Typhoons are Coming. I Need Shelter.

Attention:
concerned citizens
Department of Interior and Local Government
regional governments of the Philippine Islands
National Housing Authority

The rainy season is once again upon us. In the Philippines, we would expect the wet spell until November this year.

There is really not much change in our life style if we are part of the small percentage blessed with a comfortable environment – homes in high elevations, available rain gears, enough emergency funds, cars that fly, etc. But majority of Filipinos (and even our developing Asian neighbors) don’t have the luxury even of a shelter they can confidently consider safe to withstand natural forces such as continuous, heavy downpours. Remember Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda last year that affected the Visayas, or Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy in 2009 that also destroyed some areas in the Visayas, or Typhoon Thelma/Uring in 1991 that devastated Ormoc?

In Manila alone, we experience floods in many areas due to contributing factors such as poor drainage systems, undisciplined behavior of dumping garbage anywhere clogging canals and water systems, or land elevation lower than water levels. The main causes in the provinces are mainly illegal logging, kaingins and loose soil. And we see almost yearly in the news how torrential rains devastate significant areas and affect the bigger population partly as result of our own acts and partly due to our location in the Pacific.

This article is written not to whine over what is not being done, or talk about what the government needs to do in all areas to prevent disasters in a large scale. After all, the government can’t do it all. It’s a joint partnership between the government and the citizens.

The aim is to offer awareness on possible, alternative housing – one specific area that becomes an immediate need following the aftermath of a strong typhoon. Sure, the house provides a status symbol among other reasons; thus, we invest a chunk of our funds to building our dream house. Again, this group is just part of the small percentage. The bigger percentage, in reality, would just be satisfied with a simple structure where they can be protected from the forces of nature. But what if we can combine aesthetics and simple materials and still come up with a decent house that would cater to our needs for security and comfort even during heavy rains?

There are relief goods provided – clothes, food, medicine, money to fund security and clean up – but after the rains, what happens is to each his own. The family goes home from the gym or school that served as their temporary shelter for a day or week to find an empty lot where their house once stood. Some find their belongings covered in mud or drenched in knee-high water. Come the immediate task of cleaning up and salvaging items that can still be used. The after-effect of such a disaster takes a heavier toll. Remember, A-Z typhoons visit the islands almost continuously and we are unsure as to when the next one will strike.

Paper tubes structures – Shigeru Ban, well-renowned architect

I first met Shigeru Ban in a TEDx Tokyo convention video where he talked about his structure designs using paper tubes. He is a soft-spoken Japanese architect who came on stage clutching a paper tube and started talking about his projects.=

He is a multi-awarded architect, designing buildings, monumental architectures and pavilions for governments and wealthy clients. His style is both simple and sophisticated, fusing Asian and Western design approaches.

His defining moment was when he realized that he wasn’t giving back to society that needs it the most. So, he opened his doors to disaster relief projects.

By far, he has helped countries deeply affected by natural disasters and displaced by wars such as Rwanda during the armed conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus, Christ Church in New Zealand in the aftermath of the earthquake, his local Japan during the tsunami and even the Philippines last year.

paper log house, Turkey 2001
paper log house, Turkey 2001

In these projects, tying up with the government, NGOs and locals, he works within the budget allocated, using paper tubes and local materials to build temporary and permanent structures. The results are simple, affordable housing.

Miyagi container temporary housing, 2011
Miyagi container temporary housing, 2011

Initially, he helped build temporary structures as part of the transition periods for the locals but some of his structures were adopted permanently.

paper log house, Cebu Philippines 2014
paper log house, Cebu Philippines 2014

He had a team of locals, architectural students and his protégé when building. If the locals present during the buildings can tap on his technique, then they can start building affordable and decent structures for devastated communities.

Possible location/s: provinces and cities

Earth bag houses – Illac Diaz, social entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurship is not yet widely known in the Philippines as the major courses being pursued such as medical, technology and engineering courses.

I learned this from reading and watching about this guy’s efforts in this young field.

Illac is a privileged man, raised in an affluent family and had the doors open for a possible acting profession. He was a commercial model in his younger years but stepped away from a promising show business career. He chose to venture into a fresh route instead, creating value for and giving back to society.

One of his major contributions was the introduction of the earth bag shelter in the Philippines as part of his MyShelter Foundation Projects. This building technology started in the Middle East, developed by Iranian-American Nader Khalili. War materials (soil in straw sacks and barbed wires) along with little cement are used to create the foundation of houses and school buildings.

dome structure prototype in Escalante City
dome structure prototype in Escalante City

The purpose was to address the shortage of houses and classrooms for those who can’t afford the common basic building materials such as cement, hollow blocks, wood and galvanized iron (G.I.) sheets.

earthbag materials - Day-Asan National High School, Surigao
earthbag materials – Day-Asan National High School, Surigao

As with Ban-san’s structural method, anyone who is willing to help can join in building the structures. Just a little assistance from professionals is needed maybe for the blue print.

Possible location/s: provinces and cities

 Shipping Containers

We’re glad we have resourceful minds around us who are always thinking of ways to make things happen.

Remember the shipping container in the docks waiting for its next big haul? What if it’s already regarded as unusable and the shipping company decides to throw it in the trash? Imagine added garbage which for some is gold. It can be sold in junk shops enough to afford a month’s or a few month’s meals for an urban poor family.

But some genius minds also thought of recycling and reusing it as a bunker, dorm, office space or home. You’re helping save the environment one junk box at a time and creating a space using alternative cheaper material.

And if you think box houses are unappealing, check out the link below for possible ideas.

http://www.homedit.com/22-most-beautiful-houses-made-from-shipping-containers/

I’ve seen some installed and being used already in Baguio and Bonifacio Global City as office spaces. Some created it as rental space. Here’s the link to the city hub dorm in Mandaluyong.

container dorm - Citi Hub, Mandaluyong City
container dorm – Citi Hub, Mandaluyong City

http://homeinabox.blogspot.com/2011/08/citihub-mandaluyong-shipping-container.html

We can push it one step higher by creating decent homes for the urban poor such as this initiative in progress (by a foreigner for the Philippines) besides providing undeveloped houses in faraway relocation sites:

http://containerliving.net/low-cost-shipping-container-homes-for-the-philippines/

Possible location/s: provinces and cities

 Learn from the Ivatans

Batanes is a very small island in the northernmost part of the Philippines.

It is the entry point of most of the major typhoons. Because of this, the Ivatans have adapted to the changes in weather and became increasingly resilient by building their homes as thick and as strong as possible. These are again made from simple earth materials such as limestone, reed and cogon.

Ivatan House - Batanes
Ivatan House – Batanes

Provinces being battered by typhoons yearly can leverage from Batanes.

Possible location/s: mainly on provinces

The unifying theme is the use of local and cheap earth materials.

Some would raise concerns on areas such as:

  1. Budget

All the structures use local earth materials which can be purchased at very low rates or none at all than the basic housing materials bought at construction stores.

  1. Implementation

As mentioned by the links, no major professional intervention needed. A helping hand and a willing soul is all it takes to spark the interest and idea to spread and build.

  1. Sustainability

All suggestions presented are made from low-cost materials and would only need low-maintenance ways. All materials are also found locally; thus, reducing the need to ship in foreign materials.

  1. Environmental Impact and Raw Materials Cost

Hollow blocks are made out of powdered cement, water, sand and gravel that go through a refining process before the final output is sold at construction stores. And what is concrete made of? Portland cement, water, sand and rock. Galvanized steel for roofing? Zinc, Iron, other metals. All of these need some processing at a manufacturing plant before the product for building a structure is commercialized. The impact is higher cost for every material needed which not everyone can afford, and we’re just talking about the simple manufactured materials. No tiles, bricks nor marbles.

Since the low-cost housing materials are sourced locally and organically, waste is minimized, by-products are eliminated, raw materials such as zinc or iron are not mined to depletion; instead, used for other needs in society.

If only a big percentage of the overwhelming monetary donations could be allocated to innovations that could significantly benefit society such as alternative housing, secondary to major clean ups after a typhoon, the Philippines could set a very good example in societal development using simple solutions that can be replicated to other third world countries that face the same sentiments.

We change our mindset, take action and we help change society.

Sources:
SHIGERU BAN – the architect and the paper tube
http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shigeru_Ban
TEDx Tokyo Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjHlyKT_Uug

ILLAC DIAZ – the social entrepreneur
http://buildingfree.com/pages/19732085-article-earthbag-house-may-solve-filipinos-problems
http://earthbagbuilding.com/articles/filipino.htm
http://africanarchitecture.blogspot.com/2008/10/philippine-eartbag-construction.html
http://earthbagbuilding.com/projects/school.htm

LEARNING FROM THE IVATANS
http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Ivatan_House
http://www.thepinoyexplorer.com/2011/12/eureka-batanes-oldest-ivatan-house.html
http://www.asiauncovered.net/2013/11/ivatan-stone-houses-batanes-philippines.html

Por Elise: A 100-word story

I once joined Reader’s Digest Asia’s 100-word story contest. The story below just popped out of my head. I realized that writing 100-word stories are challenging. I wrote the story then came the challenge of reviewing and editing it to fit the requirements while sticking to the flow of my story.

It wasn’t one of the chosen entries but I’m glad I tried. It was good exercise.

I have my interpretation of the story. I was glad when my brother read it and gave another interpretation which was also a good perspective.

What’s yours? :-)

“You must be Elise.”

She looked up and saw a handsome gentleman smiling.

He sat down across her, “But for someone, you’re the lady with the name tag.”

She brightened. “Emmett! How is he?”

He brought out a small, wooden box with an engraved Carpe Diem.

“Seize the day,” Elise translated. “He used to say that to me.”

He nodded. “He wants you to have it.”

Inside was Emmett’s smiling picture. At the back was a handwritten message.

Por Elise
              Emmett, 2011

     Btw, I now remember my grandson’s name: Tom.

Beaming, she looked at the man.

“I’m Tom,” he said.

Manong Guard

* This post is inspired by the challenge posed by The Daily Post in defining a character based on our daily encounters. I would love to receive comments. :-) *

 a phone call – that was all he needed but his hands were helpless. he trembled uncontrollably while displaying a composed expression. as i looked in his eyes, i knew he was trying to be strong despite being deeply worried.

it was just another weekend in the mall with my sister. we queued in the concierge to ask about something. he was behind me. as we took our turn by the desk, i noticed him immediately. he was probably in his forties although he looked older. maybe his years as a blue-collar worker took its toll. his small frame showed in his fitted security guard uniform. yes, he was one of the many mall guards patrolling the stores and the halls of the mega mall.

my sister started asking the receptionist while my eyes remained fixed at him. he glanced my way for a short time and went back to whatever he was thinking. i told my sister to stay for a while as i continued to observe him from a distance.

he bought a call card with his 100 pesos and stepped aside for the next in line. he tried to open the transparent wrap but his hands were shaking terribly. i acted on impulse and approached him, offering my help to unwrap the card and scratch the silver seal where the call card numbers are hidden. my sister noticed it too and offered to dial the numbers for the credit to be loaded. while we waited, i asked what was bothering him. he confessed that he got a call a few minutes ago from his family in the province informing him that his son – a boy of 10 – went missing since the night before.

we were total strangers but in that moment, we acted as if we’ve known each other for a long time. we helped him. he told us his story. in a big mall, where everyone is occupied with their own activities, there is a very small chance of such encounters. i tried to comfort him by patting his shoulders while my sister asked for the number he wanted to call so she can dial it for him. he thanked us generously before he pressed the call button. we smiled as we bid him goodbye with comforting words.

from afar, we saw him still shaking as he talked to his wife over the phone. he wanted to cry but he was controlling it. we walked farther away as we prayed for his son to be found.

for a father working in a city to save money that can be sent back home to the province, he would almost always hope for good news. the shock of the news and his being alone in the city to deal with it aggravated his fear for his lost boy.

this story happened two years ago but the memory lingers.

i believe in happy endings. i hope that they finally reunited and shared their stories about the time that they have been separated.

When Children Dream

The bedroom is the one place where, as kids, we sleep and dream. But truth be told, not everyone owns a bedroom even moreso, a home.

James Mollison’s photos display the bounty or lack thereof of this simple necessity.

I first saw some of these pictures in a Reader’s Digest Asia article of the same title.

#5 the illegal immigrant boy whose family can’t afford to go back to their country so they camp out in the outskirts of Rome
#9 Indira whose parents are manual laborers in Nepal
#11 Roathy who lives on his own near the dump. Social workers visit him once a week to feed and take him to the bath

And then there’re those who are privileged to live in comfortable places like #18 Jamie whose broker parents live in a pos area in NY and who himself plays in the stock market during his free time, or #3 Kaya whose room is every girl’s dream room with all the dresses and dolls, or even #10 Tristan whose shelf of books I personally envy.

Wonderful, dramatic photography.

http://jamesmollison.com/books/where-children-sleep/

Juliet’s Race

I miss calling out “mama”. We lost her to colon cancer ten years ago.

When she died, a significant part of me died with her. I believe every person who lost someone dear to them feels the same way.

I loved writing, almost every day, when she was still alive. She was one of the biggest influences that fuelled my passion for writing. She didn’t force me to. I was simply inspired by her. There was never a birthday or a Mothers’ Day that she didn’t receive a personalized card. I was able to play with words easily. After her passing, I noticed that I stopped writing. I became inspired once in a blue moon. I got surprised by why I can’t form the right words or even compose a good paragraph. I got so frustrated, even nagging myself to face a blank paper and try to write whatever idea that comes to mind just to get my interest back, but it never did for a very long time. Up until now, there are scribbles and unfinished stories. I did writing resolutions but procrastinated over it.

I had to get my kefi back somehow. New life should sprout from decay. And I believe that writing about my mom’s story in brief, I would get it back. I attempted several times through the past decade but I always stopped in the middle or even just after the first paragraph because flashbacks still hurt and made me cry. But it has to be done. It has been a long time.

We have been informed about the Big C in 1999. Mama has been diagnosed with colon cancer. She and dad sat us down one night and informed us about it. It didn’t sink in immediately. It was a light topic then for us, siblings, because we knew mama will get well eventually. We made it the center of our family prayer that night.

We believed it was a privilege that there was a team of foreign surgeons visiting the general hospital that year. Mama decided to undergo operation even with a bit of hesitation from dad. He preferred to try alternative medicine first. He disliked the idea of being operated on because he witnessed some dangers as a result of it. But he supported my mom. We were supportive of their decision.

My mom got under the knife and had a successful operation. The upside was the cancer polyps in her colon have been removed. The downside, she had to wear colostomy for life. But she was very energetic. After the operation, we moved on with our lives, only with some alteration to house rules especially on food. We should eat the same food that was only allowed to mom. This was strongly advised by the doctors where we should all take part in order to support mom’s recovery. It meant no fatty food, red meat and white bread. Fish and vegetables became a staple. It was an immediate change in our diet. We complained after a week of eating low-salt food and fish, but eventually, we adapted to the change and liked it. It became a disciplined diet that we’ve carried on. I would still prefer fish over meat today even if I went back to eating meat. It was all about teamwork as a family.

It was a fun two years after the operation. We got back to our normal lives. Or so we thought.

In 2001, she went for a routine check up and has been informed that the cancer was back and has metastasized to some parts of her body. Estimated years to live: 2-3 years. She had to do chemotherapy and cobalt therapy. She agreed. For several weeks within the year until 2002, we had to schedule and support shuttles from the house to the hospital during the sessions. It was hectic and crazy but we had to adjust. The good thing was she and dad worked very well as partners. They explained everything that was happening since day 1 and what was expected of us. It made us understand what we should be doing to support mom.

Friends and family pledged financial support. She had, I think, 3 sessions of cobalt therapy but it proved a very strong treatment in a negative way. Her hair never fell. She experienced bouts of dizziness, vomiting and weakness after some sessions. Finally, about half a year of treatments, she decided to stop. She said that she doesn’t want to go back to the hospital anymore. She shifted to drinking pure juice extracts and alternative medicine. It proved well for some months. She got her strength back. She got back to work.

One day, I visited her in the Department of Health where she worked as a field nurse. I accompanied her to the general hospital where we got some documents and as we were walking towards DOH, she placed her arms in my shoulder and told me, “Harmony, I’m getting sicker. You have to be strong as an ate for your siblings and start taking on more responsibility so that when the time comes, you know what to do”. We were walking on the sidewalk and I was fighting back tears. “Ma, don’t say that,” was all I muttered. That was when everything became very clear. It was happening.  

After some more months, we noticed that her right leg began to swell until it reached the point that it felt like wood. She can’t move well. She was told by her doctor that it was a side-effect of the treatment. It would get back sooner. It never did. We got more worried when her left leg started to swell too. It was found out that nerves were constricting in the lower part of her body but there was no clear diagnosis about why her legs were swelling or what can be done.                  

I and my sister, Ruby, weren’t convinced by the results so we did our independent research. We went online to check on our mom’s added issue. We googled the symptoms and came across several searches. Luckily, my sister, a nursing student before, had a hit. She was able to mail a random doctor online and received a response. He identified all other symptoms besides those told by my sister and got to the conclusion that it was lymphadenitis (inflammation of the lymph nodes). We informed our mom of our discovery which we convinced her to show her doctor and try to see what can be done to heal it besides easing the pain. It was informed that it was an added complication of the cancer that was already spreading to mama’s entire system. The doctor said we don’t have any other alternatives to stop the spread. She still went to work despite her condition but we had to customize her footwear.

Year 2003 was the defining year. She chose another oncologist for therapy. She was told that she only had months to live. Because of her condition and the doctor’s estimate, she finally filed (after months of our own prodding) for indefinite leave from work to spend more time at home and with us. Dad created a customized cane to help her walk. I never imagined my mom, in her mid-life, using a cane just to walk better. Every step was precious. It was okay to see it with a grandma or grandpa but not with her.

Those last few months were still normal but it brought us closer to home. We were still busy with school activities and projects but we ensured that we got home early to spend more time with family. She also started to shift responsibilities, but I knew it was her way of making us more independent from her. Whenever we ask for money or permission to go out, we go to her then she informs dad. When we did that during those times, she would refer us to dad. She would always reason that she can’t do it same way as before because of her condition so we should go to dad. It was difficult for us to shift. For one, we weren’t very close to dad before. Home responsibilities were always mom’s. We only saw dad after a long day’s work. He was working in the hospitality industry before, as maintenance engineer of a hotel which required extended hours. So asking him for money or permission was awkward. It didn’t feel right. But we had to because mama didn’t budge.

Mama celebrated her 46th birthday, in June 13, 2003. We honoured her during Mother’s Day with love letters and dances with my brothers. She witnessed my sister Ruby’s 18th birthday. We had a simple celebration at home. Mama wrote her a beautiful letter, and Ruby gave her flowers. Around July, she wrote love letters to all her siblings and her mom while struggling with more pain and her failing body. Her letter prompted Lola Adelina and her closest sister, Auntie Aida, to come home from the US and Saudi to be with her. The reunion was very crisp in my mind. Auntie Aida arrived first very worried. She was also a nurse working for a long time in Saudi. Mama brought her back to the Philippines. On the day that Lola Adelina came, we greeted her at the door and called out to mama. Gathering all her strength, she got up from bed and walked to greet lola using her cane. Mama called out to Lola, “Mama” with all the longing of a daughter, and they hugged and cried. It was a classic mother-daughter reunion. It was also the first time in several weeks that mama stood from bed. Auntie Grace, mama’s bestfriend, also came from Saudi to help.              

Auntie Aida eventually convinced Mama to get admitted again. She and Auntie Grace became mama’s nurses and assisted dad on night watch. It helped dad a lot so he can rest on some days before going back to work after a few hours of sleep. We visited during school breaks within the day.

One day, I was rubbing mama’s arms when I felt something like small bubbles under her skin. It was the cancer that already spread throughout her body. It popped her veins.

And then August came. Dad called my phone asking me to come to the hospital as mama was having very high fever. I rushed to the hospital. We were all called from school. While waiting for our brothers, we helped in dapping mama’s skin with cold towels in the hope of lowering her fever. It didn’t help. Finally we were complete and that was when she was rushed to the ICU. After further diagnosis and discussion with doctors, dad and Auntie Aida decided to bring her back to the room and just be with family.

When we were already complete, we gathered for prayer. The doctors, who became close to us, informed us about the details. Mama can no longer talk nor open her eyes but she can still hear so we were told that we can whisper to her. One by one, we filed on her bed. I held her hand tightly and told her that if she still can, she continues to fight. But if she can’t any longer, she can let go and she didn’t have to worry about us. I promised her that I’ll be strong for my siblings and dad. Dad kissed her in the lips one last time. Lola, was crying, was telling mama that it wasn’t fair to outlive a daughter because it hurt more than dying before her so she should fight.

We watched the ECG monitor drop slowly and steadily. But whenever she heard my sister Fel cry, the numbers rose and then went down again. My sister Fel had to be injected with 3 Valium to calm down because she has a heart condition that may result to an attack if she didn’t stop crying hysterically. The doctor was worried that she’d have two casualties in the room if that happened. And then the monitor showed a straight line…It was 4:20pm on August 28, 2003.

It never occurred to me that a death in my family will happen very early in life. It was very hard to imagine, and yet I saw my mom’s body, spiritless and breathless in bed. I was outside the door in the hospital hallway to allow for more people to get in the room. I looked around and saw a big group composed of relatives, friends and classmates filling up the hallway and the room who came from school and work just to comfort us. It was overwhelming.

From the hospital on the last day to the interment and burial, we were filled with love, support and comfort from friends and family. We didn’t have to do the chores or attend to visitors, they did it for us. There were cooks, program coordinators, singers. They gave us the space to face what has happened and reflect. It was a joyful interment all throughout. The priest commended the resilience and strength we showed as a family, that mama prepared us well.

Her death also made us realize how many people she has touched through her living years. Besides our clans, some strangers came up to us and introduced themselves as mama’s elementary classmate or the vendor she used to buy merienda from. I’ve never seen an interment so filled for a week and who’d been there until the burial. It really doesn’t matter the years that you lived but how well you spent the in-between (or the dash). It will show in the end how well you’ve done.   

Witnessing a family member die was hard. But harder was the life after, when you went back home and something was missing. You go to the room and you smell her in the clothes she left. You come home from school and there was no one to greet and tell secrets to. You find a notebook where she noted “if I die, these are the things that I’ll be leaving behind”. You scan the pages and you see other notes like prayers asking for healing or more strength to move on. You experience firsts after lasts like the first birthday of Dad and Fel and first Christmas without her. The capping thereafter of Ruby and the graduation of RJ and MJ from high school and elementary. And you wished, she was there physically to witness it all.

Her passing created a stronger bond. We started eating as a family in the dinner table. We also did when she was still around but sometimes, when we’re busy with school assignments, we didn’t join. We became more protective, loving, supportive and caring of each other. We became conscious of how precious life is.        

Mama is my icon of strength. I remember her strength and faith when I’m down. She showed me that while she was vulnerable, she faced her foe head on. She didn’t give up. She sought help, she looked for alternatives. She didn’t complain too often nor ranted about why she has to be it. She just prayed out loud for God to give her more strength to endure the pain besides healing. I saw how cancer weakened her body but her spirit, heart and mind never wavered.

I define my grief as installment grief, and that’s okay. I cry when I remember her on a few special occasions, big events or down moments. I will never stop remembering her. But life should go on. Succumbing to grief for a long time won’t help us focus our attention to people who should matter now. Telling her story is part of moving on for me and making more room for dad, my sibs, close friends and family. Besides, mom gave me that as an intangible lesson.

 

Lessons learned:

  1. Choose a doctor who empathize and who provides you alternatives with recommendations instead of just providing the most immediate treatment.
  2. It’s preferable to try alternative medicine first.
  3. Don’t ever resort to cobalt therapy as a treatment.
  4. Family and friends’ support is the best therapy throughout the grieving period.
  5. Life is precious. Spend it wisely.
  6. While you have a mother and a father, embrace and kiss them. Let them feel how you love them via words or other ways of thoughtfulness. Same way that you should do it with your siblings. So that when the time comes, there will be no “what if” or “if only” moments.

 

 

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