The residents of Mary Grace neighborhood in Marilao, Philippines, are used to adversity. Most lived in slums by the railroads for years before being relocated by the government to a new riverside neighborhood. From time to time, the river rises and floods their homes. But they persevere, thanking God for keeping their families safe and looking to the Catholic Church for spiritual and physical support. Then on September 26, 2009, this deep faith became a lifeline when Typhoon Ketsana caused flooding unlike anything they had ever seen.
"People ran to the church, but water started to rise there too," says Father Vic Robles, a local Catholic parish priest who has helped poor residents in the area to build homes over the years. "We prayed, and three hours later the water went down."
Most residents stayed in the nearby school overnight before returning to see what had happened to their houses. They were in for a shock. Tons of thick, gummy mud awaited them.
Small Blessings in Midst of Disaster
Marisa Villarin, who lived with three families, came back to find nothing but the square cement foundation of their home sitting desolately at the top of the riverbed cliff.
"We are trying to stand up and build our lives again," she says, hugging her young son to her chest. Marisa's family was one of the first to receive kits of household necessities distributed by Caritas Philippines with the support of Catholic Relief Services.
The kits can't replace what residents have lost, but the variety of basic household items is helping people to return to their homes and live with dignity. Each kit, designed with care, provides a blanket, family-size sleeping mat and mosquito net, kitchen- and dinnerware, two towels, candles, soap and rubbing alcohol, bucket and dipper, 5-gallon water jug, toothpaste and toothbrushes, multiple sizes of underwear and flip-flops, and sanitary pads. Families are also receiving a large bottle of water and a packet of relief food with rice, canned sardines and noodles.
"I would like to have your prayers for us, so we can stay healthy and don't get sick and can start again."
'I Have to Throw It All Away'
Virgilio Chua, owner of a school supply store, was on the other side of the river when the typhoon hit. The community's hanging bridge was washed away, so he couldn't get back to his house or children until the next day.
"I came back Sunday morning, and everything was turned over. All my papers and posters are ruined. They're all stuck together," he says, adding that he will need a loan to start his business again. "I have to throw it all away."
Fortunately his children ran to the school, where they stayed an entire week while Virgilio and his wife cleaned the mud and debris out of their home.
"I would like to have your prayers for us," Virgilio adds, "so we can stay healthy and don't get sick and can start again."
Long Months of Cleanup and Rebuilding to Come
Twelve people who were living in former government barracks at Mt. Arayat National Park weren't so lucky. They lost their lives when unimaginable quantities of mud submerged their homes. In total, 52 houses were destroyed by the landslide, with another 150 families losing many of their belongings. More than 300 families in this area have now evacuated to one of the park's conference centers.
"They're living in panic and fear because the rain continues," notes their parish priest.
Diocesan staff in affected areas immediately began delivering food and clothing donated by generous Catholics in nearby parishes and others moved by the tragedy. CRS also began working with Caritas Philippines to arrange for additional food deliveries to 5,000 families and to start assembling the kits of household items. Now CRS and Caritas Philippines are exploring their next relief efforts, likely to include some shelter repair, community cleanups with cash-for-work incentives, and provision of uniforms and school supplies to affected students.
"Sometimes we don't have much to give, but we can give of ourselves," says Sister Rosanne Mallilin, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines. With the help of CRS, other Caritas partners and additional donors, Caritas Philippines hopes to have a lot more to give in the long months of cleanup and rebuilding.
Debbie DeVoe is CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa. She is assisting with our emergency response in the Philippines.