MANILA, Philippines — A sign hangs outside a newly reopened storefront in Tacloban.
It reads, “Thank you to our ‘not so’ foreign friends,” referencing the thousands of aid workers who rushed to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan just one year ago.
“It’s really gratifying to encounter this level of sincerity in our work,” said Josh Keller, coordinator of Catholic Relief Services’ emergency response to Typhoon Haiyan. “I can’t count the number of signs on the road and on homes that say, “Thank you”; to the world, to the donors, to the workers, you name it.”
Typhoon Haiyan slammed the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013. The typhoon was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 195 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 253 miles per hour.
High tides and strong winds flattened most of the buildings and homes in Tacloban. Most of the city’s population of 220,000 was left homeless, according to the BBC.
Keller said CRS has a projected five-year response to the typhoon’s devastation. The first two years include immediate relief, including shelters, water and sanitation for the thousands who lost their homes.
Though they are only one year into their recovery plan, CRS has completely rebuilt 3,000-plus homes. And another 5,000 homes are under construction, according to Keller. The relief agency has also repaired or constructed more than 2,800 household latrines.
CRS is also focusing on job training for typhoon survivors who lost their livelihoods to the storm, including coconut farmers.
Typhoon Haiyan damaged nearly 42 million coconut trees across the Philippines. CRS estimates the destruction affected more than 1 million Filipino coconut farmers. Coconut trees take about five years to mature, leaving those coconut farmers without a source of income in a dire time of need.
Former coconut farmer Genis Quintana is now working as an electrician, thanks to CRS’ Livelihood Recovery Program. The program offers locals grants for training in one of five options: intercropping, livestock production, aquaculture, small- and medium-sized enterprises, skills development or communal nursery.
Quintana chose the skills development track, which included CRS-sponsored training and national certification, a tool kit and even a daily wage during the training period.
There is already high demand for Quintana’s new skill set because there is great need for house wiring as the city and nation rebuilds after Typhoon Haiyan.
Quintana said he is grateful for CRS’ sponsorship because he will now be able to support his wife and six children. He said he doesn’t know what the future holds, but he hopes to use any additional income to repair his house and continue sending his kids to school, according to CRS.
The relief agency also has a program to relocate families from coastal areas that have been deemed “no-dwelling zones,” said Keller. This program includes subsidizing rental costs for homes or land for temporary shelter, supporting host families and facilitating community decision-making about relocation to safer areas.
Despite the Philippines’ fractured infrastructure and uncertain future, Keller seems to have been greatly impressed by the stability of the Filipino community.
“In general, feelings of hopelessness or despair faded rather quickly in the days and weeks after (Typhoon Haiyan) hit,” Keller said. “The progress of rebuilding, all recovery efforts are completely attributable to the spirit of the Filipino people.”
In the year since Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction, CRS has helped to make impressive progress in the Philippines. However, Keller said this anniversary does not belong to aid workers, but to the Filipino people.
“While the amount of work that has been done over the past year is truly impressive by any standards ... this anniversary belongs to the survivors and all of those who perished in the tragedy,” he said. The storm killed more than 6,000 people and displaced millions more.
“They deserve the opportunity for reflection, remembrance and mourning, and a moment for the rest of the world to stand in solidarity and awe of what has taken place.”