Filipino mother works to bring typhoon relief to neighbors


Catholic News Service

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Shirley Boco wants anyone who will listen to know that the 1,297 people she represents deserve more attention than they are getting as the recovery from November’s Typhoon Haiyan begins to gain momentum.

A woman and child sit in their makeshift home in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4. According to the Philippine government, more than 6,000 people died as a result of November’s Typhoon Haiyan. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Boco, 33, is captain of the barangay, or local community, in the poverty-stricken Anibong section of Tacloban. She advocates for a larger cash-for-work program so that more community members can clear debris left by the storm. She wants more shelter kits to be distributed to families living in makeshift housing, or no housing at all, in the poverty-stricken community in the western part of Tacloban. Food packs from nongovernmental organizations could include things other than rice and sardines, she believes.

And Boco worries about what will happen to the fragile homes that have sprouted on the shore since the storm: Many probably will be destroyed again as efforts continue to refloat at least one of the seven large ocean vessels washed farther ashore at the peak of Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

People salvaged material to rebuild their homes where they had lived prior to the storm because they had no other option, said Boco, the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 15. People are building temporary housing thinking they may be forced to move again because the government is prohibiting the construction of permanent housing within 125 feet of the shoreline.

“Our people came into our area just to have partial shelter right now because the government has not offered a permanent relocation. Right now, we have to go back to where Yolanda landed,” Boco explained.

At the height of the storm, thousands of Anibong’s residents fled to higher ground by climbing a nearby hill and riding out the storm. People clung to trees for hours until the water subsided. But the danger they faced did not deter them from wanting to stay in Anibong.

As captain of the barangay, Boco aired her concerns to Catholic Relief Services representatives visiting Anibong Feb. 4.

Boco credited the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency for its programs in the barangay since the storm, but she also asked for additional emphasis on hiring people for debris removal.

Although Boco feels city officials had treated the community fairly, she said the services offered have fallen far short of meeting the immense need.

That makes Boco’s regular treks into town that much more important so she can keep the needs of her constituents in front of city officials.

“I go the city hall to follow up on the benefits for the people in our areas. Right now we are always waiting for their command,” she said.

Returning home, Boco sometimes has good news and other times not.

“I say to them we have to stand on our own feet, find some job if ever we can find,” she said. “I worry about all the persons who don’t have a job. We have to get income for survival, to meet our daily needs.”

Many of the men in Anibong are fishermen who lost boats in the storm. Some supplies were delivered, enabling some fishermen to repair their boats, Boco said, but for most, there are no boats left to repair.

Some families who have not rebuilt homes have taken up residence on a few of the cargo ships that were tossed ashore. On one ship, residents painted the message in capital letters: “We need foods, rice and water.”