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Philippines: The ‘buhay’ and ‘bahay’ of Kialyn

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Two years ago, the strongest typhoon ever recorded struck the Philippines with full force, killing thousands and affecting up to 16 million people. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) contributed €30 million in humanitarian aid – a large part of which was dedicated to providing displaced people with shelters.

In the Filipino language, ‘bahay’ means ‘housing’. And ‘buhay’ means ‘life’. These two concepts, with a similar spelling, are obviously related for people in the Philippines.

Two years ago, Kialyn, and her husband, Roel Torayno, lost the ‘bahay’ in which they lived. On 8 November 2013, the ‘bagyo’ – typhoon, in Tagalog language – Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, crossed the province of Samar, where the couple lives. Wind, and above all mud, swept away everything on their path.

Fortunately, the Torayno family survived the most devastating typhoon in the history of the country. Haiyan destroyed more than a million homes and caused more than 6 300 casualties in just three days.

Kialyn, then aged 28, had three young children, 2, 4 and 5 years old, and was carrying a new life inside her. She was pregnant with a girl.

In 2014, the Philippines Red Cross, in partnership with the Spanish Red Cross, German Red Cross, and Finnish Red Cross began their recovery programme in Western Samar province, to provide 2 000 new houses to the families that lost their home because of the disaster, and to repair 1 000 damaged houses. Kialyn, Roel and their children received a shelter – that is a safe place where to find refuge from bad weather, storms and winds.

For most families, the shelters are much more than just a place where to feel protected. They call them ‘nga bahay’, as they are more resistant, comfortable and cozy than the houses where many of them used to live, before the typhoon Yolanda. Inspired by traditional Filipino architecture, these houses have walls of ‘amakan’ (plaited bamboo), coconut wooden structures, concrete foundations and zinc roofs painted red.

During last year, Kialyn's shelter has increasingly become a real house. She has transformed it to make it her own place. The family has divided the construction into two, to create a bedroom. The other room serves as a lounge, where kids can watch television. In one corner, there is a Christmas tree surrounded by stuffed animals. On the walls hang paintings and curtains. The transformation has gone even further: the shelter has expanded, gaining ground on two of its sides, according to the guidance given at the training on ‘safe construction’ given by Red Cross to beneficiaries.

With the enlargement, the family has created a kitchen and, at the other end of the house, a shop ‘sari sari’ – in Tagalog ‘mix mix’, which is how kiosks selling anything from drinks, coffee sachets, soap to candies are called in the Philippines. This new business is contributing to the family's economy as a new source of income. Kialyn says that their house will continue to grow. They want to add another bedroom for their children.

The Toraynos' life – ‘buhay’ – has changed considerably in the last two years: in 2014, their little daughter was born and they found a new way to bring money home.

Yet, just barely one year after typhoon Haiyan, the bitter experience of that disaster was revived by another typhoon of similar proportions. The same people hit by Haiyan suffered the arrival of Ruby, as it was known in the Philippines while internationally it was dubbed Hagupit – a Tagalog word meaning 'whiplash'.

Luckily, Hagupit was lower in strength than Haiyan, but it was also considered a super typhoon which could have wreaked havoc in an area still recovering from the last blow. The typhoon was a litmus test for the houses built by the Red Cross, and confirmed their resistance.

Above all, Hagupit represented a challenge for the people of the Philippines testing their disaster preparedness skills. But Filipinos proved to be better prepared than a year earlier. "The alert was launched in the 'barangay' and we recommended that everybody evacuate and store food. We have learned a lot from the experience of Yolanda," says Kialyn, who can now celebrate life in her new home.