CHARIS volunteers and Philippine villagers form a human chain to pass along bags of sand to build shelters for typhoon victims.  Photos: KENNY TAN and GABRIEL LEECHARIS volunteers and Philippine villagers form a human chain to pass along bags of sand to build shelters for typhoon victims. Photos: KENNY TAN and GABRIEL LEE
For seven days, 25 CHARIS volunteers worked alongside victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, shovelling sand and soil into sacks and helping to lay foundations for houses. The Singapore volunteers also built a water filtration system for villagers in Bogo City, Cebu, to help them have clean and safe drinking.

“It was a wonderful experience coming here and helping the people to improve their lives,” said Singapore volunteer Tania Roy.

“It was good to note that despite the language barrier, we are coming together as a community in solidarity to support one another.”

Ms Roy and her fellow volunteers were in Bogo City from Nov 29-Dec 5 working on a shelter-building site that CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore) supports with donations from the Singapore Catholic community.

The volunteers’ work included toiling in the sun forming human chains to haul bags filled with sand and soil.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Visayan Islands in November 2013, it left in its wake a violent path of destruction and devastation.

Most of Cebu’s residents, whose homes are largely made from planks, plywood boards, zinc sheets and other materials, found their homes destroyed. When the storm subsided, basic necessities provided by the mayor of Cebu proved to be insufficient to meet the needs of survivors.

Archbishop José S Palma of Cebu told the Singapore volunteers: “The biggest donation came from all of you [CHARIS], and it came immediately, while government aid took months to arrive.  The support and aid that we received from our brothers and sisters in Singapore provided us with the belief and strength to carry on.”

The house building project, named Caritas Village, is run by The Archdiocese of Cebu’s Relief & Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a group comprising young Filipinos intent on bringing hope to their fellow displaced. They have so far completed 48 out of 150 homes in the village of Bungtod.

RRU has also put in place a “Sweat Equity” programme to promote local self-reliance. Each family in the village would need to complete about 400 hours of house-building after which they are eligible for house allocation through the drawing of lots.

Apart from construction work, the Singapore volunteers also built and taught people how to use Bio-Sand water filtration system, an initiative of CHARIS.

Ms Jaclyn Lawerence, a Cebuano mother of two, shared: “Last time, we got water from the tap and everyone had to queue up to draw water and then boil it before drinking. Now with Bio-Sand, it will make our lives better by providing immediate clean drinking water.”

For more information about CHARIS, visit http://www.charis-singapore.org/

By Michele Tan and Edwin Lim

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