‘Yolanda’ and a dying father’s wish
I REMEMBER the days. Glued to the television screen, I was struck by the scenes of devastation and then dumbfounded that essential aid was not reaching survivors on time or as needed. Survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Leyte describe the same situation two years later: Government simply cannot match the private sector’s profuse aid and attention with action and performance.
To be sure, so many human interest stories have come out of Yolanda. These tales of compassion will be retold decades from now in this age of interconnectedness, by a people whose dignity and human life have been affirmed by unknown volunteers armed only with the singular purpose of uplifting their lives at a time of great desolation.
Such was the case of the Palaña brothers, Noe and Joma. So typical of today’s in-migrating Filipinos, both were born in Quezon City even though the family’s Chinoy roots come from Tolosa, Leyte, some 24 kilometers south of Tacloban City. A branch of the family had moved to Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao in the 1960s where they had established themselves in the grocery and hotel business.
The 86-year-old Palaña patriarch Antonino was in Tolosa at the time Yolanda made landfall. “He was bedridden due to a broken hip. We had to go to Tolosa to check on him. On our way, we saw the destruction and the helplessness of the people,” Noe, a Makati-based professional, now recalls. “Our father told us to do whatever we could to help the town.”
And that was how Tindog Tolosa (Rise Tolosa) was born. It was Nov. 13, 2013. Yolanda had struck on Nov. 8. Two months later, on Jan. 9, 2014, the widower Antonino Palaña passed away.
With the two sons buckling down to work, the deathbed wish was not only realized soon, it came to be known in the same term of endearment a dying father had asked of them. The movement came to be known thereabouts as “Tito.”
“We did not think of coining a name. Some volunteers had started to call me tito (uncle); a friend suggested we adopt it,” Noe relates.
From a dying wish, Tito evolved into a multipronged project that aims to rebuild lives not just for the present but more so for the future. It now has three active components strongly anchored on self-help principles: Construct One House, One Boat Afloat, and Consumer Cooperative.
Today, a number of storm-proof, earthquake-proof, termite-free houses had been turned over to beneficiary families. Everything was done in the spirit of collaboration—international volunteers, skilled workers and beneficiary families all worked together, ensuring a cost-efficient process.
One Boat Afloat has equipped Tolosa fishermen with 11 24-foot fishing boats powered by 16-horsepower, brand-new engines. To endow recipients with a sense of ownership of their houses and boats, they are asked to pay half of the total cost. Here is where Tito’s twist comes in. Their monthly amortization goes to another Tito project, the Iskolar han Tolosa, an educational assistance fund for their children.
“An important factor for selecting a beneficiary is that one of the children should attend and finish college or any vocational technology course, so that they may later provide assistance to their own family,” Noe explains.
Younger brother Joma is the point person for the Consumer Cooperative. The Tindog Tolosa Consumers Cooperative (TTCC) has two components—a savings association and a community store. The savings association, says Joma,
encourages people to save by providing a savings facility in an area where there are no banks. It is also a means for mutual help, letting people automatically pool contributions to aid families in case of death or emergency. On the other hand, the community store provides for wholesale
buying so that members can get basic goods at cheaper prices. The tax-exempt privilege of the cooperative further brings the commodities’ prices down.
TTCC assists in providing training and access to capital, so that members can have their own livelihood projects. It also facilitates the market demand for the goods produced. Aside from lowering the members’ expenses and increasing their income, TTCC aims to stimulate economic activity in Tolosa, fostering a cycle of economic progress. In the end, “TTCC hopes to give the people a sense of optimism and solidarity, to encourage them in their struggle to lift themselves out of poverty,” says Joma.
The brothers are also encouraging what they call “voluntourism.” One volunteers for Tito and gets to tour some of Leyte’s and Samar’s scenic places like the San Juanico Bridge, Kalanggaman Island off Palompon, or cross the channel for the magnificent rock formations of Marabut and the Sohoton cave complex in Basey, both in Samar. William Xie, a civil engineering student in
Sydney, calls his Tito experience “life opening.” “We had a lot to learn from them—their trust in God,” he says.
“We only want to give them back their dignity,” Noe now affirms with conviction. “We were inspired by Pope Francis’ call to help the poor and the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. When we help a family in Tolosa, we actually help the whole community because these people also help other people.”
Noe Palaña can be reached for inquiries and donations via mobile at (+63) 999 883 4846 or by visiting Tindog Tolosa’s Facebook account www.facebook.com/tindog.tolosa.
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