This is the story of what life was like growing up in the Philippines where Typhoon Hiayan/Yolanda made landfall. Written by one of our co-founders, herself a native daughter of the Visayas, recalling the simple beauty of her childhood in the tiny fishing village of Guinob-an, in Eastern Samar, Philippines during the 1970's when there was no electricity, no running water and people lived a life of fishing and coconut farming. It is an emotionally charged memoir of a way of life in a part of the world that, until recently, had not changed much since her childhood.
The youngest of twelve children and the daughter of a native fisherman, Lorena Llevado raced down to the beach every day to meet her father when he would return from the sea. She would regularly walk with her mother up into the jungle to the family coconut plot and sometimes clamber into guava trees on the forty-five minute walk to school to gather snacks for the day.
Life turned adventurous when the war between the Philippine military and communist insurgents came to town, forcing the family to evacuate to remote Homonhon island where they lived purely off the sea and land for a year.
On the morning of November 8, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (International Name Haiyan) hit the Philippines and destroyed thousands of towns in Samar, Leyte, and the Visayas. My hometown of Guinob-an, Eastern Samar, was directly in the path of the storm. Almost all of the 230 families in our village became homeless overnight. All of our fishing boats were lost, and the coconut trees that provide for so many aspects of our lives and had provided respite from the tropical sun and character to the land for eons were gone. Only a skinned, ravaged, post-apocalyptic landscape remained.
From the minute the storm hit, fellow Filipinos and friends of my country from around the world came together to help provide relief and start us on the journey to recovery. My husband Michael, his son Patrick, and I have been a small part of a heartfelt global effort, much of it carried out by Filipinos living outside the disaster area, along with other ordinary people, to deliver rice and medicine, to help with shelter needs, to provide seeds, and to replace boats that were lost. It is an effort that will continue for years, and which now defines our existence.
This horrible tragedy caused me to feel a renewed sense of how precious and meaningful it was to be growing up in Samar in the 1970s and 1980s when we lived a life much as it had been lived there for hundreds of years previously, close to nature, closer still to each other, without any of the conveniences or confusion of modern life. I had always appreciated that childhood -- now I treasured it.
We need the help, the love, and the good will of the world if we are to survive this and recover from it. I found myself wanting to share what it means to me to be a native daughter of this once beautiful, and now horrible ruined, land. I feel that if you could know who we are and what we lost, you would want to help us build it back. And so that became my mission, expressed through this little book -- to help others know what was lost on November 8, 2013, and what we are trying to rebuild.
I am forever deeply, deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and support from people of vastly different cultures around the world. To those who have reached out to help, thank you. And to all those who are reading this -- thank you, because each purchase helps us rebuild boats, plant seeds, rebuild homes. Our is a very small piece to a very large puzzle -- but together with thousands of others who are doing the same kinds of things, we are making a difference, and you are part of that.
While I have written this to help others learn about us, I have also written it to help remind my fellow Samarenos of what we share, knowing that this small story is not just my story -- there are hundreds of villages like Guinob-an, and tens of thousands of sons and daughters of Samar like me. I hope I have remembered it well and that if you read it, you will be reminded of your own town and your own stories, and feel the same pride in our people and way of life that I feel.
I want to thank my husband Michael for pulling this story out out me, and his son Patrick for working on it so hard as an editor and art director. This has truly been a family project, and is something that I would have never taken on with support from Michael and Patrick. Michael has always had a deep curiosity about Samar, and an affection for it. When he and I first met he asked questions about my childhood, my family, how I grew up, what it was like, and listened to my answers, then asked more questions, always digging deeper to get me to explain more. He believed there was something special about the way I grew up at a time when I still took it for granted, and his loving respect for our lives and our culture is one of the big reasons I fell in love with him. Patrick has inherited that same curiosity and compassion from his father, and he has been a big part of making this book a reality.
I want to thank all those whose photo illustrations have helped bring the story to life. A complete list of photo credits can be found at the end of the book.
Finally, I would like to thank every one of you one more time for giving hope to me and others like me. Your love and support means everything. To see how your support is making a difference, and to learn more about what we are doing along with others, please visit www.transformrelief.org and www.daughterofsamar.com.
Lorena Llevado Sellers
January 1, 2014