Welcome To Tranquillity
This is Bat-os Island.
It’s about as idyllic as it gets.
Lying in the hammock on the beach I watch the sun set over the turquoise sea, bluer than any sea I’ve seen before. As the night draws in, the sky is lit up by fireflies hovering in the mangroves. If we’re lucky, I’m told, we might even see a seacow.
It’s hard to imagine, as I breathe in the calm air, that a few years ago this island was hit by winds over 250mph.
It’s hard to imagine, as I watch the children jumping in the sea (they love it), that a few years ago the same sea flooded the island.
“We hid in the chapel, but it had no roof so we had to hide under the alter. The rain was horizontal. We were paralysed as if it was the end of our days.”
Yolanda. It’s a beautiful name, I thought.
Too beautiful for the most powerful storm to have made landfall.
As Sussett showed me around the island she told me about her memories of the storm.
“Before Yolanda, I was living in a house made of bamboo and nipa palm roof. It can’t withstand strong winds like a typhoon. We were in a state of panic. A state of shock.
I kept thinking, which of my three children would I save first?
In the morning we all woke up with a high fever. All of our belongings were gone. We came back to get some debris that we turned into a shelter. We stayed in that shelter for a year.”
It sounds cheesy to say I was struck by her strength and determination, but I was.
I’d been told that we were going to meet an amazing woman, but I hadn’t quite expected to meet someone with such drive and enthusiasm having lived through such trauma.
“I was chosen to become a shelter monitor. They saw something in me so they asked me to look after the construction of the new houses. I had to interview other community members and identify who needed housing and whether people could help build the houses in return for owning them.
It wasn’t easy, because everyone had the same story of difficulty.
It was my duty to inspect the materials being delivered, to check they were the right quantity and quality and monitor the construction.”
At Christian Aid we work through partners - smaller organisations who are based in country - and the partner we funded in this case is called ICODE. They’re small but they’re mighty.
After Yolanda they made their way to the most remote and devastated islands they could and started working with the community to rebuild.
They use a model called Sweat Labour - where people who’ve lost their houses can work to rebuild houses in return for owning them. It’s not just about making the best of resources, it’s about giving people dignity and ownership over the properties. Enabling people to contribute and be involved in the rebuilding of their homes.
The community rebuilt their homes stronger.
They build them more resilient to the storms which are becoming a regular occurrence thanks to climate change.
They integrated solar power into the island, using the same sun that makes the water so blue to bring light and power to their homes.
But perhaps, most importantly, they rebuilt the community together.
“Before Yolanda, people here were living individualistic lives. But when ICODE arrived and helped to organise us we realised the importance of unity and community. We’re taking care of each other now.”
It’s funny, the way something so traumatic and devastating can bring about something positive. A glimpse of grace in what seems like an impossible situation.
As the sun began to set again we walked through the community vegetable patch and past a happy row of bright blue houses.
“We chose what colour to paint the houses. We decided to paint them all light blue. We like it, it’s the colour of the sky and it’s the same colour as our church.”
Communities like Sussett's are living with climate change right now.
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