| Thin Lei Win |
TACLOBAN, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sitting on a wooden stool as his customers mill around clutching burgers and drinks, Jacques Palami talks enthusiastically about life in Tacloban a year after the central Philippines town was slammed by Typhoon Haiyan.
Owner of the brightly-lit pop-up bar Na Ning, Palami is one of a growing number of victims of the strongest storm on record to hit land who are committed to rebuilding the coastal town that many feared was beyond repair.
Palami, 26, lost his childhood home and two relatives in the typhoon that destroyed 90 per cent of Tacloban after it hit land on Nov 8, killing, or leaving missing, some 7,000 people.
Typhoon Haiyan forced as many as four million people to flee their homes as it powered across the central Philippines, packing winds of up to 315km an hour (195 miles) and causing seven metre (23 feet) storm surges.
Palami is among a group of local and foreign entrepreneurs bringing innovation and hope to Tacloban, a city with a registered population of around 220,000 where a year ago corpses lined the streets and looters ran amok.
His bar, a refurbished truck that was used by his family to deliver food to relatives in the storm’s aftermath, is a popular place for locals and foreign aid workers to unwind.
“This is the time in Tacloban where people are being creative and innovative because they have to be,” Palami, who named his bar after his grandfather, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “My vision is for Tacloban to remain on the map.”
Palami, who spent 10 years working in Manila and abroad, returned to Tacloban after Haiyan, the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, determined to help rebuild the city that is about 360 miles (580km) southeast of Manila.
He set up the bar in January this year and it is now parked just minutes from some of the city’s landmarks – the cotton candy-coloured Santo Niño church and a shrine said to be on the site of the childhood home of Imelda Marcos, the Philippines’ flamboyant former first lady.
Jerry Yaokasin, Tacloban’s vice mayor, said the city’s recovery so far has been remarkable but much remains to be done.
About 3,000 people are still living in dangerous areas and many more are still struggling to rebuild a livelihood.
Tacloban, to all intent and purposes, is now a functioning city with much of the debris cleared, streets buzzing with traffic, children back at school and buildings patched up.
The scars are more obvious outside Tacloban, in smaller, more rural municipalities where fallen trees and collapsed homes are still commonplace, and in coastal neighbourhoods where some families are still living in tents.
“Many thought we would not be able to recover. People were hopeless, desperate and even suggested we should just abandon the city,” Yaokasin said in a phone interview.
But many, like Palami, refuse to give up hope.
Filipino actor Jourdan Sebastian and American development worker Justin Capen are the founders of the social enterprise Taclob – meaning “to cover” in local dialect – that is producing eco-friendly waterproof backpacks made by typhoon survivors.
Every purchase of a “Compassion” backpack made of red Japanese truck tarpaulin and denim from jeans donated by Germany triggers a donation of a nylon orange “Courage” backpack that can double up as a floatation device to school children.
“Our main premise on doing this was that we would create an opportunity for the survivors … the ability to give them the dignity of providing for themselves once again,” Capen said at an event this month on the countdown to the Haiyan anniversary, “The backpack (also) gives the children courage so they don’t have to be afraid of storms anymore.”
Felipa Balbuana, 36, is one of around 20 employees and typhoon survivors working in a factory on the second floor of a supermarket in downtown Tacloban to produce the backpacks.
Balbuana, a mother of four, was a housewife with no sewing experience who lost her home to the storm. She was looking to supplement her husband’s increasingly meagre income as a fish vendor when Taclob came to her neighbourhood seeking staff.
“I’m very happy to have a job,” she said.
A resource centre set up by non-profit organisation Philippines Communitere, based on a similar centre in post-earthquake Haiti, is aiming to provide more work opportunities. Its two main attractions are a 3-D printing lab and a space for local carpenters, welders and handicraft makers.
After raising almost $25,000 from a crowd funding platform, the centre officially opens this month with over a dozen typhoon survivors who lost their homes already using the space.
A different kind of hope for Tacloban has come from members of a youth choir hoping to win this year’s prestigious National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA), where the nation’s best choirs, pianists and chamber musicians compete.
The choir of the St Theresa Educational Foundation of Tacloban, a private school, will represent both the city and Leyte province at the annual NAMCYA this month in Manila after their planned entry last year was shelved when Haiyan hit.
“Winning this year would help lift the spirits of the people,” said Gianna, 14, who only gave her first name.
But for all the hope and energy, Tacloban is still some way off from regaining its former footing, said Yaokasin.
“Many young professionals who are very employable left (after the storm) because the conditions here were not comparable to other cities. They haven’t come back,” he said.
Jeff Manibay, owner of local broadcaster CAT 8 TV who lost his parents to the storm, said badly hit areas still need help.
“It’s like a basketball game. The local team is being reinforced by all the international players so we are currently doing well,” he said, referring to the foreign aid workers who descended on the central Philippines to help rebuild the region.
“But it’s only the first quarter. I don’t want people to think the game is over, that we have already won.”