The koalas in San Joaquin

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Saturday, August 2, 2014


IT WAS called the village of widows by some relief workers soon after they were able to penetrate the devastated towns of Samar and Leyte.

San Joaquin in Palo, Leyte had the most fatalities when typhoon Yolanda hit last November 8, 2013.

A mass grave is now in front of the San Joaquin Parish Church. It’s quiet in the morning, but just before sunset, people would start coming to light candles and just sit around graves.

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It was near noon when we went around the mass grave once more, our second visit since two months ago. The aura of sadness was still there, but no longer as intense as on the sixth month after the typhoon on our first visit. I looked around and the mounds of earth where bodies are buried, these now have flowers growing, and the crosses survivors used to mark graves are no longer the haphazard crosses there was before.

As I walked in between graves, one that had flowers growing caught my eye. Amid the flowers was a very faded stuffed toy… it could be Daisy Duck or Donald Duck, I couldn’t be sure. The grave was that of a six-year-old boy. On the cross that had his name written with pentel pen was a tiny souvenir koala bear clip (the type you hang with its arms wrapped around whatever your hang it from).

I found it cute, heartwarming, that the boy’s kin who survived thought of leaving his stuffed toy on his grave and adding a koala clip that looked new.

That was when I noticed that… several other crosses and markers had koala clips.

The koala bears were dressed in vests marked “I <3 Australia”.

It could’ve been left by some aid worker, or a returning resident from Australia. We will never know. But the effort sent out a poignant note that somehow made the horror of the recent past more bearable.

In a huddle with parish priest Fr. Kelvin Apurillo over a project, a man on a motorcycle waved and bade him farewell, after visiting the mass grave.

The man, Fr. Kelvin said, lost his whole family – wife and two children on that day.

The man left to buy food on that fateful morning, was prevented from returning as the typhoon drowned their barangay, and returned to find his loved ones all dead.

At another grave with a marker listing a dozen names, a boy and a girl were lighting up candles and hung around as darkness started to creep in.

Who are the dozen dead persons? I did not have the courage to ask preferring to seek refuge at the heartwarming sight of tiny koala clips.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 03, 2014.

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