by Anjo Bacarisas
In photo: Joselito Tolibas with his wife Jessica at Barangay Caltayan in La Paz, Leyte
“I am blind. But I was the one who saved my wife and my mentally ill brother during Yolanda, as the rampaging waters and howling winds destroyed our house and livelihood,’” Joselito Tolibas recalled.
The eye of the storm
Blind since birth, Joselito shared that he was very afraid when Yolanda came. “Who would not be terrified of such a powerful storm? I cannot see anything but I felt the wind’s power and the fear it brought upon my wife,” he added.
Their house was located in an area of Barangay Caltayan in La Paz, Leyte that was near three small streams. Heavy rainfall caused them to join together and flood Joselito’s house up to their waists, while the winds caused it to collapse on one side. Joselito managed to drag his wife and mentally ill brother from their house to a safe, elevated area about 200 meters away.
He thought he was the one who needed saving, but “it was the other way around. I saved them.” How he did it is not a mystery. His familiarity with the place and tenacity made him one of the unsung heroes during the storm that killed thousands of people.
“I was born here. I live here. My livelihood is here. This is my land,” Joselito said.
His heroic acts did not end during Yolanda. Immediately after the storm, he came up with measures to ensure that hunger would not befall his family. “We cried. Life became harder than ever after Yolanda,” Joselito said. Their main source of income was copra, but with their coconut trees heavily damaged, it was no longer a feasible option.
Jessica, Joselito’s spouse, said that it was fortunate that two of their livestock animals managed to survive the typhoon. This gave them a head start in rebuilding their lives. “We sold our pigs for a loss, but we used the PhP 7000 (around $159) we got to explore a new livelihood,” she shared. That alternative was planting rice to nearly 200-square meters of land. It was small-scale, but it was enough to provide for them.
“We were unsure of whether the relief goods would continue to come in. We had to do something if we did not want hunger to overtake us,” Joselito said. He added that the rice, which they harvested earlier in March of this year (about four months after Yolanda), helped sustain them. They also planted root crops like sweet potato, cassava, and other vegetables to diversify their food sources and make them less vulnerable in the next disasters. “As long as we could eat three times in a day, we were happy,” shares Jessica.
Joselito mentioned that the income from the sale of his livestock would have been spent on building a new house were it not for ACCORD and CARE’s assistance. In partnership with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the Dutch Cooperating Aid Agencies (SHO), and the United Kingdom’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), their community received cash grants along with shelter repair kits composed of materials such as corrugated sheets, hammer, and specialized nails.
He showed that his condition is not an impediment for him to strengthen his family’s resilience. “I led the members of the bayanihan group that helped rebuild my house. Yes, it was hard, but I wanted to contribute and do my part,” Joselito shared.
They also appreciated the Build Back Safer techniques taught them as part of the shelter assistance, such as the use of metal straps to tie down their house bottom-up. Jessica says, “We can now sleep tight even if the rain is pouring hard. We believe that our new house will withstand future typhoons better than our old one.”
Eyeing a Better Future
The couple is now excited to participate in their barangay’s livelihood groups. “Work will not be as hard when everyone pitches in,” says Jessica. Joselito chimes in, “More so when you have someone you love helping out.” Indeed, Jessica not only tends to their crops, but also serves as Joselito’s eyes when they attend trainings and general assemblies.
They have been together for three years. When asked what made her fall in love with Joselito, Jessica shares with a smile, “Medyo gwapo (kind of handsome), a good cook, and he knows how to fend for himself.” Joselito seems positively thrilled.
The future looks brighter. No matter the challenges, they will be together to complete each other.