A local hero emerges after Typhoon Haiyan

By Jen Hardy
Catholic Relief Services

Even the richest country in the world has trouble recovering from a major natural disaster, as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy demonstrated. So it’s no surprise that the same story is playing out in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit on Nov. 8 of last year. It was the strongest recorded storm to ever make landfall on this nation of islands.
Ric De Veyra and other volunteers like him are helping families pick up the pieces in the wake of the storm and amid what sometimes seems like hopeless bureaucratic gridlock. He has volunteered many unpaid hours and sacrificed time with his family to help his neighbors get housing and other essentials lost in the storm.
$50 million was donated to Catholic Relief Service (CRS) for relief and reconstruction efforts after the typhoon struck. CRS has committed to supporting 100,000 families — about 500,000 people — with shelter, living supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene, debris clearing and income recovery. Catholic Relief Services is focusing on Palo, Tacloban, Ormoc and eastern Samar and recovery is expected to take three to five years. 
“CRS has been working hard to help rebuild communities after Haiyan, but it’s only with leaders like De Veyra that residents can find hope, purpose and resolve to rebuild their lives better than before,” said Anna Hrybyk, CRS program manager.
“When the wind quieted, I looked outside,” De Veyra said of the night of Haiyan, which he spent in an elementary school evacuation center, away from his family. “I saw no more houses, no more grass. I didn’t know what to do, where to start, not only for my own family, but for all of my neighbors too.
De Veyra, 30, had just been elected chairman of his “barangay,” or community, when Haiyan hit. That’s why he stayed in the elementary school the night of Haiyan: He didn’t want to leave his constituents, even though his family was in a different evacuation center.
“Everyone in the shelter was so afraid, I couldn’t leave them,” he said.
The sitting barangay chairperson had gone to Manila. So although De Veyra had not formally taken office, he found himself in charge of a community that seemed rudderless while facing the most difficult challenge in its history.
“My first thought was to find food. I walked to Palo looking for help, then all the way to Tacloban,” which is more than three hours away, he said. “I found food that would have been enough for my own family, but I had nearly 100 families to feed. I knew that to feed everyone, we had to clear the road. And so we did. Three days after the storm, everyone took the tools they had found and began clearing debris and downed trees by hand. The next day, relief food finally reached us.
Next, De Veyra sought emergency shelter from CRS. The tin and palm fronds families had salvaged and cobbled together for roofs were no match for heavy tropical rains. CRS provided tarps and long-term help in building new homes. 
Eighty-seven families needed such shelters. De Veyra told CRS that his home would be built after his neighbors’.
“I wanted to make sure my neighbors got the best houses in the fastest possible time,” he said. “It didn’t matter if people voted for me or not. We all needed safe and dry places to sleep.
De Veyra and his wife Evelyn moved into their new home in July. It was the last to be completed in Cabarasan Guti. De Veyra plans to add an indoor kitchen as soon as he can save enough from his bicycle rickshaw business to buy materials. 
“After Haiyan, there were times I couldn’t see my own family,” he said. “It took all of my time to get goods and food for the whole community. 
“I would walk to Palo every day looking for help. I give all credit to my wife for the success of our barangay. She is the one who helped my sons forget their fear of the storm by playing with them, telling them stories, coloring and talking with them. I knew I could focus on getting help for everyone because she took care of getting help for our boys. I’m so thankful to CRS and my neighbors, but I am most thankful for her,” he said.
Hrybyk said De Veyra’s leadership was a big reason why CRS chose to build their first shelters after the storm in Cabarasan Guti.