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Filipino typhoon victims still suffer a year later: ask Canadians to help reduce climate change

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Shelter without a livelihood 

Every Tacloban resident has a story to share about Yolanda.

“My family and I were spared by Yolanda. But she was very angry,” Esperas says smiling, referring to the tropical storm as a person.

“We talk about Yolanda as if it was a woman… we try to talk about it lightheartedly,” the chatty tricycle driver tells me. 

Esperas is the connecting thread between these stories. He keeps his ear close to the ground because of his work, but also because he’s a people-person, having once run for municipal politics. 

I meet Felisa Oñate and Rosela Diaz through Esperas. They are a mother and daughter duo living together in one of the temporary bunkhouses provided for by the government. 

On a smoggy, humid day, the bunkhouse residents swarm into a common area – waiting for their names to be called to see if they are on the list for permanent shelter slated for December.

Oñate and Diaz are not.

Both are too shy to introduce themselves on-camera. “You go first,” they both say to each other, blushing. 

Asked how long they lived in their former house, Oñate gets up, overwhelmed, leaves the camera frame and hides behind a curtain. Diaz explains she’s 39 and has lived there her whole life. Her parents had the house for at least 42 years.

They ran a sari-sari store in their home, a common way of making a small living in the Philippines. It’s a little convenience store, often located in the front of one’s home. People sell beverages, snacks, cigarettes and other miscellaneous household needs like cotton balls or cooking oil.

“We’re prohibited from selling here because they say it might cause chaos,” Diaz says.

Diaz and Oñate frown at the thought of losing their independence.

They describe how they receive food the 15th and 30th of every month – which consists of a “knapsack’s worth” of rice and coffee. They used to get sardines and instant noodle packages as well, but not anymore.

But the two are proud of the okra and string bean crops they grow in the communal garden. “We eat this with rice, and sometimes we barter the rice for dried fish from locals,” Diaz says.

Felisa Oñate and Rosela Diaz tend to their crops, which they eat with small rations of rice the government gives them every two weeks.

Others haven’t seen a cent

On another boiling hot day, Esperas takes me to his own neighborhood. 

His small, elevated wooden house withstood the storm. Including his parents, wife and children, the family of nine are only separated by curtains.

“It’s the kitchen, living room, bedroom… three-in-one,” he says jokingly.

Esperas says he moved his 82-year old mother, who uses a wheelchair, two days before Yolanda came. She swam to and held on to the railings of the stairs of his cousin’s house the day the typhoon hit. 

His elder neighbor, Winefreda Ponce, 60, was not as lucky. She lost two children and four grandchildren to Yolanda. Her grandson, Cesar, is the only surviving grandchild. 

Winefreda Ponce, outside her house, explains how she hasn't received any sort of help from the Philippine government.

Ponce used to make ends meet by renting out a room in the upper floor of her house. Haiyan blew off that whole floor.

Recalling that fatal day immediately brings tears to her eyes.

“We were holding on to the roof when these big waves and strong winds were bellowing,” explains Lilibeth Makabiquil, her daughter-in-law. 

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