Written by Ginger Ramirez
‘The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
People say that Filipinos are one of the most resilient people. Foreigners who come to visit are often surprised by how welcoming and happy we are as a people, despite the poverty many of us experience on a daily basis.
More than two years ago, in December 2015, the Province of Northern Samar experienced the worst typhoon, called ‘Nona’, in about two decades. The Samar island faces the Pacific Ocean and is a seeming doormat for the 20 or so typhoons that enter the Philippines every year. However, typhoon Nona was unlike all of the previous ones.
Northern Samar is in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines and occupies the Northern portion of the island of Samar.
Back then, I heard a story about these women through a religious nun, Sister H, who works with the local community of one barangay (village) in the province of Northern Samar. After the typhoon, many homes, as they were built from nipa palm leaves and wood, were destroyed by the strong winds that ravaged the province. About 500 families sought shelter in the sisters’ farm where they had created a makeshift evacuation center using dormitories and function halls. The farm served as sanctuary during the night while families rebuilt their homes back in their coastal village during the day.
Local women enjoying a community event
A few days after this massive typhoon, the women came to the farm to attend a seminar with the religious sister. These seminars were part of their regular formation and livelihood program and was set prior the typhoon’s arrival.
Sister H, assigned to lead this program, had anticipated that only a few women would come, assuming most would still be devastated by the damage wrought by Typhoon Nona. She thought that the session could help them process and recover from the disaster and so she decided to proceed even if not everyone would attend. However, to the Sister H’s pleasant surprise, what welcomed her that day was nothing like she expected.
These women of the community, in full attendance, walked up the farm’s driveway with the best clothes they had, with make-up on their faces and with beaming smiles. The sister was in disbelief. Weren’t these the women the ones whose homes were destroyed just a few days ago? Weren’t they the ones whose households were drenched in water? The ones who lived in darkness due to loss of electricity and forced to temporarily live in evacuation centers with their husbands and small children? Weren’t they victims?
Once they got to the top of the driveway, Sister H welcomed them and still astounded asked in the local language: ‘Why are you all dressed like this? What’s going on?’ One of the women then spoke in behalf of the group and said: ‘Sister, that typhoon took away and destroyed everything we have. Will we allow it to destroy even our spirit?’ Sister H was expecting to teach the women something during the session but she realized that today, she was clearly the student.
I love this story because it reflects the same invitation to all of us who experience suffering and difficulty. As the Dalai Lama puts it: ‘The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can.’
These women are true models of the resilience, which I believe, is richly embedded in our Filipino culture. In the midst of tragedy, we have learned to stand up, draw out strength and even express ourselves through humor, singing and dancing. Our strong love for family drives us to overcome all challenges to provide a good life for our loved ones.
Catholic churches in the Province of Northern Samar
This also explains, for me, how thousands of overseas Filipino workers are able to overcome living away from their families for an extended period of time. Our strong Catholic faith teaches us how to be grateful for the blessings we have, and how to trust God in our everyday lives.
These women’s strength and courage to face the world with renewed vigor after devastation is something we can all emulate. May we all grown in fortitude of spirit that reflects true joy that cannot be destroyed by any external force. May we, in our own everyday challenges, learn to be resilient, to bounce back, to move towards growth and activate the strength we have from within.