Gigoso: The Story of A Barangay
Barangay Gigoso is a hidden fishing village by the sea in the town of Giporlos, Eastern Samar. A tiny village in a region that has long been underserved, Gigoso’s people have been getting by with what little they have- the coconut trees and fish they catch Until Typhoon Yolanda took away even the little they had.
On November 21, 2013 Health Futures Foundation, Inc sent out the second Sagip Samar! Medical Response team to bring medical relief to the typhoon affected towns of the region of Samar. The all-female team of volunteers consisting of five doctors, a nurse and a dentist –Nurse Mia Atanacio, Dr. Daphne Villanueva, MD, Dr. Fatima Gansatao, MD, Dr. Tina Cruz, MD, Dr. Frances Bernardino, MD, Dr. Jette Po-Major, DMD, PhD, and Dr. Cecilia Evangelista, MD were supposed to be there only for three days. It became six days as they went through the coastal towns of Samar which were hardest hit by the supertyphoon.
On November 25, after visiting the historic town of Balangiga, they reached Gigoso.
It was the one town where their services were required the least. Not because no one was hurt, but because there only a few people were left.
From its pre-Yolanda population of 1200, only some 200 stayed. The rest had either perished or moved away, many to Manila, for various reasons, to leave behind the trauma but mostly due to the lack of livelihood sources. Out of the 400 the fishing village had before, only three were left. Out of the thousands of coconut trees Gigoso had before, none were left standing.
What struck the group, however, was that those who were left in Gigoso were clearly determined to be self-reliant and not dependent on relief goods. Asked what they needed, and how the team could help them best, their answer was simple. Boats.
They needed boats.
As part of a bigger informal group of friends and acquaintances that include individuals from different walks of life, including not just the medical professionals but an environmentalist, an advertising executive, a lawyer and several entrepreneurs, the volunteers have been able to send medical missions to Samar; coordinate logistics for relief goods, medical supplies and other medical missions to Samar; source and deliver gensets to Capiz tarp shelters and beddings for an Aeta community in Kalibo; obtain at least USD5000 worth of Aquatabs, 100 units of water filtration systems and 14000 mattresses for distribution; conducted fund and donation drives for art therapy packs and teddy bears for the psycho-social rehabilitation of children-survivors; among many others.
With the focus on rehabilitation and its long-term requirements, however it became necessary to organize formally as a non-government unit. The group formed ReMerge, and began with adopting Gigoso as its beneficiary barangay.
As the first step, it launched “Isang Bangka, Isang Buhay” a project aimed at helping the people of Gigoso build new boats, this time, out of fiberglass instead of regular marine plywood, which would mean the boats would cost more but last five years instead of just one. Bigger boats of fiberglass also means being able to fish longer and greater productivity.
Using fiberglass, however, came with a few hitches. Available moulds for creating the boats were only available for 18-footer boats, not the 23-footer ones needed to navigate the waters around Gigoso. It also came with a steeper learning curve, which meant fishermen needed to train so they could train the others in repairing and building the boats.
An initial five 18-footer boats were delivered while developing the moulds for the 23-footer ones. In the meantime, the group has undergone disaster risk reduction and emergency training, while continuing to be first responders in subsequent events.
A year after Yolanda, the coconut trees are growing, and the boats have started coming. The people of Gigoso are still wary, but many of them have come back. The Yolanda story has taught people many lessons, many of them difficult. But if there is one lesson we need to remember, however, it is this: the waves may come, but we will emerge.