Gilmer Gilongos isn’t formally trained in search-and-rescue techniques, but when a massive storm struck the island where he lives, Gilmer knew he had to help. He rescued neighbors from the high waters of Typhoon Haiyan and saved lives. He’s one of many heroes who emerged from the tragic storm, which killed more than 6,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than 1 million homes.
Gilmer and his neighbors are still feeling the effects of the typhoon but are building back safer, healthier, and better prepared for future disasters—thanks in part to the American Red Cross.
Land of their own
The storm not only destroyed Gilmer’s home, but displaced him and his neighbors from their land. Before the typhoon struck, they had lived in an informal settlement on a flood plain. After the storm, the landowner did not grant them permission to rebuild on the same spot. It took years to negotiate land tenure issues, but Gilmer and 27 other families finally secured a rent-to-own deal with the landowner: they could build on nearby (safer) land and pay rent for 15 years—after which point they would own their plots outright.
Once land tenure was secured, the Red Cross set its aid in motion: backfilling the land with soil to mitigate the flood risks and paying for the materials and labor for 28 half-concrete homes. The neighborhood is now referred to as Resano.
Gilmer was one of many local residents hired by the Red Cross to help build the homes He used the money he earned to pay for his children’s school tuition. “Red Cross didn’t just give me a house, but gave me the privilege to work on my neighbors’ houses,” he said.
Gilmer moved into his home—which had been constructed according to safety guidelines—in November 2017. By December, a new storm was on its way, but Gilmer felt confident.
“It was wonderful to stay in this strong house during the heavy rain,” he remarked with a smile. “This house will withhold future wind and rain.” Gilmer knows that he may need to evacuate during extreme storms, but is grateful that this one withstood an average amount of rainfall.
Gilmer’s neighbors recently learned first aid and other emergency coping skills from the Red Cross—and even participated in a disaster simulation to ensure they’re ready for the next big storm. Gilmer was impressed by the change he saw in his community and in himself.
American Red Cross work in the Philippines
When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, it claimed more than 6,000 lives in the island nation and damaged homes, bridges, schools, agricultural land and businesses in its wake.
The American public donated generously to provide emergency aid to families affected by the storm, which enabled the global Red Cross Red Crescent network to provide aid such as food, blankets, emergency shelter materials, hygiene items, cash grants and mosquito nets.
Thanks to the donations we received in the storm’s aftermath, the American Red Cross has been able to help survivors far past the emergency phase—to ensure that they are recovering from the crisis and building back safer, healthier and better prepared for future disasters. This includes constructing water systems and community centers, gifting seed money to entrepreneurs, providing funds to help more than 14,000 families reconstruct or repair their homes and much more. See info at redcross.org/Haiyan.
A rich history—and future
The American Red Cross has a long and rich history of working with the Philippine Red Cross. In fact, the Philippine Red Cross was a chapter of the American Red Cross from 1905 until the country’s independence in 1946. When it became an independent Red Cross national society in 1947, we supported the young organization—turning over all Red Cross assets in the Philippines, sending technical advisors and providing funding to help it become firmly established. Since then, the American Red Cross has remained a loyal advocate and partner, sending financial and material resources, technical assistance and/or facilitating exchange visits on a regular basis. Even outside of Typhoon Haiyan recovery, the Philippines continues to be a focus of American Red Cross support.