Sponsor A Noche Buena: Rebuilding Leyte Through “Baskets of Hope”
As a child growing up, I was accustomed to celebrating Christmas every year with my family. Every December, I expected a Christmas tree in our house, gifts, and a table filled with food on Noche Buena. Suffice it to say, Christmas is a compulsory and non-negotiable occasion for my family (and I believe for most Filipino families).
I am no stranger to floods and storms. Having lived in a house near a river, my family was used to enduring floods each rainy season. Some of my birthdays were celebrated while eating sardines (as I was born on the wet month of September). Eventually though, flood water would subside and heavy rains would stop before December and we would be able to celebrate Christmas comfortably in our home.
Last November 8, 2013 a different kind of storm ravaged our country, particularly the Southern Luzon and Visayas areas. Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) left more than 6000 people dead, more than 28000 injured, and more than 1000 people missing (source: NDRRMC). More than four million people are now homeless because of Yolanda’s wrath (source: NDRRMC). Even though the flood water had subsided and the heavy rains had stopped, many Filipinos in the affected areas would still not be able to celebrate Christmas comfortably in their homes.
In the days and weeks that followed Yolanda’s landfall, individuals and groups from the Philippines and other countries gave great amounts of support to provide relief for the typhoon victims. But my friends and I wondered what would come after this? In one month it would be Christmas and it broke our hearts that many of our kababayans would celebrate it with no roof over their heads, no electricity, no food for Noche Buena, and for many of them, no family members. Given that Christmas is an important event in the Philippines and because my friends wanted to make a difference by sharing the gift of Christmas to Yolanda survivors, the “Sponsor a Noche Buena for Yolanda Victims” project [https://www.facebook.com/SponsorANocheBuena] was born.
A day after the community page was launched, the UP Sigma Alpha Nu sorority came on board as co-organizer, whose help was instrumental from the planning to the execution of the project. We were also joined by the Philippine Survey and Research Center (PSRC), Kinetic Social NYC and Unilever Philippines as major sponsors. As we built our community, the following groups also teamed up with us: UP Tomo Kai, UP CMC – ISA, UP Strength in AIT, World Youth Alliance – Asia Pacific, Rotaract Club of San Marcelino Manila and WhenInManila.com.
In the beginning, our aim was to distribute 1000 Noche Buena packages (or “Baskets of Hope” as we called them) to families affected by Yolanda, but due to the overwhelming amount of help that we gathered, we were able to send out 1550 “Baskets of Hope” during the course of the project. Support came from organizations and people from all walks of life and different parts of the globe including New York, New Zealand, and Dubai.
Attendees of the “Shots for Hope: A Night of Giving” fundraising event at the Ugly Kitchen Bar in New York
Our first deployment last December 14, 2013 was in Sagay, Negros Occidental where we gave out 300 baskets of hope with the support of private individuals from Bacolod City.
We also sent 50 “Baskets of Hope” to SOS Children’s Village-Tacloban and to the victims of the PSALM oil spill at Estancia, Iloilo.
Last December 19, 2013, we went with the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)-Sentro to Leyte to distribute 1200 “Baskets of Hope”. Beneficiaries included Brgy. Limbuhan Guti, Tanauan; Tigbao Diit Elementary School Faculty Association (District 4, Tacloban); Philpost workers; National Statistics Office (NSO) workers; Coca-Cola workers; Leyte Electric Cooperative (Leyeco); Bethany Hospital workers; Don Orestes Romualdez Electric Cooperative (Doreco); Brgy. Magsaysay, Dulag and Pepsi workers, Tanauan.
Our group left Manila for Leyte last December 17, 2013 and we travelled by land. We arrived at Leyte in the evening of December 18, 2013. More than one month after the storm, the streets were still dark, the air was still eerie, and the place still had the stench of rotting corpses. The scene was enough to cause depression to anyone who will witness it. There was absolutely no hint that Christmas was approaching. But when we met with the communities the following day, all the depression that I felt the night before vanished. The smiles on their faces and the joy that they felt seeing people like us who simply wanted to share the Christmas spirit with them were contagious. They were very warm and welcoming and there were no signs in their attitudes that they were victims of a super typhoon. We came to Leyte bringing 1200 baskets of hope but we came home carrying so much more- the people’s smiles, songs, laughter, their stories of survival, and the inspiration from all the hopeful Warays that we met.
Tigbao Diit Elementary School teachers receiving the baskets of hope
Handing out baskets of hope in Brgy. Limbuhan Guti, Tanauan, Leyte
With the community of Brgy. Limbuhan Guti, Tanauan, Leyte
The “Sponsor a Noche Buena” project is a testament of how Christmas can bring together people all over the world. For Filipinos, this season is best celebrated with a special meal together with our loved ones. The Noche Buena is the Filipino equivalent of the Thanksgiving dinner. In sharing a bowl of spaghetti with our family, we are given the moment to just enjoy each other’s company and forget all the trials that we faced in the year that passed. By giving some of our kababayans in Leyte the chance to have a Noche Buena last Christmas, we have helped them make the first step in restoring their dignity and rebuilding their lives.
by Kei Obusan
Although Christmas and New Year is already over, Leyte still needs our help in rebuilding their province. This January, our group will give out packs of vegetable seeds to more than 400 families in different communities all over Leyte. Again, we thank all our friends and sponsors for believing in the cause!