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April 5, 2014

Project Sta. Fe of Tanghalang Pilipino (Part I of II)

This a project that resulted from a meeting with a nun, Sr. Lucila Vasquez, from the Office of Women and Gender Concerns (OWGC). Sr. Lucy informed us that they have a psychosocial project for the survivors of typhoon Yolanda in Sta. Fe, Bantayan Islands, Cebu, and that they are interested to collaborate with Tanghalang Pilipino to conduct drama therapy for those traumatized by the super typhoon. She introduced me to the officers of a local rural bank in Sta. Fe, the First Agro-Industrial Rural Bank (FAIRBANK), a local institutional partner in the project.

The original plan was to conduct a drama therapy workshop for 19 employees of  FAIRBANK who have been traumatized by the super typhoon Yolanda. However, at the last minute, due to some problems in schedules and also out of our common desire to prioritize and maximize the impact of the workshop on the marginalized members of the community who we realized needed the therapy more urgently than the bank employees, it was decided that we conduct the workshop first for the affected mothers/ women and youth of  Sta. Fe. In the end, we were told that we were to conduct a one-day workshop for 29 mothers/women, and another one for 25 high school students coming from different schools of Sta. Fe.

Our first day (March 25, 2014) was spent on informal talks with some women and men on the shores of Talisay, beside the Barangay Hall, where the workshop was held. Immediately, these dark brown-skinned men and women, candidly shared with us their harrowing experiences during the super typhoon, followed by their complaints against those who were delivering the relief goods and other types of assistance. They deplored the favoritism and politicking. They shared that the days that followed were trying moments for all of them. Food and water began to be scarce. They had no comfortable place to sleep and rest. Children were getting sick.

Sta Fe 2

After the informal sharing with the fisherfolk, we also looked around the affected village, and saw tell tale signs of devastation―fallen coconut trees, roofless houses, bancas torn apart, makeshift huts, tents, etc.

going to Talisay

On our second day (March 26, 2014), we took a 20 minute boat ride to Hilantagaan, an islet of Cebu. From a distance, a few minutes before we reached the shore of the islet, we saw more signs of destruction wrought by Yolanda. There was a schoolhouse and rows of houses with no roofs, more bancas torn into pieces, and more fallen coconut trees.

sharing stories

Our guide, Eileen from FAIRBANK, brought us to a small house that still showed signs of destruction and no signs of restoration. We met a group of women who greeted us with smiles. But when we asked questions about their experiences during the storm, their faces became serious and their eyes started welling up. They shared the same experiences of fear, desperation, and anxiety, but eventually also expressed hopefulness that with God’s help, they will soon find solutions to their problems. An outspoken mother, who also had an amazing sense of humor, shared a funny anecdote of rushing to a safer place and successfully grabbing only the underwear of her husband and putting it over her head as her only protection from flying galvanized iron from their roofs. The other stories were like scenes directly from suspense-thriller films―family members swimming together through raging waters, getting separated from one another, hiding from the strong winds inside one house, only to transfer to another one, and to another one as the roof of every house got blown away. Some family members were united with their loved ones in the evacuation center. One family however, anxiously and desperately waited the whole day for the return of the father and his son who went fishing. They did not come home that day. Their lifeless bodies were found in two different areas the following morning.

“I regret ignoring the warning that the typhoon was strong. I thought it was safer to stay in our house. My husband was bedridden. He also had a heart problem. Then the winds came. The typhoon was not strong. It was very strong! In a short while, the roof of our house blown away, then the walls, and everything inside our house, until there was no house at all. There was nothing left. We survived the typhoon. But when things cleared, we did not have food. We did not have dry clothes. My husband’s illness worsened. And then…we lost him.” (Flora Golisao)

This session with the women ended with their commitment to attend the workshop of Tanghalang Pilipino the following day.

The next destination was another sitio which the women in the first sitio described as “malapit lang” (very near). I knew that in the province, this is very common. “Malapit lang” was actually an almost  hour walk under the sun to reach the other sitio. The city-based artists enjoyed the “short” walk just the same, stopping once in a while to either catch our breath or look at some other structures destroyed by Yolanda.

malapit lang

Finally, we reached the next sitio. We met some local officials, including the Barangay Captain. We also met the highest official, a couple of priests, and lay leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipay) doing their own relief operations. We saw 4-5 tents being used by the students as their classrooms. We met the teachers of the high school and some of the students. After a phone consultation with the school principal, who was in another place, one of the teachers assured us that they will send some students to the workshop.

From the islet, we took the banca and headed back to Talisay, to go to another affected area (what is now known as “Tent City”because until this time, four months after the tragedy, they still live in tents) to do an ocular inspection and to meet with the women’s group to get their commitment to come to the workshop. What we saw and heard was much more heartbreaking and depressing. The place and the community members were a picture of a forgotten and ignored people who are on the verge of hopelessness and desperation. They were living in tents and houses made of scrap materials salvaged from the debris of the storm. They lacked food and clean water. Some of the children were sick, with fresh, untreated wounds and obviously malnourished. But, everyone still showed some glimmer of hope. They said they live day by day, and just continue to hope that everyone who comes with some promise of any kind of assistance will actually give some support.

drama therapy with womenThe concerned women leaders committed to attending the workshop the following day.

That visit was more than enough to give us Tanghalang Pilipino artists-teachers what we needed practically, emotionally, psychologically, and artistically, to plan the activities for the workshop. Eileen assured us that the representatives of the other two communities we failed to visit will come to the workshop.

And we went back to our comfortable rooms in our hotel feeling like we needed debriefing ourselves. We rested for a while, had dinner, and discussed our activities for the next two days for the mothers/women and for the youth/students.

Day 3 (March 27, 2014) was  the workshop day for the mothers and women of Sta. Fe.

Some of the women started coming in to register at 8am. By 8:30am there were already 27 participants. Some were obviously shy at the start, but evidently curious, if not determined, to discover what the experience would bring to them. But, there are a couple of self-confident, outspoken, comical ladies, who were instrumental in “breaking the ice”. By 9am, there were already 29 mothers/women in the room.


Photos courtesy of Tanghalang Pilipino


If you wish to donate to the next Drama Therapy of TP, here are the bank accounts:

                            BPI account number 3131-0387-46
                            Vito Cruz, Harrison Branch
                            BPI dollar savings account number 3134-0125-19
TP issues official receipts to donors. Donations to TP are tax deductible.
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