Exelina Lacoña prays every day and thanks God for her “second life”. “I survived. God must still have a task for me”, she says, looking up at the sky. Today, she can stand in front of her little house and smile again. She proudly shows me the plants she potted, and which bring her a little piece of stability after the storm and its dramatic aftermath.
Exelina and her family live in one of the 100 temporary shelters which are being built by the Philippine Association of the Order of Malta, with Malteser International’s support, for those made homeless by Tropical Storm Washi in December 2011. “It is a very good house, I am so grateful. We lost everything – now, we can start to build our lives back up here.”
Exelina’s voice breaks as she tells me about the day that changed her life forever. Gathering her strength, she recalls that, since she couldn’t swim, she was only able to survive because her husband held her by the feet. But not all in her family were as lucky. The husband of one of her four daughters and three of her four grandchildren were never to be found again. “I pray to God that they are with him now”, she says. “At least I still have Gabriel”. Gabriel is her fourth grandchild, son of the daughter who is now a widow. He too was washed away by the storm – he was found by a soldier three days later, far away from home. “I could not eat anything, and I prayed the entire time, until Gabriel was found”.
A few weeks ago, Exelina, her husband, her daughter and grandson moved into one of the little houses built by the Philippine Order of Malta. “My husband was a fisher, but he lost his boat”, she says. “Somehow, we will have to find a way to make a living, so we can afford to send our grandson to school. But I put my life in God’s hands. I am very thankful for the Order of Malta’s help!”
After we talk, Exelina starts preparing for the bishop’s visit. He’s coming to celebrate mass with the 41 families currently living in the settlement, and to bless their homes – because, although they are just temporary shelters, these homes are giving the families the courage to start over. Exelina takes her flowerpots to the common room and starts to decorate it for the mass. That is her personal gesture of gratitude – to God and to the Order of Malta.
Christine Prokopf, March 2012
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