The things Elder Ian S. Ardern of the Seventy saw in the days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines “will linger in my mind much longer than I want them to,” he said.
He wondered how storm victims could rebuild after such a catastrophe. Then he saw a local man standing on a street in Tacloban. He had a discarded piece of wood and a hammer. He was pulling an old nail out of the wood. “I thought, that is where you begin,” said Elder Ardern, a member of the Philippines Area Presidency. “That is where these Filipinos will begin. They will begin one nail at a time.”
And that is exactly how recovery has taken place — with the help of the Church — in the province of Leyte, one of the hardest-hit areas.
Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy presided over graduation exercises on May 28 in Ormoc and May 29 in Tacloban for 620 carpenters who are building shelters, as part of a Church program following the disaster.
The ceremonies were held six and a half months after Typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda by locals, struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, destroying more than 1.1 million homes. The deadliest typhoon on record in the country, the storm left more than 6,100 people dead; injured 28,000; and displaced 4.1 million. Some 1,785 people remain missing.
Tony San Gabriel, area manager for self-reliance in the Philippines, said after Typhoon Haiyan the Church immediately set programs in place to provide relief and help members rebuild, restore and retool. “We thought, ‘How do you teach self-reliance to a people who were ravaged by a perfect storm?’ ”
They began by helping the some 3,210 members who lost homes in the disaster rebuild. Working with the local self-reliance center and with the Perpetual Education Fund, local members entered a Church-sponsored vocational program training them as carpenters. The Church also helped them obtain basic tools.
Each trainee built his or her own house — about 12 feet by 12 feet in dimension — and nine more homes. At the graduation ceremonies they received a trade certificate that leaders hope will help them qualify for some of the 250,000 construction jobs available in the area.
“We married the opportunity for livelihood and the need for shelter,” said Brother San Gabriel. “It was a magic formula.”
Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy and president of the Philippines Area said the shelter and carpentry graduations were a celebration of Filipino resiliency. “The typhoon may have damaged many things but never the Filipino resolve to rise above the challenges around him. Many things have been accomplished after Yolanda. We will continue to serve our brothers and sisters as we follow the teaching of our Savior, Jesus Christ, to help others.”
Ricky Gonzalez and his family took shelter in an LDS meetinghouse when the typhoon struck. “We knew we needed to help one another so that the building of shelters can be completed quicker,” said Brother Gonzalez, who is a master carpenter tasked to help others learn the skill.
Elder Ardern said the Church is doing more than just building shelters through the program. “We are building people,” he said.
Tacloban Philippines Stake President Richard A. Abon agreed.
“Today is a celebration of happiness and a brighter future ahead,” he said.