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Keep the faith

/ 12:07 AM December 02, 2014

I am 14 years old and I am from Tacloban. I am just like any ordinary child in the Philippines. But young as I am, I have already faced the strongest typhoon to ever hit land. So let me share with you what has made my childhood different from other children out there.

At around 8 p.m. on Nov. 7 last year, we started evacuating to the nearest school in San Jose, the place where we live. My big brother and father, however, were left behind to guard our house and join our other relatives who were left in our compound.

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The day after, I woke up and noticed the strong wind dragging the door of the room and throwing it back, which made a very loud noise. We prayed the rosary while we held on to the door, keeping it from being forcibly opened by the strong and powerful wind.

While we were doing that, the typhoon grew stronger, with the wind blowing in all directions. The ceiling of the room started falling apart. Finally we let go of the door, and it was forcibly detached by the strong wind.

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It was 8 a.m. on my cell phone. Water started gushing in. I tried to put my younger brothers and the other kids on the tables and chairs beside the window for their safety. But when I looked outside the window, I saw that the water outside was black, and was higher than the water inside the room.

This was when my mother told us to go outside because we might get trapped. I took my little brothers and gave them to my mother. I told her I was going to save myself. I know it sounds selfish, but I just wanted to help my mother so that she wouldn’t be having a hard time saving the three of us.

So I ran for the door and stepped outside, but quickly went back in. The rain felt like droplets of ice painfully poking my entire face. At first I felt like giving up, thinking of all the scariest things that could happen to me. But all those thoughts vanished and I went outside again. I walked in the water holding on to floating tree branches and other heavy debris. I was able to reach a window with iron grills and decided to climb up, which led the other people around me to do the same thing.

I saw a man walking in the floodwaters and holding a child in his arms. I quickly offered to help him by letting the kid climb up the window grills. I was thinking of making my death worth it because I thought I was going to die that day. I thought of saving the child’s life before I die, so my death wouldn’t be useless. As the water rose higher, I felt more hopeless and scared. This led me to pray.

I talked to the One who gave me the chance to live:

“Lord God, please make this typhoon a sign. If this is the day that I would die, then it’s okay. At least, now I know the answer to the question of when and how I am going to die. But if I survive the typhoon, then this just means that this thing that we’re going through is just a challenge, a problem in life that we need to encounter. But after this, I know greater things are yet to come.”

Hours and days after the typhoon, whenever people would meet someone they know, they would greet each other with a smile and ask if their families are still complete. That was the time when there was still no transportation and everyone was just walking aimlessly without any direction, much like zombies.

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People were scattered everywhere, their clothes wet, picking up anything on the road that they thought would still be useful. Despite all the loss, people still smiled, just seeing their families, friends and acquaintance still alive. Although there was this big change all around us, it felt like nothing happened, because I felt strong and I didn’t worry about anything. I knew that God will provide. He didn’t let us die during the typhoon. Surely, He wouldn’t let us die of hunger.

People pity us for what happened. But I tell them that everything happens for a reason. In my own experience, the strongest typhoon that killed thousands of people was an instrument for me to be standing here in front of you now, to be able to realize how the world loves the Philippines, to be given the privilege of attending a photography workshop with a professional and foreign photographer as our teacher, to receive many free school supplies, to know how it feels to express myself through the camera, to have our own exhibit, to host a big event, to have these amazing opportunities that I know not all children can have.

That’s why if there’s one thing that I learned from all those hardships, it is to expect the unexpected. Never underestimate the Lord with His plan for your life, because once you have that faith in the Lord, nothing is impossible. No matter how hard and painful it is, don’t ever lose hope, just keep the faith.

When it comes to calamities, children themselves should be prepared. Children should be prioritized when it comes to safety and preparedness. Because during emergencies, children are the most affected, especially because we have less knowledge of the range of danger that these calamities are capable of inflicting.

As children, we should be aware of climate change. Never underestimate the little things that are affecting nature. We must think before we act. We cannot always get what we want. Let us be responsible with our actions: They may be little but they can be harmful to the earth, just like what happened to Tacloban.

Last year, there was this one time after the typhoon when my father told us to be thrifty and work hard because, just looking at the devastation, it would take an estimated 10 years for Tacloban to recover. That’s why I did everything I could to help stock enough food for our family. But one year has passed, and look at us now. We have risen from the devastation of the typhoon.

As you can see, children are back in school in Tacloban, and things are back to normal—transportation, social life, shopping malls, offices, and, of course, our airport, which served as a bridge for assistance to be extended to the survivors. It is even more beautiful than it was before.

People in Tacloban are really grateful to everyone who helped us—the private organizations, individuals, especially the international organizations like Unicef, who were there with us even before the typhoon, up until now. So in recovering from disasters, I can only say that as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

Don’t worry because help is on its way. Just do your best in everything. Stand up, work hard, be patient, never ever give up, and keep your faith because it is the only thing you can hold on to when all else fails. And when you reach the point when you are already showered with blessings, don’t forget to stay humble. Remember to return to the Provider, to glorify God in everything.

Kiana Gualberto, 14, a spokesperson of Unicef, delivered this speech (with minor editing) last Nov. 20 to mark the 25th year of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the first anniversary of Typhoon “Yolanda.”

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TAGS: Calamity, disaster preparedness, FAITH, Tacloban, Yolanda
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