Swiss Caritas turns over 607 strong houses

FOR island residents bearing trauma from typhoon Yolanda in 2013, strong winds and heavy rains even on an ordinary day are terrifying.

The anxieties of these families in the three barangays of Kinatarcan Island of Santa Fe town may ease after they received last Tuesday the disaster-resilient houses built by Caritas Switzerland, an international non-government organization (NGO).

Caritas Switzerland, led by Swiss Ambassador Andrea Reichlin, turned over the 607 houses to their beneficiaries in Barangays Langub, Hagdan and Bitoon during a program at the Caritas Warehouse last May 31.

At least 218 houses were given to the families in Langub, 269 in Hagdan and 120 in Bitoon.

Preciosa Derro, social housing manager of Caritas Switzerland, said the group spent about P6.3 million for the reconstruction project.

For two years, Swiss Caritas built a total of 1,200 disaster-resilient houses in Barangays Kaongkod, Pili, San Agustin, Kangwayan and Tugas in Madridejos and Kinatarcan as part of their owner-driven housing reconstruction project for the families affected by typhoon Yolanda, internationally known as Haiyan.

Each house is partly made of interlocking compressed limestone blocks, while the other half is made of light materials, such as coconut lumber and bamboo.

The NGO had trained the beneficiaries, workers and community members on typhoon and earthquake-resistant building techniques, certified by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Marcel Reymond, country director for the Philippines of Swiss Caritas, said the houses can withstand winds of up to 200 kph and resist a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

“A lot of organizations were already there (in the mainland of Santa Fe and Bantayan)... We chose to come to the areas where nobody (or NGO) came,” said Reymond.

Caritas picked the beneficiaries in coordination with a community reconstruction committee, who helped identify the affected families.

A team visited the families to assess their income and measure their vulnerability.

Reymond said they consider a family vulnerable if they live with seniors and a number of children; have low income; and lack government support.

Also present during the turnover were Caritas Switzerland International Cooperation head Anja Ebnöther and Architect Jonathan Brigham, technical delegate in the Philippines for Shelter of Caritas Humanitarian Aid Department.

Santa Fe Mayor Jose Esgana, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas head of operations Engr. Ricardo Mendoza and the three village leaders of Kinatarcan also witnessed the turnover.

Caritas also implemented projects for community members who did not directly benefit from the housing project.

These included the installation of 28 solar posts for Hagdan and Langub and a meeting hall for Bitoon.

In Madridejos, a water system was installed in Kaongkod, a meeting hall was built in San Agustin and Tugas, a school perimeter fence was placed in Kangwayan and Pili chose to have power connections along Barangay roads.

In her speech, Reichlin said she did not hesistate to come to Kinatarcan when he was informed by Reymond despite how far Switzerland is from the Philippines.

“Never forget the disappointment (and) all the waiting time. But now you are the owner of the houses, now go (and) please construct your own future... Invest for the future of your children,” she told the families.

To thank Caritas, a few beneficiaries performed a skit and dance presentation.
Reichlin then distributed school material kits to the children.

Indaya Arsolon, 41, a resident of Purok Tangigue, Sitio Dapdap, Langub, said that if not for Caritas, her family would have continued to stay in a hut with only a canvas sheet as their roof and coconut lumber as their walls.

“Dili nami magdagan-dagan kung naay kalamidad. Di nami makuyawan (We will no longer have to run to find a sturdy shelter during a typhoon),” Arsolon said.
Mary Ann Baterzal, 28, is glad that they did not have to pay for a single centavo to get a new house.

They have their own comfort room, she said.

Mayor Esgana said Kinatarcan was not part of the housing project of the national government because of the problem of land ownership.

He acknowledged Caritas as the only NGO that initiated a shelter project in the islet.

For his part, Tribunalo asked the families to plan for their children’s education, to make sure that family members will not be involved in illegal drugs, and fight malnutrition.

Caritas started rebuilding the houses of typhoon survivors in May 2015.

Since all these houses were already completed, Caritas will close their offices in the island and slowly pull out from Kinatarcan.

“I will probably miss the people. Sometimes I don’t feel like it’s work because of these people,” said Reymond.

Reichlin said they have no projects yet in other areas in Cebu.

“We are always ready to support relief situations and emergency all over the world,” she added. FMG
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