"They've lost everything."
You've seen the pictures as newscasters utter these words after a disaster—people standing in front of homes blown away by wind, washed away by water or crumbled to the ground by trembling earth. Nothing is left.
But as the survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan can testify, people in these circumstances lose much more than walls, roofs, beds, tables, clothes, books and pictures. Disasters also snatch away peace of mind, the ability to sleep, feelings of safety and security, a sense of control and hope.
As Catholic Relief Services works to provide transitional shelter in the wake of Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever to strike the Philippines, we are also helping people feel safe and in control of their future.
"CRS decided against a cookie-cutter, single-design approach to transitional shelter after Haiyan," says Josh Kyller, coordinator of the typhoon response. "There are so many variables—urban and rural settings, varying levels of damage to people's homes, unclear land ownership, no-build zones that require people to relocate—all of those factors mean we need to think creatively about each neighborhood and family's unique situation."
The families include those like Anita Punay's, which received help to construct a new home.
"It's better to sleep in my new house," says Anita. "My old home was along the river, and it was totally destroyed by [Haiyan]. We made a makeshift home in the same place. It was just salvage tin and tarp, and very hot. In the heavy rains, water would come into the shelter and weaken it."
Anita and her family—her husband and 13-year-old stepson—were good candidates for a grant to build a new home because they already owned a plot of land on higher ground. The family received cash in increments as they completed each stage of construction. A CRS engineer checked to ensure the family was using disaster-resilient construction techniques.
Anita knew what she wanted in her new home and was able to weigh in on the design that would work best for her family. She already has plans for an expansion, including a small shop where the family can sell snacks and drinks.
"It's good we received the grants to rebuild," Anita says. "My husband, a plumber, used to earn [$7.86] a day. Now, he has only been able to find work as a laborer and has brought home around [$5.62] a day. That is not enough to live on. We never would have been able to save enough to build a home on our own."
For some families like Anita's, cash grants to build their own design are the best option. For others, who have to rebuild on sites with particular challenges, CRS engineers help create a design that meets their needs and can be rebuilt safely on their land.
Leslie Montanejos, a young mother expecting her third child in a matter of weeks, says her land in the Cangumbang neighborhood of Palo has poor drainage and floods often. That meant that standard transitional shelter designs—built on the ground—were not a good option. Engineers recommended a raised design for the whole area. A CRS-trained foreman oversaw work crews who built shelters for the cluster of families.
"I'm so excited to move into our new home tomorrow," Leslie says. "The new baby will have a clean and strong home when it is born."
The raised design uses locally sourced and natural materials, including woven bamboo walls and lumber from coconut trees downed in the storm. It's easily customized and Leslie already has modifications planned for her new home.
"I will demolish our temporary house, the one we pieced together right after the storm, and use those materials to make a kitchen for our new house," she says. "I also know where I will hang the hammock for the new baby to sleep. We will add a railing to the steps right away, and a curtain to make a separate place to sleep."
Leslie grins as she talks about what she's going to do first after moving in.
"I can't wait to decorate the house," she says. "I will hang curtains, varnish the outside and add floor mats. My favorite color is pink. Whatever I can find in pink, I will choose."
Personalizing her new home is also on the mind of Jessica Fernandez, a mother of four who is eagerly waiting for her new home to be finished in a few days. She chose a shelter design with walls that have cement block at the bottom and plywood at the top. A CRS-trained foreman is overseeing a group of five laborers and a carpenter working on the transitional home.
"My neighborhood is called Teraza, after St. Teresa," Jessica says. "Her feast day is coming soon, and the whole neighborhood will celebrate. Now many of us will have new homes before the feast day. It will make the fiesta even more special."
Regardless of design or location, the homes are bringing these families more than a dry, private place to live. They are bringing a feeling of security and peace. Family after family says that's what they like most about their new home.
"I feel safer in this new house because it is strong," says Anita Punay. "I'm thankful for the people who gave us ... a peaceful place to sleep."
Jennifer Hardy is CRS' regional information officer for Asia and the Pacific Rim. She is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.