In the stark, dark early morning of December 17th, 2011, heavy torrential rains swept through Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities in the island of Mindanao. With the rains came landslides, logs, debris and mud that broke through concrete homes and bridges while families were fast asleep on a Friday evening. Without warning, waters rose to levels unimaginable while currents separated children and grandmothers, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. Communities greatly affected were those villages found by the river….even heavy duty bridges collapsed with the strength and fury of mother nature.

This was Tropical Storm Washi (Codename “Sendong” in the Philippines), a tropical storm that hit a province that historically has never been hit by a typhoon in the past. Loss of life totaled close to 1,500 people, those who survived only had trees tops and logs to hang on to; no homes to go back to, neither any belongings to claim. The local government of Iligan City was totally unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude.

Within 3 days, our team was on the ground headed by Don Ramon Prieto, a member of the Order of Malta Philippines and Msgr. Esteban U. Lo, LMRD, Magistral Chaplain, Order of Malta Philippines with our Executive Secretary, Ms. Cecilia R. Piñones, and other staff, Dr. Perla N. Alban and Christopher A. Cabalquinto, Dr. Melgabal Capistrano (vacationing at that time in Manila from Myanmar) of the Malteser International and two volunteers, Gleen Cagatan and seminarian, Bro. John Erick Villa. The team brought disaster relief goods, medicines and food supplement for both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, distributing to about a thousand families. AmeriCares Foundation airlifted a ton of medicines and medical supplies for the disaster in addition to a grant for relief goods like blankets, water containers, mats, hygiene kits and undergarments. AmeriCares also sent a 40 footer container of food supplement.

After final assessment of the ground situation, the Order of Malta together with partner Malteser International and the Diocese of Iligan, decides to embark on the most immediate need – building homes for the displaced populations. There were no alternative areas for relocation and the urgency of decongesting evacuation centers (mostly schools) was greatly expressed by the city government. The Order of Malta/Malteser International is the first organization that constructed and finished 100 wooden, single, detached temporary shelters for 100 families. Formal blessing of homes was held last Friday, the 20th of April, after a thanksgiving mass celebrated by the Bishop of Iligan – Most Rev. Elenito Galido, D.D. The Order of Malta children’s choir sang their hearts as they sang songs of praise.

In this Village, we are not only building homes, we are building communities. A community where one can heal wounds, where one can make new friendships, where one can find solace and peace, where one can regain dignity in their hour of total loss and grief. In this village, we hope to restore new life to those who have lost everything, we provide psychosocial care especially for our little children. We are helping the community organize day to day shelter management structures; we are providing disaster risk reduction trainings and have conducted camp management trainings for local authorities and civil society organizations to learn from. Support has also been provided for family reunifications.

We have moved on to the next phase – providing the community with knowledge and skills for capacity building to enable and empower our brothers and sisters to start life anew. The children play with kites, have story telling sessions; coloring books and crayons are found in their little playroom. A three (3) month feeding program has started; prayer, formation and catechesis, has also been integrated in day to day life to form the psycho-spiritual aspect. There are more smiles, there are bigger smiles!

Can something good come out of something bad? See the miracle of collaboration at Barangay Luinab!

….The miracle of caring and action in its finest form.

….The miracle of hope in the midst of an unexpected storm.

….The miracle of grace to have accomplished all that we have is the miracle in itself! (Doña Maria del Carmen Carag-Harada, Member – Order of Malta Philippines)

Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta

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