A personal letter by Annette Helbig on St. Bernard, Brgy. Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte
It is a day like any other. Mums are cooking lunch, cleaning house, Dads are at work in the rice fields, and children are playing or are going to school. All high school children have gone to St. Bernard. Everything is quiet in Guinsaugon.
Then, at 10 o’clock an earthquake shakes the area and the mountain crumbles. Within 5 minutes mud and water rushes down the slopes and covers Guinsaugon. Only one boy, 13 years old sees the mud coming and runs, runs as fast as he has never run before, towards the river, his legs are badly bruised, but he outruns the falling mountain. He is one of the few who survive.
Like the mountain is tumbling down, so is the world tumbling down on all those who survive this heartbreaking tragedy. Close to 80 high school children survive in the neighboring St. Bernard. But their families perish. No Mum or Dad to go home to, no more brothers and sisters to play with, no home, no clothes. Only what they carry on their bodies is what is left of the life their treasured. Lush green rice fields, mango, guyabano and coconut trees were the colors in their life. Now there is dirty gray mud where once their houses stood.
I arrived in St. Bernard on Thursday, March 2nd. Hope Worldwide asked assistance from Springboard to help care for the orphaned children. Springboard donated 200,000 Pesos to start the help operation in St. Bernard. We are grateful to BOSCH and Ann. The staff is trained in trauma, shock and grief counseling. The children are devastated. The children are moving in to the shelter for the first time. They feel lost and a bit awkward, they don’t know what to expect. They’ve been told that they are orphans now. It must be ringing in their heads. They look so sad and pale and frightened. How can we comfort them? We give them stuffed and sweet and start to talk. They are still very shy. But here and there we see little smiles.
The next day we go to the river of Guinsaugon. A mass funeral is being held. Ministers from different denomination speak, also one from the Islam. Their sermons are touching. They talk about acceptance and still believe in the goodness of God. They admonish us to look into our hearts to search what we must change. To search for the reason why we live and where we will go. They prayers are intense. Various government officials speak, but not all of them have a connection to the people or understand truly their suffering.
We take the children through the river to the place where once their village stood. They kneel down on the dirt above were there homes stood; they light candles and pray for their loved ones. Many are weeping in pain. We try to hold them and comfort them. We tell them to keep their loved ones in their hearts and to continue to make them part of their lives. All they want is to see them again. “They were my inspiration”, Loretta tells me. She wanted to be successful so that she could look after them. Now they are gone. This is the first time that the children are allowed on the ground of the former village. They are grateful to be there because they wanted to come and bring gifts and little offerings of flowers and food.
I think of my son who is 19 years old. What if he was the only one left of our family? How would he cope? I see three teenage boys hold each other while their bodies shake with tears and pain. This experience has brought us closer together. They start to talk. They tell us about the beauty of the place. How they used to swim in the river. They know when the rice fields are ready for harvest; they remember where the mango trees stood where they picked the delicious fruits. They tell us about skipping school to go running in the fields with their friends, the laughter and the joy they shared. We tell them that we love them and that we want to help them. Little by little sparks of hope enter their eyes. Tiny smiles come and we start laughing together. We take pictures and laugh at our funny faces. Yet much remains to be done. Much time is needed to heal their pain. Much support needs to be given to help them trust and hope for a better future.
Day by day will go by and slowly they will find their footing again. The staff of Hope worldwide will guide them through their journey of healing. They will listen to their stories and encourage them to talk about their experiences. I have seen their genuine care for the children. I am impressed with their dedication.
Hope Worldwide will be with them for at least three months. They will try to find relatives who can take care of them. If no one can be found they will take him or her to the Village of Hope in Laguna.
Help us to take care of these children. Please support us with your donations.
- About 270 families live in Cristo Ray High School, (about 700 people). They live in the classrooms. Sisters care for them. They work untiringly. The sisters are amazing. They work non-stop, steady, peaceful and calm. The mayor is looking after sanitation and garbage collection. All is done every day. Meetings between all concerned parties are held daily; government officials, NGO’s, Barangay captains, the sisters and engineers are all part of it.
- In-kind donations are received, computerized and an inventory is created to show exactly how much is there, how much is used daily and how much longer supplies will last.
- 3000 people have been evacuated from their villages because of the threat of more landslides. They are in other schools. The children are now taught in tents on the school grounds. It is very hot in there.
- Plans for relocations are made. The US marines pledged to build temporary shelters. Things are on their way. But time is at a stand still for those who are in the evacuation centers. There is too much time for thinking not enough opportunities to get busy.
Contact us if you want to get involved in rebuilding their lives.