Just seven days after my first contact with GOAL, I found myself on a plane bound for Jaro ,on the Island of Leyte in The Philippines.
On the 8th November 2013, at 7am, the region was engulfed by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The Super-Typhoon raged across the island, which is located on The Philippines ‘Typhoon Highway’. It left mass destruction in its wake unlike anything ever seen before.
I have heard numerous accounts from that day. Some of the more fortunate families had built a concrete safe-room onto their traditional timber house. They huddled together and managed to sit out the storm, with their windows and doors wide open to let the hurricane winds pass through.
Although the torrential rain only reached up to knee level inside their houses, they were able to stay safe from the wind. When the severe winds had passed, they ventured out into the once familiar streets that they had known all their lives. They could not believe the damage left by the hurricane.
Most families could not afford to build a safe room. Many lived on riverbanks, on high ground, or in areas at risk of landslide. The families had just 24 hours to evacuate to the safety of school buildings and village halls. Hundreds of locals gathered together as the hurricane hit, not knowing what was happening to their homes, their farms, and their livestock.
"Everything had been turned upside-down within those four fateful hours."
In school classrooms, as the roofs were being violently lifted off, children held on to their parents for dear life. No one knew where the flying debris would fall.
On a calm, overcast day, I first witnessed that which I had only read about in reports. I visited six schools that day as I started my work with GOAL as a construction engineer. My role was to help to analyse the structural damage, and to work with the team to further develop programmes to help the survivors.
Although Jaro is an inland area and was unaffected by the storm-surge, it was the Category 5 hurricane winds of 269 kilometers-per-hour that flattened the lush landscape. The full scale and impact of the destruction was shocking to see, even three months after the hurricane made land-fall. Everything had been turned upside-down within those four fateful hours.
At first glance, I could see that while the walls had stayed strong, about two-thirds of all the roofs in the schools were destroyed. The tarpaulins distributed by GOAL were the only shelter overhead for the children from average temperatures of 34 degrees, and torrential rains.
We quickly developed a strategy for roof replacement using structural steel roof trusses and purlins and galvanized iron sheeting.
GOAL has helped to create a situation where the people most affected by the disaster are the ones who take charge of their own recovery. GOAL trained local carpenters, contractors and welders in an effort to help them to rebuild their livelihoods.
The training and engagement of local workers allows a greater benefit for the many rather than the few. These people have also started to rebuild their lives and maintain their dignity despite having lost so much.
"GOAL has helped to create a situation where the people most affected by the disaster are the ones who take charge of their own recovery."
In the reconstructed classrooms where frightened families once took refuge as the roof was completely torn off before their eyes, children have returned back to a life that is much closer to the one they had before the hurricane struck.
I landed here with a backpack and my passport, but when I have to leave, I know I will have witnessed the never-surrendering belief of the survivors of Jaro.
-Colin Price, GOAL Philippines