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!
We arrived at the poblacion, in the house of my high-school penpal Maida Magsipoc-Basañes, our host and coordinator. Since Yolanda, she had found herself full of donors entrusting her their help, from buying banca to sustaining her own initiative, a feeding program for her high school students at the Northern Antique Vocational School (NAVS). She had shared with us her sadness on their lack of motivation – and shame – after the typhoon destroyed their house and livelihood. Most of her students are from upland barangays and small neighboring islands: the trip to the town for school – a challenge and a feat.
Pearl Joy briefed the team on ‘Ang Kuwento ng Pagdadala,’ a framework in counseling and therapy developed by Dr. Edwin T. Decenteceo of UP. Tasks were given, we lunched, and off we rode to Barangay Janlagasi, almost 15 minutes away on the ricefields before Mt. Madya-as. We gathered on monoblock chairs, at the shadowed part of the barangay plaza by a roof-blown structure. Behind us, ravaged coconut trees. After a brief orientation and introduction of the team, we danced in the singing of “Maghirupay Kita” and broke into groups for the sharing session. The adults occupied the chapel and the plaza, where on the other side children gathered with paper and art materials to drew their thoughts and feelings.
Inside the one-room barangay hall, a long-wooden table was provided for the chiropractor. I assisted as translator. It was insightful, how pain and grief could manifest physically. We endure because we lack access to health professionals and services, and so the chiropractor was welcomed with curiosity and fondness. Men and women of different ages lined up with their complaints of body pains from head to feet, which were also their life stories, and hopes. It was instructive, of how mother tongue is indeed effective; translation as context, attention to non-verbal clues and gestures, and compassion.
Past 4, when the different sharing groups were done, we served arrozcaldo, pancit, and bread. After, a tolda was spread out in the plaza. We brought out the sacks of clothes donated by The Manila Residences Tower in Taft Avenue where I am staying, transported with discount given by the bus conductor and driver of Dimple Star in Pasay terminal, and the libreng ukay-ukay started.
Brgy. Captain Mariet Barcenal, on megaphone, gave out instructions, and jokes. We watched nearby, pleased in the order of things on the floor, their fun in rummaging for their need and want as our mutual satisfaction.
We rested with the sunset by the open fields in front of the house of the family of Zurick Sumugat, Maida’s childhood best friend who facilitated things for us in the barangay. The Dream Team exchanged observations and insights (I hope to share these with you in the coming weeks) before bottles of beer and husks of coconut juice. Not for long, the photo and videoke sessions, and we enjoyed the dinner of seafood and farm fresh produce. We glowed with the moon, in both exhaustion and satisfaction, energized by more ideas for the next day on the ride back to the town, the Janlagasi stories we carried with us.