DRESSED in a white layered tulle gown, she was an image of happiness and hope, a complete contrast of how she felt four years ago after super typhoon Yolanda tore through their home leaving them with nothing.
Hanielyn Caroscos, 25, and her husband Joel, 31, happily announced to the rest of the 19 couples who tied the knot in a mass wedding last week that finally everyone can live with peace knowing that their union is already blessed by God.
Caroscos and the other couples are all beneficiaries of SM Cares Village-Bogo, home to 194 families and 879 individuals, located in a one-hectare lot in Barangay Polambato, Bogo City, north of Cebu.
The mass wedding was part of the third anniversary celebration of the village, which was launched on Nov. 9, 2014, a year after Yolanda wrecked havoc in the northern parts of Cebu including Bogo City.
It was held in the village and was sponsored by the Felicidad Sy Foundation.
There were 60 unwed couples in the village but only 19 were able to register because others have yet to secure all the requirements.
Caroscos and her husband have been cohabiting for nine years and was blessed with a six-year-old daughter Johanny Mae.
That was, however, just the icing on the cake as SM Cares officially handed to the homeowners’ certificates allowing them to live in the village for 25 years.
Each family can live in their assigned house for 25 years, should the primary beneficiary die, one of their children can take over or they can turn over the house back to SM Cares.
“This is the best wedding gift for us and for everyone living here,” said Caroscos in Cebuano.
She said she remembered how hopeless she felt four years ago while seeing how the strong winds brought by Yolanda slowly tore through her rented home wiping clear the area where it once stood.
“I remember vividly. My daughter was only two years old then. I felt really sad and almost lost hope because we were left with nothing. All we had were the clothes we were wearing and some things we brought with us when we took shelter in a neighbor’s home,” she said.
Her husband Joel works for a fishing company and they were renting a one-bedroom house in Barangay Polambato when Yolanda hit their area.
“We were a young family just starting out and then that happened (Yolanda). I was devastated, a lot of us here were.” After the typhoon, a neighbor took them in and allowed them to occupy one of the bedrooms while they slowly recover.
Later, people from Ramon Aboitiz Foundation (RAFI), which SM Cares partnered for the project to help them screen and later build and manage the community, came and surveyed their neighborhood.
“They interviewed us and thankfully we were selected. We were very happy to be among the chosen beneficiaries because it gave us a good place to start over,” she said.
Caroscos and her family now lives in house #17 Rotary St., which they now have made into a two-storey home investing P10,000.
The 200-houses village is the first of four SM Cares Villages in the country.
Each of the beneficiaries were assigned a 24-square-meter disaster-resilient, one-storey house, which can be expanded to two-storey building.
Each unit costs at least P300,000 and was built by professional builders.
Today, the village has its own basketball court, which was donated by a BPO company, and a community center donated by a seafarers placement agency group.
The SM Cares Village-Bogo Homeowners’ Association, aided by RAFI, has also formed a cooperative, which now runs a bakeshop and a convenience store located at the ground floor of the community center as a livelihood project.
Full of life
After the turnover, the homeowners will be left to manage the community on their own.
“I remembered when we just broke ground, all we had were plans and concepts. Now we see a community full of life, laughter, happiness powered by hope, passion and a shared responsibilty,” said Annie Garcia, SM Supermalls president.
Garcia said it was not easy when they started as they faced the challenge of having to fulfill a daunting task of doing something they have never done before.
“This was a vision born out of compassion and has become a patriotic duty. The Fernan family jumpstarted the project when they donated the lot,” she said.
Marissa Fernan, SM Prime Holdings vice president, said she remembered seeing an area, which was just planted with sugarcane four years ago right where the community has vigorously developed.
“I thought, what would one hectare here and another hectare for the school (Marcelo B. Fernan Elementary School) do to our family income? If you look at how it has helped numerous families, it’s very heartwarming,” said Fernan.
“My heart is full because of what I see now. We will be turning over the community to you, please manage the village well. We will still be here but please, 90 percent of the work is yours,” she urged the homeowners.