By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Padayon: Life goes on in Leyte

Posted on July 17, 2015

WHEN you share the same name with a super-typhoon that swallowed your home and community and took the life of your beloved husband, forgetting is impossible. Moving on is a long time coming.

FISHER folk community from San Jose, Tacloban City, Leyte
For Yolanda Magason, a 38-year-old resident of San Jose, Tacloban City in Leyte, the memories of super-typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) are still as clear as if it happened yesterday. Yolanda hit the Eastern Visayas region in November 2013. Barangay San Jose was among the most hard hit communities, with thousands killed.

Ms. Yolanda has five children. Her husband died during the storm; their home was wiped out together with their belongings.

“We’ve never thought that the waves could be that strong and high,” she told BusinessWorld in Filipino.

A few members of the media flew to Leyte on July 7 at the invitation of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) to mark National Disaster Consciousness month. When we left Metro Manila, the sky was pitch-black because of typhoon Egay. While the rain was heavy in the metro, it was not raining in Leyte, although the ambiance was as gloomy.

According to Yolanda Survivors Women Association (YSWA) Vice-President Maribel Baynaco, the authorities warned them three days before Yolanda that they should evacuate immediately. But they were stubborn. “We only left our house on the eve of Yolanda,” Ms. Baynaco said. By then, the wind was howling and the sky was very dark.

YSWA is a group of 360 families which survived -- Ms. Yolanda is a member. Teary-eyed and barely able to speak, she said she and three of her five children evacuated before Yolanda hit. The evacuation center was 15 minutes away on foot. Her two oldest children, aged 27 and 24 years old, and her husband stayed behind to look after the house, which was a few meters away from the sea. Most of the people in the area were fisher folk. She said that they were used to typhoons and that the husbands would usually stay behind to take care of their belongings.

Her husband died but her two children survived the storm surge.

Ms. Yolanda said that people did not know what the term “storm surge” was “because it was in English” -- there is no direct translation for “storm surge” in Waray. She said they had never heard the term before and were only familiar with the word “tsunami,” so they weren’t alarmed. Now they know the difference between a storm surge (a sea wave caused by storm) and tsunami (a sea wave caused by an earthquake).

Ms. Yolanda and her family, along with 134 family members of YSWA, are at a relocation site away from the shoreline. Since the super-typhoon, the local government has not had to force them to evacuate when a storm is imminent, they leave on their own.

Ms. Yolanda and the communities affected are currently in a state of “padayon,” a Waray term which means “to move on.”

Padayon is also the title of PETA’s play which is currently on tour in Leyte, done with partners in Palo and Dulag. It hasn’t worked yet with Tacloban.

Padayon is a musical performance inspired and developed from the tales of the locals. Presented in Waray with a few Filipino and English lines, the play was made easy to digest for the locals. But it is understandable even for those who don’t know how to speak the language.

It tackles the importance of community-based preparation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) through a story about an imaginary community devastated by a strong typhoon and how it stood up after the disaster. The play’s target audience is children and their parents.

The play has been seen by 7,509 people since its first tour in November 2014.

Educational plays like Padayon fall under PETA’s Lingap Sining project, which is a creative campaign toward developing safe schools and resilient communities in response to the disaster that was Yolanda. It was launched in September last year. The project wishes to respond to the call to rebuild better and stronger, strengthening the capacities of local communities, ensuring broad-based participation, and integrating disaster risk reduction management into the education system.

Besides theater performances, the project includes separate workshops for children, parents, teachers, and barangay leaders, and community mapping and assessing of landscapes, hazards, risks, and resources.

“We bring arts and theater back in the communities experiencing disasters and how they can use theater in recovery and transformation of mind-sets and perspectives on disaster risk reduction,” said PETA Lingap Sining project manager Abigail Guanlao-Billones.

Sa pamamagitan ng pagtatanghal namin, nagkakaroon ng pagbabago sa kaisipan ng mga tao ngayon lalo na sa usapin ng DRR. (Because of our performances, the people have changed their mind-set about DRR),” said Arnel Adona, a resident of Palo and one of the actors in Padayon. PETA works with the Palo Culture and the Arts Organization (PCAO) for more engaging and community-based performances. Mr. Adona is a member of PCAO.

According to Ms. Billones, who has immersed herself in the province, some of the youth participants still need psychosocial support. Their workshop camps allowed traumatized children to share their stories, listen to others’ experiences, and reflect on them through creative activities. The workshops were venues for the release and expression of feelings, energies, and ideas through songs, dance numbers, drawing, painting, and storytelling.

“DRR should be a lifestyle,” said Ms. Billones. She added that it’s a challenge to educate people who have been caught up in a disaster as their primary concern is to survive. “Most people in poor communities in the Philippines always think by the day -- what to eat and how to survive for the day. As long as people live and think this way, they will not be able to live and practice visioning for themselves, their family, and community,” she said.

PETA is also behind the successful stage musical Rak of Aegis, which was inspired by tropical storm Ondoy that hit Metro Manila in 2009.

Theater is not the only way to teach DRR. In the Bicol Region, the Albay local government commissions clowns to teach the children about the importance of disaster risk reduction during birthday parties. Albay Governor Joey Salceda recently told visiting media that disaster talks and solutions should be community-based. The province is proud to have achieved its zero casualty campaign.

The community in Brgy. Tacuranga in Palo, Leyte, where Padayon has been performed, has not tried teaching DRR in birthday parties, only through theatrical performances.

“The people are interested on theater plays. They would rather watch shows than attend meetings, so the message is delivered and well imprinted in their minds,” said municipal Mayor Remedios Petilla who also watched the play.

“We’re working together with a lot of nongovernment organizations like PETA to strengthen our DRR. We will make it community-based,” said Ms. Petilla.

“We are also working with Albay, which has zero casualties, in terms of preparation.” She said their calamity fund is 70% allocated to preparation and the rest is for rescue.

The problem in Palo was that the families were adamant about staying behind to look after their possessions rather than evacuating.
Recalling the days before Yolanda hit, Ms. Petilla said she sent out police officers and the barangay chairman to force the families to a safer place, but they were stubborn.

“There were those who evacuated but there were those who stayed [behind]. They said they were used to typhoon,” she said.

In hindsight, “we should always have proper dissemination. If I were the ordinary household, I would always learn to follow instructions. We should evacuate.”

Now, she said the community evacuates automatically pointing to typhoon Ruby, the second strongest storm to hit Eastern Samar in 2014.

But learning and moving on don’t mean forgetting.

“I hope they don’t forget. The tendency is to forget. It’s been almost two years after Yolanda but we need constant reminders, telling them to remember and learn from it,” said Ms. Petilla.

As for Ms. Yolanda and her children, the lessons and the memories of super-typhoon Yolanda will never be erased. Forgetting would be impossible.