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Tacloban: A City Under Construction

Construction workers were rebuilding structures at almost every turn and at all hours of the day. Men worked by lamplight around 9 p.m. on a Sunday in Tacloban.

Some buildings were outfitted with temporary fixes. Tarps and plastic lean-tos shielded roofless buildings from the rain.

Workers construct permanent housing.

Workers construct permanent housing for displaced victims of Typhoon Yolanda. Many workers are displaced victims themselves, putting in required hours to obtain housing. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

The United Nations Refugee Agency, known by the acronym UNHCR, provided core relief items like blankets and tarps for Filipinos who lost their homes and possessions immediately after the storm. They showed us around three different areas of the city.

The first was a group of temporary bamboo homes. The second was a development where displaced people would be able to eventually obtain permanent housing. Only 50 of the hundreds of planned units were finished and ready for families to move in.

The third location was a part of the city nestled right against the ocean’s shore. Large ‘No Build Zone’ signs hung over homes that had been patched together in any way possible. The government had deemed the area too dangerous to inhabit, but families wanted to return to their old homes nevertheless.

Still other parts of the city were already reconstructed. We stayed in a hotel room near a fully operational mall. Many shops were bustling and school appeared to be back in full swing, as uniformed children were out and about on their lunch break at midday.

Children at a temporary housing location.

Children at one of the temporary housing locations cheered and smiled for the camera. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

And although Tacloban looked very different from Manila and Olongapo, the people we met were just as friendly and kind.

Inside the temporary housing camp, a busload of elementary school children yelled “hello” in cheerful voices as we passed by.

People smiled and laughed whenever they spoke to us. Even when responding to difficult questions or recalling painful memories, the local Filipino people have often been armed with a slight chuckle.

Cecilia Jimenez

Cecilia Jimenez, an attorney working with the Commission on Human Rights, and Keneath Bolisay, an external relations associate with the UNHCR, focus on providing advocacy and services for refugees of Typhoon Yolanda. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

Keneath Bolisay, an external relations associate with UNHCR, said one thing he’s noticed working in Tacloban is the strength of Filipino resilience.

“It’s really about their resilience and motivation to get back on their feet and keep moving forward,” Bolisay said.