Voices of courage
A most fitting way to remember the most talked about Super Typhoon Yolanda three years after is the coffee table book “Haiyan the Aftermath: Images and Stories of Recovery in Samar and Leyte” written by Lucien Y. Letaba. Haiyan was the international name of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Published by the University of San Carlos Press, the book was first launched in Tacloban last June and was launched for the second time at Ayala Center Cebu on Nov. 8, 2016, the third anniversary of Yolanda.
“Haiyan the Aftermath” revisits the most talked-about tragedy in recent recorded history and in a more positive point of departure, by knowing how current efforts towards recovery and rebuilding are taking shape in the areas affected by the country’s worst ever disaster. Accompanied by compelling images taken by the expert lensing of three featured photographers, the book is a fresh attempt at identifying the programs and activities that were undertaken in the immediate post-disaster period while highlighting the recovery and rebuilding efforts by all stakeholders.
The book consists of six chapters covering the various sectors from the local government units (LGUs), health, church, livelihood and enterprise, arts to the local and international non-government organizations (NGOs/I-NGOs) to allow the reader to get an encompassing view of the recovery landscape.
Of the six chapters, I find the most inspiring the chapter on Art that Heals, Theater for Development. As the author says, “Art is the soul’s expression and one of the safest ways to heal invisible wounds” and one better way to address the invisible wound brought by the typhoon is to process the traumatic experiences and facilitate expressive art activities for children and young people in the evacuation centers, schools, and barangays. This is the “different” kind of post-disaster assistance packet offered by the Manila-based professional theatre group Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) through its Lingap-Sining Program. PETA hopes that the project can transform the minds and practices of the different sectors in the community so that safety, preparedness and disaster risk reduction will be a way of life within the context of the communities, barangays, schools and the homes of the Filipino family.
The approach for trauma healing through creative expressions provides psychosocial support and transforms conditions of vulnerability into resiliency measures by the communities affected by the disaster, the author observed. In the end, the barangays may come up with a comprehensive risk reduction management plan to the local officials for as the author quoted Angeles Arrien, “the portal of healing and creativity always takes us into the realm of the spirit.” The chapter describes the implementation of the Lingap-Sining Project, the different phases involved, the initial impact on the community and the challenges faced in this dynamic community building process of creative healing and working together to rebuild what was lost.
Theatre has long been used as a tool for change. Theatre and its many forms are increasingly being recognized as a useful tool for community development. Palo, Leyte, through its Tourism, Culture and the Arts Office shares their unique experience of transforming the municipality as a “living cultural hub” by devolving theatre and, for that matter, cultural work down to the barangay level. The town’s “Comprehensive Plan for Culture and the Arts” incorporate their five celebratory performances which do not only showcase salient historical and heritage pillars of the town but more so has made theatre and culture as effective avenues for discourse and dialogue to discuss burning issues in the barangays.
The performances of PETA and the Palo Culture and Arts Office staged during the Haiyan commemorations have allowed the people to see the stories of survival in a different light. The collaborative work succeeded in putting into play an effective integration of the semantics, culture, psyche, local aesthetics, semiotics of the people in the communities and come up with a performance that people can genuinely empathize and identify with as they hear their own stories in a rather hopeful itch rather than being mocked as tragic victims.
Trainings and workshops were intended to set the direction for making theatre as a tool for empowerment in the communities. Participatory theatre in community development has helped in making people become more confident, articulate and expressive, especially among their peers. It strengthens community cohesion and provides a means for people to express their relationship with their social and physical environment. In relation to a community development agenda, the process encourages groups to work together, give a voice to the marginalized, challenge power structures and be a powerful tool for advocacy, especially in the engaging task of developing resiliency.
The author, a Samareño and a theatre artist, notes that “the book’s literary DNA spins around the inspiring stories, big and small, revealing some inescapable life changing compromises and turning-point decisions made by individuals and families as they lived each day with nothing to cling on but their indefatigable spirit for survival and faith.”
“Haiyan the Aftermath” allows us to embark on a vicarious travelogue of the people’s struggle for survival and hope in the aftermath of a disaster. It invites us to journey with their stories.
The book is available at the USC Museum.
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