A group of volunteers and citizen journalists have been documenting the recovery and struggles of villagers in the town of Estancia, Iloilo Province, after typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) left a trail of destruction throughout the region in 2013.
Haiyan was the strongest typhoon in recorded history and killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, mainly on the islands of Samar and Leyte. Haiyan also hit other islands such as Iloilo but the plight of the victims there is seldom mentioned in mainstream media. Most relief groups and foreign governments are focused on providing assistance to Leyte, the ‘ground zero’ of Haiyan; while badly hit towns on other islands like Estancia received little attention or help in the aftermath of the typhoon disaster.
Estancia, located in northern Iloilo, is a fish trading center. When Haiyan struck the region on November 8, 2013, it almost wiped out the fishing boats in Estancia. It also damaged a power barge which spilled more than 800,000 liters of bunker fuel into the water. Unknown to many Filipinos, two disasters — Haiyan and the oil spill — hit Estancia in a single day.
Government assistance arrived but it came too late and proved too little. During the waiting period, residents organized themselves and campaigned for the gathering and distribution of relief. Church groups, schools, and non-government organizations from Manila and other parts of the country responded by collecting donations and other forms of assistance and giving it directly to Estancia residents.
A year after the Haiyan tragedy, many were still complaining about the failure of the government to rehabilitate the damaged schools, health centers, and houses in Estancia. Many residents were also not compensated for the oil spill disaster which destroyed their livelihoods.
Ma. Alejane Carbajosa, a Voices of Hope volunteer, articulated the demand of Estancia residents for justice during the first anniversary of Haiyan:
Estanciahanons still cries for help. Oil spill victims are still craving for justice. But the government is blind, deaf and heartless regarding the sentiments of its people. How could the government let its people suffer from pain and agony?
To help residents cope with post-disaster trauma, several activities were organized such as theater workshops and medical missions. A ‘walk for justice’ gathered more than 5,000 people last November and called on the government to fulfill its pledge of providing relief and cash assistance to Estancia residents. Voices of Hope documented these activities, including the disaster preparation efforts initiated by local organizations in the town.
Estancia continues to suffer from neglect and the government has failed to completely clean up the oil spill close to the town. But the residents there proved that even when government is slow giving aid, they can unite and effectively mobilize to gather assistance from other sources.
The photo below symbolizes the struggle of Estancia residents: Solidarity is a rainbow that inspires people to overcome the tragedies that threatened to destroy their lives.