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“I am willing to do whatever it takes.”
Shirley Elladora and Felisa Amistoso are both friends and neighbors. They live in Sitio Samar in the village of Agujo, Daanbantayan in northern Cebu. Their homes are near fish pens and a creek — it floods constantly, especially when it rains hard.
Both their homes were destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan ravaged northern Cebu in November 2013. After the storm, they salvaged wood, metal sheets and tarps to build small shacks on land that is owned by another person. They are in danger of being evicted.
But Shirley and Felisa aren’t easily discouraged. They are epitomes of the modern woman: driven, motivated, focused, goal-oriented, and put their families first. They have big dreams and high hopes, but they believe in working for it instead of simply being handed to them.
So when they saw the new houses Habitat was building in the relocation site in Agujo, they were immediately filled with hope. “It’s bigger and stronger than the house we’re living in,” Felisa says. “I really would want to live in one of those.”
The Habitat core homes are of a revolutionary design. Everything is made of reinforced concrete and steel, even the roof. The “Hypar House,” can withstand strong earthquakes and winds of up to 280kmh. The interiors are cool and spacious — 22 square meters — with a provision for a loft, which can double the floor area to up to 40 square meters.
The women were invited by the local government of Daanbantayan to participate in the World Habitat Day build last October 11. It was the first time they saw the houses, and also their first time to participate in construction as a volunteer. Felisa exclaims, “We’re happy that Habitat is here building for people like us. I’m personally willing to work just so I can get one of those houses.”
Shirley echoes the same sentiments: “You never know, right? God has a way of suprising you!”
Felisa says she has always dreamed of owning a nice house of her own. “I’ve been living [in Agujo] for 30 years. I’ve never experienced living in a big, concrete house.” Shirley, on the other hand, says they wouldn’t mind if they’re “poor, as long as we have a house of our own.”
Both their families, they say, are considered as squatters in the community. But they don’t care. “God is in control, he won’t let us down.”
Felisa says it will be a big help for her family if they are chosen to receive a new house. “If another Haiyan comes, we won’t be afraid anymore. We can live comfortably and safely. Our lives will definitely improve.”
Shirley echoes the same sentiments: “You never know, right? God has a way of suprising you!”
Shirley and Felisa have a dream: they want a new house and a better life for their families. The Habitat Hypar house is a symbol of that dream. And they are hoping, even working – towards it becoming a reality.
When life seemingly deals you a bad hand, it can be a long and gruelling experience. But sometimes, it only leads to better and brighter things. For a couple in Cebu, the long wait for a house of their own is over, and that life ahead is only starting to get better.
Analyn Bañal is a native of Daanbantayan, Cebu. She and her husband of 10 years, have gone through the worst of times, most especially when the province was left in shambles by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) two years ago. “The place we were renting didn’t give us the peace of mind that we needed, especially when there are strong rains. The frequent flooding would always force us to evacuate,” Analyn explains. “Often, we’re left with nothing but prayer.”
Two years have gone by, and their lives unexpectedly took a turn for the better: Analyn and her husband were chosen as one of the 76 recipients of a new disaster-resilient home in Daanbantayan, Cebu. The uniquely-designed “hypar” house is meant to withstand winds of up to 270kmh, a far cry from their rented shack. Situated in a plot of land farther away from the no-build zones, their new community is safer, more secure, and a better place to raise a family than where they used to live.
“The moment we found out, we jumped for joy as if there was no tomorrow,” she exclaims. “We no longer have to run for our lives now that we have our own home. The feeling was unexplainable.”
The couple believes that this is just the start. They hope more blessings will follow after their new home: Her husband would be able to bring in more income, Analyn would be able to find a good-paying job, and they wouldn’t have to worry about their health anymore.
And perhaps the best hope they’re holding onto — the best blessing they could ever receive after this — is something that they think will surely complete their lives and bring them endless joy.
“We’ve been trying to conceive for quite a while, but we’ve never been successful,” she says. “We’ve always dreamed of having a child to take care of and share our precious moments with.” Analyn says nothing else would make their happiness — and their new home — complete than to have a child of their own.
“In my mind, I could see my future child running and playing around the house, waving me goodbye before going to school. I could see myself even feeding him or her,” she says, holding back tears. Analyn believes that this may all be part of God’s plans, and maybe it’s in this new house that they’ll be able to start a family.
So great is her hope that Analyn already started making plans for their new season, and that includes setting up an additional source of income. “I also would like to put up a sari-sari store in the community to support the needs of our soon-to-be family. This would also take some of the burden off from my husband,” she says. “It’s also a way for me to mingle and bond with our neighbours.”
For Analyn and her husband, the thought of having a new house — and a new home — brings so much promise, and they are all the more looking forward to what life has to offer them. For them, this is just the beginning.
Life is always full of surprises. Good or bad, they help us grow.
Rowena Donaire and her family were struck by one big surprising challenge; but with determination, they were able to overcome it.
Rowena Donaire, her husband and their young daughter used to live in a pig sty. Literally. “It was a broken-down shack, and our landlord charges us five hundred pesos a month,” she recounts. “We had to live with the stench every single day.”
She is a part-time laundress, while her husband works countless hours as a hollow block maker at a local construction supplies factory in Ormoc. What they earn each month was barely enough for food, rent, and their daughter’s education.
They couldn’t even save money for the future. “We wish we could, but no,” she utters, feebly. “We’re just lucky we never got sick while living by the piggery, because that would mean more expenses for us.”
Then, just when things couldn’t get any worse, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit.
“We were so terrified,” Rowena recalls “We had to run for our lives from house to house. Thankfully, our neighbors were kind enough to help us.”
With no food and no place to live, they had to rely on relief from various groups. “It was difficult because you had to squeeze through so many people who were also as desperate as we were. There were times when we couldn’t get any food and we had no choice but to go hungry”.
The couple had to do something, and they had to do it fast. They didn’t want to go back to living in a pig sty. So they signed up with the Ormoc Community Cooperative, a local co-op organization Habitat for Humanity Philippines partnered with to help disaster-affected families in the city.
Month have passed, and there was still no word from the cooperative. All hope was lost…
…Or so they thought.
One day, Rowena and her family received very unexpected news: They were going to have a new home. Rowena and her family couldn’t believe it. Just when they thought it was over, when they were nearing the end of their rope, God surprised them.
Ever since the Donaire family moved into their new home, their lives started to change.
“I feel like we’re living in a mansion. We’re safer now and more comfortable.” Rowena recalls. And then the tears started to pour. “I never stopped praying. I thought we weren’t going to get a house, but I never stopped praying.”
Pasted on the walls of their house were photos of luxurious home interiors. She explains, “These are reminders for me. Because when I was younger, it was my dream to live in a nice house. Now, my dream has come true.”
But the surprises don’t end there.
Her husband found a construction job with a higher salary, and Rowena started working part-time again. Soon, they were able to buy a simple but comfortable living room set, a TV with a console, a bed and a water dispenser, among other furniture.
“We used to get water from a deep well and boil it. Now, we have that,” she said, pointing to the hot-and-cold water dispenser. “Before, we only buy rice by the plastic bag. But now, we buy it by the sack.”
The couple can now also set aside some money for their future, and not least of all, their daughter no longer has to worry about transferring schools and studying because she now has a comfortable place to do her homework.
Homes open doors to new opportunities. For Rowena and her family, their new home was an unexpected blessing that ushered in the beginning of their new life.
Seventy-nine-year old Honorata Ilaya has gone through a lot.
She was married twice, raised seven children by herself. Her eldest son died in an accident decades ago and only one of her six remaining children sends her an allowance of P1,500 a month. But that is not enough, so she still has to to find any means of paid labor, even with her old age.
Honorata used to live in a small house in the middle of a field in the village of Sagbayan Sur in Sagbayan town, Bohol. That was before a 7.2-magnitude earthquake — the strongest one in recent history — all but decimated the island province in October 2013. Only one wall and the roof were left standing… the rest, reduced to rubble.
She moved to a small tent made of wooden poles and tarpaulins just a few steps away. Honorata lived there for nearly a year.
Thankfully, much-needed help arrived. Early last year, Honorata was chosen as one of the recipients of Habitat for Humanity’s housing program in Bohol. The organization partnered with the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to provide permanent, earthquake-resilient housing for nearly 6,000 families across 17 towns in the province.
Construction of Honorata’s new home began in her backyard on the third week of September last year. The flexible structure, made of reinforced steel frames and tightly-woven bamboo strips plastered with concrete, is meant to endure strong earthquakes. Honorata personally gathered, stripped and cured the bamboo strips as her labor contribution to the building.
Honorata patiently waited and painstakingly worked to build her new home. All the while, she never lost her faith or hope. She maintained her positive disposition all throughout. In fact, her motherly nature earned her the moniker, “Nanay” to her neighbors. But despite being surrounded by people who regard her as a mother, she still hopes that she would see her six remaining children so that she could share in the joy of having a new and better house.
“Any good thing,” she says, “is worth the wait.”Nanay Honorata believes her house, a symbol of family, new beginnings and togetherness,would be the catalyst to reunite with her children again and make the the house a home.
And it did just that. Last November 8, her daughter flew in from Cagayan De Oro just to be with her the day she dismantled her small, run-down tent and moved into her new and improved home from Habitat for Humanity and DSWD. It was a very special day for Honorata — the day her house truly became a home.
Hope truly isn’t lost. Nanay Honorata waited this long, and it was well worth it.
Working in an American-based tactical operations team which provides emergency communications in the aftermath of disasters, Sue-Lynn Hinson, initially traveled to the Philippines for work-related reasons – to provide data and voice services to Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) affected areas. It was then, the now 46-year-old American citizen turned veteran Habitat for Humanity Philippines (HFHP) volunteer, found herself wanting to do more for these communities, who in her own words, “had lost so much, yet were so generous and kind.”
Sue-Lynn shared her story with us, of how volunteering with Habitat Philippines to help build communities, has transformed her life
“I was so affected by the destruction that I saw (when visiting the Philippines while working), but even more so by the strength and resilience of the Filipino people, and the hope, optimism and determination to help themselves and each other that they showed even in the face of such an extreme calamity, that it moved me to want to help them however I could. I wanted to do more than just donate money – and HFHP’s disaster recovery projects in the typhoon-impacted areas seemed a great way to contribute something tangible to the relief efforts.”
Sue-Lynn says that upon her first volunteer build with HFHP, the group she was volunteering with, “were welcomed into the homes of Yolanda survivors and heard their stories, which were incredible to say the least. On the build site, we realized that many of the workers were themselves Yolanda survivors and had experiences of their own to share. As we worked together, we learned about each other, and by the end of the week I’d had more and deeper conversations with these people than I’ve had with many of my friends back home.”
“By that time I was hooked,” Sue-Lynn exclaimed, “and was already thinking about my next trip before I even got home!”
She said with each build, she not only learned labor-intensive construction skills, but also developed deeper personal and cultural learnings.
“While I gave my time and worked at the sites, I feel like I got so much more in return from the Filipinos I interacted with, who taught me about perseverance and grace. When I was exhausted and felt I couldn’t go on, all I had to do was watch the beneficiaries, some who were women considerably older than myself, who weren’t afraid to get dirty, refused to quit and never complained; and my resolve would be renewed.”
This, she said, significantly changed her perspective on life.
“It has made me realize that my “first world problems” pale in comparison to what many face in their day to day lives just to have adequate shelter, put food on the table and send their children to school. Filipinos in particular have taught me to appreciate what is most important; and that from life and love comes all else. My work with HFHP has brought home the benefits of helping people to help themselves…and has motivated me and made me want to motivate others to do more.”
And doing more is exactly what Sue-Lynn has done. Not only has she built homes by volunteering her precious time, acting as a catalyst in the alleviation of poverty housing, but she is now an advocate for this cause.
“Of all the things that one can provide for a family, I believe that a safe home is one of the most important. I love that building a home is such a tangible thing – at the end of a week, you can clearly see the progress that has been made. But my favorite part of all is working together with the locals – whether it be contractors or home beneficiaries themselves, figuring out a system and helping each other even without speaking the same language – and doing something as a team that not any one of us could accomplish alone.”
If you would like to take part in building homes, communities and hope, alongside people from all walks of life and cultures, you too can volunteer to construct houses and/or raise awareness on the issue of poverty housing by joining Habitat for Humanity Philippines’ annual “Habitat Youth Build” this March 21. For more information, please visit habitat.org.ph or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Study. Internet. Repeat. Multiply it by four years.
That was life then for Ben Ros and Rhodes Sabangan. Two (2) New Yorkers who recently graduated from college in Ohio, until they decided there’s more to life than complacency and comfort.
“We wanted to put away the cerebral halves of ourselves,” Rhodes explained, “You become complacent and you stop taking risks. You stop moving forward. You stop trying to meet new people.”
Deciding to turn life on its flipside, they came to the Philippines on September 2014, for five (5) months of travel; meeting new people, trying new things, and along with it, to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Philippines, empowering both themselves and the lives of others in need.
“Last November (2013), we obviously heard about Yolanda (international name: Haiyan)…and so it just became clear that we’re killing multiple birds with one stone,” Rhodes said.
From there, the two became the most travelled volunteers within Habitat Philippines’ sites, volunteering by building homes in Bistekville 4 in Quezon City, Pinamalayan in Mindoro, Daanbantayan, and Bantayan Island, in Cebu and Bohol.
The two friends even stayed in an empty unit at Bistekville 4 while they were building on-site.
“Staying in one of the houses that we were building for other people, was a profound experience,” Rhodes said.
“It was comfortable too. It’s a nice house!” Ben added.
Ben also said another notable experience on their journey was building for earthquake-affected families in Bohol, as each house is built on the home partners own land, from the ground up.
“By the end of the first week in Bohol it’s like, ‘oh, I dug the foundation for this house four days ago and now they’re putting the roof on it’ and it’s really gratifying,” Ben said.
This fulfillment, derived from four years of straight studying and a life they’d wanted to shake-up, Ben and Rhodes traded typing on keyboards and tapping on their smart phones, to hauling thousands of concrete hollow blocks, mixing cement and laying brick by brick; building the foundations to homes and lives of informal settler and disaster-affected families.
“Digging holes or foundations and hauling cement back and forth, just doing it without pay, is very different from something I’ve done before…rewarding of course, and in multiple different ways,” Ben continued.
Rhodes agreed, saying, “I think what Ben and I were scared of, which is why we wanted to get out of what we were doing, this ‘computer routine’, this screen-life that we were living, is loss of energy.
“(Now) I just feel so full of energy, so ready to be like “let’s do something!” whatever and wherever it is…this trip has provided me with tremendous amount of energy,” Rhodes concluded.
John Allison describes himself as a single parent, brother and proud homeowner.
But to say that John is proud does not do much justice for his enthusiasm with the home that houses himself, his son and his sister.
“I used to board in a small room. Life was pretty difficult back then because nearly all my earnings go to the rent.” John says he is extremely blessed that he was one of 4,000 applicants to be chosen as a beneficiary of a Habitat for Humanity house in its FTI housing project in Taguig City.
“Now that we have our own house, life is much easier… It’s quieter, safer and more peaceful compared to where we used to live. This is THE model community,” he beams.
John, who has been living in Habitat’s FTI community for six years now, is the head of the Livelihood Committee, which offers sustainable livelihood projects for the community. “We used to make candles. Now, we plant our own vegetables and sell them, and it’s been very successful.” he explained.
All the profits from the vegetable sales are used to fund their homeowners association’s community development projects and water facilities.
John says he is inspired to lead the Livelihood Committee, and take a more active role in the community’s Peace and Order Committee. He says he wants to encourage his neighbors to follow suit so that they can uphold the harmony in the area. “This community is a gift. We’re peaceful here. It would be a shame if we don’t take care of it.”
As Robert Maynard Hutchins would say, “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”
And these words ring true for civil engineering graduate EJ Pablo. The eldest among four siblings, EJ has been able to keep it together for himself and his family even at a young age.
He vividly remembers when he was still growing up: “We used to be informal settlers. One day, the whole settlement burned down. Everything was wiped out and we weren’t able to bring anything with us.”After their community was razed by a fire, they were left with nothing, and they were forced to move in with their relatives.
“Everything we had was lost. We weren’t able to save anything. We had no choice but to start over,” he says in Filipino. In addition, his parents would always worry about the schooling of their children and that it’s the one thing that they cannot simply take for granted.
Their family then applied to Habitat for Humanity Philippines’ socialized housing project, and underwent a “sweat equity” scheme, in which homeowners participate first-hand in rebuilding their homes — and their lives.
“Aside from trying my best to study in whatever way I can, I carried hollow blocks and swept the rooms. At night, we would also guard the construction site.”
After quite some time, Ej’s family has been living in a safe and decent home for seven years now, and a lot has improved since then.
“We didn’t have running water in our previous community. Here in the community Habitat built for us, we not only have water, but also easy access to supplies. It’s peaceful here, more relaxing and I’m able to study better for my school subjects,” he says.
That is why, at HFHP, we also take into consideration the importance for children to be in a safe environment that’s very conducive for learning. More often than not, we highly encourage our donors to support and further the education of the children in Habitat communities in order for us to provide them a healthy atmosphere for studying. In the case of EJ, he’s a testament of the combined efforts of our regular donors which brings us great delight.
Another feather in EJ’s cap was that he was able to buy his own computer, which he uses for his studies and research. “We didn’t have a computer before, I was able to save up and buy one. I figured also that my siblings would need it for school.”
In a few months, EJ will be preparing for the civil engineering board exam and be well on his way of achieving his dream which is to buy his own house someday.
Being miles apart from your loved ones is never easy. To cope with this kind of situation takes an extraordinary amount of strength and will to get thru each day. For one Habitat home owner, he has now gotten accustomed to this way of life.
Emmanuel Tolosa, better known as Emman, is a 29 year old family man who lives with his wife and two children in Calauan, Laguna. They have been living there for almost three years now, enjoying the serene environment which brings peace to their minds. “We used to worry so much because we live near the river in Pandacan, Manila, which often overflows whenever there’s a storm. Flooding often occurred and water would enter our home.” Emman describes their past ordeals.
To rectify the situation, they applied to be relocated in a Habitat house and underwent all the necessary steps to acquire one such as the sweat equity program where they were required to do spend 400 hours as partial payment for their new home.
He recounts the first time he saw the community, it brought him tremendous delight as it was quite a change of scenery for him and his family. They no longer had to rent out a place which was frequented by flooding and that they would be able to raise their family properly.
Their dream of not having to pay for rent anymore and live in such harsh conditions has been finally reached. However, in every trade off there is always price to be paid.
Although nestled in a liveable community, the opportunities to have a good source of income are quite few. “It’s hard to live here without establishing your own business that’s why I decided to continue working as a restaurant supervisor in Manila.”
Emman would sleep in their restaurant’s employee quarters and go home only during his off-days. “I’m happy as long as I see my family even for just once a week.” According to him, commuting to and from Manila would not be a feasible idea as this would take a significant chunk from his monthly salary.
He also adds that he can still shoulder the family’s expenses so that his wife can focus on caring for the kids. Emman also emphasized that what’s important is that he is able to provide food on the table for his family and have a roof over their heads.
He explained that when the children are old enough, his wife would look for a job so that she could also help out too with their everyday needs.
“Despite the challenging situation that we’re in, we’re happy that we’re in a better state than before. I couldn’t risk my family’s safety and security in our old home that’s why we moved to a Habitat house in Laguna. You just need to put in a lot of effort in your work and persevere until it pays off”, he shares.
Emman is currently looking forward to earning enough just so that he could establish a business near their home and prepare for his children’s college education.
We first met Felisa Amistoso and Shirley Elladora last year. Back then, they were just two women who were motivated by a dream. This is a story of their success and unwavering hope for a better life. Read about their journey here.
It is November 6, 2015.
The air was festive. There were green and blue balloons lining the main road. A marching band was playing a catchy, modern tune. The sky was a clear, bright blue, complementing the green roofs of the houses. Some had curtains, others already had furniture, many had lawns and new shrubbery.
There were children running around the village. There were women sweeping the floors of the houses. There were men gathering water and making last-minute adjustments to their furniture.
These are the new residents of Habiat French Village in Barangay Agujo in Daanbantayan, Cebu. They are 76 families who lost their homes to super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, but gained new and better ones nearly two years after.
Felisa Amistoso and her best friend, Shirley Elladora are two of these new residents.
Up until a few days ago, Shirley and Felisa were living in rented shanties among fishpens and a creek in what is now a government-declared “no build zone”, on land that wasn’t even their own. Felisa recounts that in all her years, she had never experienced living in a concrete house.
“We were literally squatters,” she said.
Last year, Shirley and Felisa were chosen by the Daanbantayan LGU as potential beneficiaries of one of the 76 disaster-resilient hypar houses Habitat Philippines is building in Barangay Agujo. But they had to undergo sweat equity first in order to qualify for the final list.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes just to live in one of those houses,” Shirley said last year, pointing to the full-concrete structures. “With those houses, our families wouldn’t have to be afraid of typhoons and floods anymore
“They’re like mansions!” Felisa added, “I want to live in one of those!”
Motivated by this dream, they continued working. They completed the required 400 hours of sweat equity and came out more empowered women who were not just mere house recipients, but home partners.
And so it came to pass that on November 6, two days shy of Typhoon Yolanda’s second anniversary, the Elladoras and the Amistosos moved into their new homes in a festive turnover ceremony.
“No words can describe my happiness today,” Felisa said. “We finally have our own home, and it’s everything I’ve always dreamed of and more!”Felisa’s husband, Norlito, was also elected president of their homeowners’ association, an unexpcted blessing for the Amistoso family.
Shirley could not stop smiling. She proudly showed off her curtains: green and blue, to match the colors of their new house. “I said [last year] that I wanted to put up curtains first. Here they are!”The women could not stop expressing their gratitude for their new homes. “Nabunutan ako ng tinik,” Felisa said. “I can breathe easier because we don’t have to be afraid anymore. We’re safer now.”
Felisa added all their problems now seem small in comparison to the new and bigger opportunities their new house will open for them. “I’m excited for the future. I know now that we will now be able to overcome whatever problems we might face because it is possible!”
These are the real value of decent homes: it gives people opportunities and inspiration to break out of the poverty cycle because it helps them dream big.
“My children can study more comfortably now,” Shirley added. Then she points to her belly: “And this one, he will grow up in a better home. He will have a better life.” Shirley is five months pregnant. The blessings just keep coming.
Shirley and Felisa are the epitome of the modern woman: driven, motivated, inspired and empowered. They did not lose faith or hope. They pushed forward because they had a dream of a better life for themselves and their family.
It is November 6, 2015. What was once a drab, grey construction site is now a vibrant community with green, white and blue houses. Construction workers are now replaced by children and families.
And Shirley and Felisa: they can finally start building and living the life they’ve been dreaming of ever since.
Being a solo parent is not easy. You have to be able to balance two roles as both mother and father, and that can be very challenging.
Elsa Valenzuela, 65, raised her four children singlehandedly. She has also become the foster mother of her two grandchildren, whose parents separated when they were young. Even with one other son living with her, she is still able to support her household’s daily needs with her job as a community health worker.
Some might say they were getting by easily. But when Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) brought massive flooding in the town of Burauen, south of Tacloban City, Elsa lost everything. “When we came back, our house was gone. I couldn’t even locate the plot of land it was built on.”
Elsa, her son and her grandchildren lived in a tent for months before they were chosen as home partners of Habitat for Humanity Philippines’ core housing program. “We had no running water then, no electricity, no bathroom,” she recounts. “We had to dig a hole so we can do our business.”
Elsa, herself, participated in sweat equity, a program that aims to empower homeowners to become partners in development instead of mere recipients. Within a few months, Elsa and her family were able to move into their new home.
“Now we were able to sleep well. We’re more comfortable now, and we already have strong walls and a nice bathroom,” she said. “Best of all, my family is still complete even after Yolanda.”