Four years after super typhoon “Yolanda” (international name “Haiyan”) hit central Philippines, survivors are thriving in communities built through the initiatives of retail and property developer SM Prime Holdings Inc.
Close to 200 survivor-families in Cebu province were handed their new houses at the SM Cares Housing Village in Bogo City, complete with amenities and social and livelihood programs, by SM Supermalls executives led by President Annie Garcia.
The beneficiaries received their certificates of usufruct from SM Cares and the Fernan family, the land donor, which gave them the right to use the house for the next 25 years. If all plans push through, the families will be awarded the houses in perpetuity after the 25-year period lapses.
The houses were turned over to the families in 2014, but they had to undergo community and livelihood training under the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. for three years to enable them to stand on their own as families and as one community.
Neralyn Montejo, one of the beneficiaries and a leader of the homeowners in the SM Cares Housing Village in Bogo, said each of the families there are a living testament that starting over and becoming better than ever is not impossible, even after the worst tragedy.
“Hindi naman pala puro masama ang dala ng bagyong “Yolanda.” Ito pala ang magiging daan para magkaroon kami ng mas magandang buhay [Not everything that “Yolanda” brought was bad. It paved the way for a better life for us],” Montejo said.
The SM Cares Housing Village in Brgy. Polambato in Bogo was the first one built to provide survivors with long-term assistance to help them cope with the disaster, not only with disaster-resilient houses but with a flourishing community to help them build new lives.
All the beneficiaries previously lived in high-risk disaster areas in Cebu. When “Yolanda” ravaged the Visayas in November 2013, they lost all their belongings and sources of income.
Hans T. Sy, Chairman of the SMPHI Executive Committee who initiated the project, sought the help of tenants, business partners, private organizations and individuals to put together P200 million to build 1,000 homes for Yolanda survivors in the worst-hit areas in the Visayas.
SM also built SM Cares Housing Villages in three other areas to reach the 1,000 houses. These were in Concepcion in Iloilo province, and Ormoc City and Tacloban City in Leyte. Tacloban has 400 houses in its village; the rest have 200 homes each.
Elena Bautista Horn, Vice President for Corporate Communications of SMPHI, said they plan to replicate the success achieved by the homeowners in Bogo in their other housing villages.
“It has not been easy but our experience here in Bogo was all worth it just seeing the faces of the residents and the vibrancy of the community. We could not thank our donors and our partners enough for their generosity and patience. We hope to replicate this in our other villages,” Horn stressed.
Horn said the village is a strong representation of how people could bounce back after a tragedy and how communities composed of strangers could thrive and grow together with the help of well-meaning groups and advocates.
“This is the Filipino bayanihan at its best. We have people working together to uplift the lives of our countrymen and through their determination to get back on their feet, they have achieved what seemed to be a daunting task of not only recovering from a tragedy but making it an opportunity to live better,” she said.