‘We must make a continuous, conscious decision to keep going’: the Odette experience, three months later

After the devastation caused by Typhoon Odette, affected families are still struggling to get their life back together

The Philippines has always been vulnerable to natural disasters due to its archipelagic state and the fact that it is surrounded by warm ocean water. While this means the country is rich in aquaculture and aquatic resources, it also makes it prone to calamities such as typhoons, tsunamis, and floods.

In fact, according to the 2018 World Risk Report, the country was noted to be one of the highest-risk countries worldwide, ranking at an alarming third place.

What makes the situation of the Philippines even more dire is the state of poverty among its people. While already one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, the pandemic has caused the poverty incidence in the country to rise to 23.7%, or about 26.1 million Filipinos.

All these factors combined contributed to the devastation that followed when Typhoon Odette, internationally known as Rai, ravaged the Visayas and Mindanao regions.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Odette made landfall nine times as it passed through the country, bringing even more rainfall and destruction than 2013’s Super typhoon Yolanda. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that Odette inflicted over 29 billion pesos in damages, affected 2.2 million families, and left behind a death toll of 407.

That was in December. News outlets have reported on the tragedies, organizations from both the public and private sectors have done what they could to help, and the government has also provided relief efforts to the victims of the calamity. But three months later, the attention has died down, and any news regarding the aftermath is rarely heard.

This does not mean, however, that things have gone back to normal. Due to the extensive damage on agriculture and infrastructure as well as the number of families affected and displaced, it will take more than three months for the victims of Typhoon Odette to get back what they have lost. It is now that help and attention are most needed, when those who suffered are picking up the pieces, and trying to start all over again.

Allianz PNB Life, one of the fastest-growing insurance companies in the country, has continued to extend help by donating over Php 3 million to relief efforts, as well as joining SOS Children’s Villages in assisting these communities. The donation is expected to reach more than a hundred families, allowing them to rebuild their homes and start over.

SOS Children’s Villages is a private, non-government organization that aims to provide family-like care to children in need. Because of its belief that family is what builds a strong foundation in the lives of every child, helping the families affected by Odette is merely an extension of its mission.

Allianz PNB Life’s mission, on the other hand, is to secure the future of every Filipino, not just by offering insurance products and services tailored to their needs, but also by contributing to the community through various programs and action plans. These are principles that make this partnership – and this donation – significant.

One of the beneficiaries, Julia Navarro, came from a small village situated in Mabolo, Cebu. Hers was one of the first communities SOS Children’s Villages reached out to in that area, and she recounted how SOS Children’s Villages had helped them years before.

“We were the pioneer group that SOS chose in this area,” Navarro narrated in Cebuano. “When they first distributed school supplies [here], we were the only ones given in this area. Eventually, other communities became [SOS beneficiaries, too].”

Navarro also said that SOS Children’s Villages helped her family a great deal when it came to their livelihood and education. “[The livelihood assistance] was a big help to us, especially when the pandemic started. We used it as capital to sell goods, and even though we had to stop eventually, it still helped us a lot.”

When Typhoon Odette hit their small village, Navarro shared that she and her family were not prepared for the disastrous aftermath. “There were announcements on the radio, but we did not expect [the typhoon] to hit us this hard,” she said. “Our roof and gutter were blown away by the strong winds, and water flooded our house. We had to evacuate to my sister’s house to be safe…the wind was so intense. We were uneasy. It was like [the house] was swaying back and forth. Then [the winds] grew stronger, and water flooded in [to our house].”

When asked how Odette compared to the rest of the typhoons she had experienced, Navarro said that Odette was the strongest. “It has affected many people,” she said.

Another beneficiary, Ray Fortuna, had been living for nearly 18 years in a house that he built for himself and his family. When the typhoon first hit, only his children were in the house. “I was working that time,” he said. “My three kids were left alone at home.”

“My siblings and I decided to evacuate our house and go to our neighbor’s instead,” his daughter, Aileen, said, relating what was on her mind while the typhoon was ongoing.

“We still had communication at that time,” Fortuna added. “I told them to evacuate and not to worry about the situation of the house.”

Fortuna was only recently hired to work as a security guard, while Aileen works at a business process outsourcing (BPO) company located in one of the business hubs around Cebu. They were saving for house repairs since April of last year, and had started renovating their house prior to Odette, but because of the typhoon, all their progress went to waste.

However, Fortuna is determined to rebuild, even if it means starting over again. “We have to strengthen the repairs so that when the next typhoon comes, God forbid, we will not experience this situation again.”

He also mentioned that he and his family received house repair assistance from SOS Children’s Village. “We will use [the cash assistance] to repair the house. [We think] it will be enough to cover the repair of the house, from the flooring to the construction of the walls.” 

Fortuna said that his family became SOS Children’s Villages beneficiaries in 2017. Aileen, meanwhile, recounted how SOS Children’s Villages has been helping them ever since.

“Assistance was given several times throughout the years,” she said. “There was educational support, [like] school supplies, uniforms. For parents, they have livelihood programs, like vegetable gardening where they can sell their harvests. [For training such as financial literacy or leadership training], my father can’t attend them since he has to work, so I attend on his behalf. [All of it] has been a great help to me [and my family].”

Studies have shown that typhoons, especially in the Philippines, are becoming stronger and more catastrophic. This is because of higher sea temperatures and rising sea levels caused by climate change. As a staunch advocate of sustainability and environmental conservation, Allianz PNB Life is serious in its efforts to help fight global warming.

“Climate change is a real thing that is happening, and we see its consequences every time there’s a natural disaster such as this,” said Allianz PNB Life President and CEO, Alexander Grenz. “We advocate for a more sustainable way of living that can curb the effects of climate change and global warming significantly.”

Through its various programs and projects, such as its bike-riding initiative RideSafe, and its partnership with organizations like the World Wide Fund for Nature, Allianz PNB Life is able to show its deep commitment to creating a greener, more livable world. 

“The effects of Typhoon Odette are truly devastating, and we want to help the Filipinos who are affected by it in any way that we can,” Grenz stressed. “These people deserve to have secure futures, whether it is through a stable home, a strong support system, programs that can help them develop their skills and talents, or even a healthier environment. That cannot be done in just a few months. Our efforts must remain constant, and we must make a continuous, conscious decision to keep going.”

With the acknowledgement that a problem such as this cannot be solved overnight, there is some comfort in knowing that Allianz PNB Life’s assurance of securing the Filipino people’s future goes above and beyond the usual attempts of other corporations.

“Our hope is that this donation, as well as the relief efforts done by our partner SOS Children’s Village, will make a positive impact on these affected families and go a very long way,” Grenz added.

For more details on Allianz PNB Life, as well as the products and services it offers, please visit www.allianzpnblife.ph

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