‘Spoiled’ Ateneans prove naysayers wrong with village for displaced folk

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When a group of seven millennials decided to create a non-profit organization from scratch, a consultant warned them that they might be perceived as “snotty-nosed, spoiled Ateneans” – those who stand for a cause while relying on their parents’ affluence to finance what they believe in.

Others doubt their level of commitment. With so many years ahead of them, why rush into making the world a better place? Family and friends cannot help but ask why can’t they just focus on their chosen career paths and excel in their own fields.

Their generation, some might think, are such lost dreamers.

But after two years since Taguyod Bayan Foundation Inc.’s (TBFI) establishment, the group has managed to build eight disaster-resilient duplexes for the residents of Sara, Iloilo with their own hands.

Why Iloilo?

One of its founding members, James Roman, recalls his experiences working for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) marred by a dead body of a child laden in a dining table by his family too poor to afford a funeral service, by a son forced to steal food from a dead neighbor, and by families sleeping side by side with their pets.

It was his visit in Tacloban, though, that Roman felt the frustration from not helping enough given his resources. The miserable hit of typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in Leyte prompted him to look for more provinces to help. After spending Christmas and New Year there, Roman, with the help of a DSWD colleague based in the Panay region, found a municipality in Iloilo having more than 10,000 families displaced.

With almost all media attention pointed in Tacloban, help is scarce in the province.

“No one from our group came from Iloilo, no one donated any land in Iloilo, and no one even invited us in Iloilo. I just looked at the DSWD data, and decided that this is the province we wanted to help,” he says.

Almost three weeks after Yolanda struck; TBFI used their own money to fly to the municipality of Sara and surveyed the area where they would build a new community. With no land to build on and no resources to use, Roman, Stu Balmaceda, Don Agudo, Mico De Guzman, Lanz Salazar, Miguel Gutierrez and Rich Lopa only brought their desire to bring about hope in a place of fleeting good memories.

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Jack of all trades

It was two years-worth of toll, from collecting funds to participating in workshops. With Gawad Kalinga and Sara’s local government unit, they also conducted workshops as early as the construction period. Being the group’s pilot project, it was difficult to convince companies to donate for a project without having any proof of concept.

“We want to continue the good practice of not using our own money so people who want to join us do not have to worry about spending too much. It’s more of tying things together and doing what we can,” Roman explains.

To turn makeshift houses to sustainable concretes of comfort and security, members of TBFI needed to proxy in all other fields – engineering, architecture, social work, law, research, and even psychology – fields none of them studied for.

Balmaceda, who was Chairman of the Board and graduated with a degree on Interdisciplinary Studies, took a one-year hiatus after college to facilitate the land clearing and oversee the project. Balmaceda stayed in Sara for one month alone and immersed himself with the residents.

“I was not really alone there, I stayed with our partners. We call our beneficiaries partners. With the sweat equity and values formation we got from GK, they were able to help us build their own community through volunteer work. They scythe grasslands with us, and helped the construction workers especially the women,” he shares.

When the houses were turned over to the residents in October 2015, there were no grand speeches. Bread and juice were passed around, along with thank yous and grateful smiles.

At present, these families get to till their own backyard with vegetables; others opened sari-sari stores, while some opted to plop quaint tables and chairs to enjoy the view of the sunset – something that was never lost among the Ilonggos.

With the collective help of everyone from the local government unit to the Yusay family who donated the land, days have become more hopeful for the residents of Barangay Atonio Yusay.

Taguyod Bayan Foundation Inc. aspires to build more houses and provide disaster preparedness modules for families displaced by typhoons. All seem to be far-fetched for now, but the group remains optimistic that more millennials will join their cause.

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