ones who ended up eating them, of course) and candle blowing. I admit, t’ was sweet it got me crying. You have to understand that this project is my first ever attempt to celebrate my birthday. Story of my life (sniff, sniff)☺
I remember this clearly too: the responses of the residents. I do not want to sound patronizing but really, the project was a success. It gave them the venue to come together as one community, to listen to each other’s stories and to map shared experiences and sentiments toward concrete actions. The psychosocial support offered them a framework, a way of thinking in making sense of what happened, as they grapple with a sense of powerlessness, in feeling neglected by our government, being a small barangay in a small province of a region that is not considered to be the center of the tragedy.
Their feedback affirmed us, psychosocial support services being not that popular yet in this part of the country, especially coming from a volunteer group like ours without institutional support or mileage. It was more than enough for me to see Pearl, our youngest (her joke, of course, that she remains to be my scholar), in action, and be comforted by the fact that she is very qualified for the job, and passionate at that, that the more she is determined to finish her MS Psychology, on schedule. Typhoon Yolanda enlarged our circle of kin and friends, (re) connected the south and the north of Antique, continued the timeline of my friendship with Maida beyond Facebook, and strengthened our sense of community that included our donors, personal friends in Manila and abroad (Canada, US, New Zealand) and made this into “a circle with no end” in our effort to actualize care and service. Again, many thanks, and until then!