The children smiled again
Cheeko B. Ruiz (The Philippine Star) - December 22, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It has probably been a while since they smiled. Or laughed. Or danced and played, or received a gift. Super Typhoon Yolanda could have been the Grinch that stole Christmas for thousands in the Visayas who lost family and friends, whose homes were destroyed, who lost their livelihood.

But the indomitable spirit of the Filipino proved yet again that not even the strongest of winds or the fiercest of storm surges can put the Pinoy down.

Nikko Aumentado was a picture of joy as he held a piece of fried chicken in one hand and a new pair of shoes in the other. The bright beaming smile on his face gave no indication of the tragedy that barely a month ago befell him – he had lost his father and his home in the storm.

For a few hours on a bright Thursday morning the week before last, Nikko and 59 other young survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda forgot the fury of the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. They ate, danced, played and received cash and baskets of goodies during The Philippine STAR’s annual Christmas party for children at a fastfood restaurant along Kalaw Avenue in Manila.

The children, ranging in age from just nine months to seven years old, come from different areas in Leyte and Samar, both provinces hardest hit by Yolanda. The children’s houses were either damaged or completely destroyed, while several of them lost family members in the disaster.

Nikko’s mother Geneve, a parish worker, says her husband has been missing since the onslaught of the super typhoon last Nov. 8. But she says her kids, especially Nikko, remain hopeful that they would see their father sometime soon.

The death toll from Yolanda is now over 6,000 while the number of missing is around 1,800.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had said that Yolanda affected more than 16 million individuals, with 3.9 million displaced and still staying in evacuation centers.

Geneve says her husband was working in Candahug near the MacArthur Bridge, which was washed away during the typhoon.

“Nothing can describe the pain that my kids and I are feeling right now. But we have to be strong,” she says with a determination to face the future.

Chona Anotado from Tanauan, Leyte almost lost her two-year-old son Wilfred when he nearly slipped from her arm when the tidal waves struck.

“The waves were so huge, we really thought we were going to die,” Chona says. “We held on to the dangling live wires of fallen posts.”

She admitted resorting to looting “because we wanted to survive.”

“We were already very hungry and on the brink of getting sick because of the foul smell caused by the dead bodies scattered on the streets,” she adds.

Chona says they decided to come to Manila for now, until such time that peace and order is restored in Leyte.

Chona’s family and 38 others are staying at the Tent City at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City. There are also those who are living with their relatives in Metro Manila, like Marife Duran.

Marife, a nanny in Manila, was given money by her employers to look for her children in San Jose, Dulag, Leyte after the typhoon.

Marife says she is fortunate that all of them are alive, even if the only thing left of their house was their room which is made of cement.

Marife’s children Almira, 11, and Marco, 9, excitedly tried on the shirts and shorts handed to them by volunteers of Operation Damayan, The  STAR’s socio-humanitarian arm.

We need clothes, among other things,” they chorus, adding, “We are happy for this early Christmas gift.”

Nory Toriano, a native of Barangay Cabacungan, Dulag, Leyte, shares Marife’s appreciation for the party organized by The STAR.

“We don’t expect a happy Christmas with everything that happened to us. But at the very least, we also wish to have a share of the holiday cheer,” she says.

 

Since 1996, The STAR has been holding its annual Christmas party for children. Among those who have participated in previous parties are children of prisoners, newspaper vendors and fishermen.

Meanwhile, a debutante decided to do away with her party and instead use the money to buy goods for Yolanda’s young victims. She joined Damayan volunteers in partying with the kids, multiplying the joy of her 18th birthday by at least 60 times.

“We have no choice but to start anew,” says Salvador Calvadores Sr., who with his six children came to Manila from Hernani, Eastern Samar.

“So an ounce of help from generous individuals and companies like The Philippine STAR would go a long way as we start rebuilding our lives,” he says.

The STAR through Operation Damayan is committed to participate actively in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of typhoon-ravaged areas. The volunteers are planning to return to the Visayas next month to distribute toys and other goods donated by generous individuals, as donations from here and abroad continue to pour in. Reconstruction efforts, particularly of destroyed schoolhouses, will be undertaken next year.

In addition to helping the typhoon victims, The STAR also joined the 4th Regional Public Safety Maneuver Company-Regional Public Safety Battalion 7 as it conducted its 3rd Pamaskong Handog Gift-giving and Feeding Program in Bohol.

With the theme “Kabataan Pasayahin at Pasiglahin para sa mas Mabilis na Pagbangon ng Bohol,” the activity hopes to help the children beneficiaries recover faster from the trauma they experienced due to the recent earthquake that affected Bohol and Cebu.

As the survivors begin to rebuild their lives and start anew, they will not be alone.

CHILDREN CHONA LEYTE MARIFE NIKKO OPERATION DAMAYAN SUPER TYPHOON YOLANDA TYPHOON YOLANDA
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