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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Remembering Yolanda: SM Brings Hope to Typhoon-stricken Communities


Christmas comes early for Joel Pianiar who received his certificate of turnover for his new home in Bogo, one of the 200 units turned over by SM to Yolanda survivors in Northern Cebu.

Joel Pianiar, 37, remembers bringing the remains of a dead cousin to the evacuation center in Bogo, Cebu as he and his family fled to escape the wrath of Typhoon Yolandaa (Haiyan).

As customary among Cebuanos, one recites novenas, rosaries and Latin prayers for nine days after the burial of the dead. After the ninth day, Pianiar went back to check on his bahay kubo only to see that in its place was debris. "Usually I could see the house from afar. After the typhoon, I couldn't see it anymore. It was buried under a mango tree," Pianiar said in the local dialect.

Christmas however came early for Pianiar and his wife Agnes, who received a new home from SM Cares, on November 9, 2014, a timely gift for the couple who are expecting a child soon. Pianiar is one of the 200 recipients of new homes that were turned over to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Bogo, Northern Cebu, the first of other villages that will be built by SM in Concepcion (Iloilo), Tacloban, and in Ormoc (Leyte). The housing project is on top of the Php100 million pledge of the Sy family in assistance to help rebuild homes, community centers, schools, and churches in Tacloban, Ormoc, Samar, Cebu, Iloilo, Capiz and Bohol.

In fact, Pianiar is thinking of naming his child, if a boy, after another typhoon, "Frank" (International name: Fengshen) which hit the Philippines in 2008, the same year that he and his wife Agnes got married. "Blessing talaga itong bagong bahay from SM. (This new house is indeed a blessing from SM). Hindi na mararanasan ng baby ko ang naranasan namin (My baby won't have to experience what we've experienced)," he said.

SM Cares Village in Bogo, Cebu

Pianiar now feels confident that his new home will withstand earthquakes and floods.

SM Engineer Jeff Paulo Villanueva, who happens to be an SM Scholar heavily involved in the Foundation's rehabilitation work said that the houses, which measure about 24 square meters each with a 4.6 meter high ceiling were designed to be disaster resilient.

"To be disaster resilient, we used concrete slabs for the roofing to make the structure withstand 230 kph typhoons as compared to ordinary GI sheet roofing. Also, the roof slab is inter-locked with the wall structure to ensure a box-like behavior of each unit in the event of an earthquake." Villanueva said.  

"For this village, you use what is called a PlaswallTM system or a double-drywall system with concrete fill, reinforced with 12mm diameter steel bars with plastic spacers to withstand strong gusts of wind and earthquakes up to magnitude 7," Villanueva further explained.

SM Scholar and Engineer Jeff Paulo Villanueva

As a scholar, Villanueva finds fulfillment that he is reunited with his SM Foundation family and is able to give back to communities through SM via his chosen career. Villanueva is in the thick of rehabilitation efforts as he is also involved in the recent rehabilitation of the Tacloban Hospital and the ongoing building of a new school in Brgy. Polambato, Bogo City in Cebu. "SM has given me the opportunity to improve my life and help others," Villanueva said.

SM undertook the renovation of the main sections of the hospital, which caters to over 221,174 residents or over 138 barangays as well as upgrading its bed capacity, and expanding other wards.

"So when you go inside the Tacloban hospital, it's modern, it looks like a hotel, it has lounges and has a play area for kids. The Sys consider the needs of the family. Through the improved facilities, the hospital becomes an environment that contributes to your wellness," Villanueva said.

Hope in education

Like him, many SM scholars are also on the path to finding fulfillment.   Reychielyn Gayas, 16, from Palo, Leyte shared how coconut trees pounded their house in the wake of the typhoon.  "Akala ko (I thought) end of my life na 'yun," Gayas said referring to a flying piece of timber from their roof that would have hit her head instantly if it weren't for her father who blocked the deadly debris' path.   

Gayas however found renewed hope when she became an SM Scholar, now taking BS Accountancy in St. Paul School of Business and Law. "Ito po ang magiging daan na maabot ko pangarap ko (This is the road to my dreams coming true)," she said. 

Gayas is among 100 students awarded scholarships by the SM Foundation to support children in typhoon-devastated areas such as Tacloban, Leyte and Samar. This is in addition to the regular 200-250 new scholars signed up every year.

SM Foundation is also building nine schools with 52 classrooms in Eastern Samar, Cebu, Tacloban, Leyte, Iloilo, Capiz and Aklan. It also plans to construct a multipurpose center in Hernani, Eastern Samar by 2015.

Education also takes another form through SM Foundation's trainings for farmers, serving as a critical rehabilitation tool for those whose lands were damaged by Yolanda.

Cirilio Cinco, 49, from Tanuan, Leyte said that he lost his small sound system business in the wake of the typhoon.  "Nang magbagyong Yolanda, nawala ang lahat ng pinaghirapan ko. Nasira ang mga kagamitan ko sa negosyo (I lost everything to the typhoon, all my hard work, the equipment I put up in my business.)Back to zero. Ang natira na lamang sa amin ay ang lupang dati ay sinasaka ng tatay ko. (What was left was the land my father tilled.)"

He and his family heavily depended on relief goods. When he heard about SM's farmer's training program, Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK), he hesitated to participate at first until curiosity got the better of him. Through KSK, he learned about organic farming, and production of high-value crops, giving him the impetus to put up a small vegetable garden in his backyard. "Binigyan ninyo kami ng pagkakataong matuto at bumangon mula sa wala(This gave me an opportunity to rise up from hitting rock bottom)."

Thus far SM Foundation has conducted 10 farmers' trainings to 1,746 farmers from 21 municipalities in provinces hit by Yolanda including Leyte, Eastern Samar, Negros Occidental, Cebu and Panay Island.

Medical Missions and Relief Operations

Dr. Rorie Siasoco of the SM Foundation, Inc also remembers holding a one-week-old baby borne during SM's medical mission at the Villamor Air Base. The Villamor medical mission was one of the first tents at the airbase to cater to the medical and psychological needs of the survivors. The baby was among the numerous survivors from Tacloban, Ormoc and other provinces who made the grueling journey to Manila in C-130 planes. By the end of the mission, SM Foundation treated over 5,500 survivors. To date, SM has conducted 16 medical missions in Yolanda-stricken areas, benefitting 10,354 victims in Cebu, Capiz, Iloilo, Leyte and Samar.

Within hours after the typhoon struck, SM Foundation was also one of the very first to deploy relief operations. Kalinga(relief) packs were distributed to the affected communities in Tacloban, Leyte, Eastern Samar, Panay Island, Cebu, Bacolod and the Bicol province. By the end of 2013, SM distributed over 148,000 relief packs in the said areas.

SM was also able to mobilize its shoppers to participate in the relief efforts through the "SM Donate a Bag" campaign of the food retail stores.  For a hundred pesos, SM shoppers could send bottles of water, biscuits and ready-to-eat meals or cup noodles in a bag sold at several SM Supermarkets, Hypermarkets and Savemore stores. In 2013, SM was able to ship 40,000 bags to Tacloban, Cebu and other devastated areas.

As part of its commitment to provide quality health service to Typhoon Yolanda victims, SM also rehabilitated two rural health centers located in Tacloban City and Tabontabon, Leyte. Construction of the San Remegio Rural Health Center in Cebu is also ongoing.

Synergies at work
Providing aid to the communities it serves has become instinctive to SM and its group of companies like a well-oiled machine as it taps into its vast operations across the country to deliver relief operations.

"We were one of the first to respond in delivering relief operations because of the synergies of the group. SM has built a solid track record in terms of providing aid or assistance so a lot of our partners also go to us to provide support. We are thankful that SM is a trusted name when it comes to activating relief efforts.   Logistically, we have also developed a system that activates our retail, mall network to provide support in times of natural disasters," SM Foundation Assistant Vice President Cristie Angeles said.

Angeles, who heads the Operation Tulong Express efforts of SM Foundation led a team that was one of the first groups to offer relief in the aftermath of the world's largest typhoon. Using SM's wide presence in the Philippines, SM Foundation was able to deliver over 100,000 relief packs to Leyte, Negros Occidental, Northern Cebu, Panay island and Samar with SM malls and Savemore stores as bases of operation.

"Crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. We saw how people reacted and we learned to understand them more deeply. What touched me is that both victims and volunteers have no second thoughts in helping out. And once people start helping, it becomes contagious," Angeles said.
This sentiment is shared by SM Foundation's Siasoco who said that one of the most vital lessons she's learned from working with Yolanda survivors is that "nobody is spared". "They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. We've seen doctors, lawyers, professionals, and they are all survivors. It is truly a humbling experience," she said.


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