Rebuilding Albay’s Shattered Dreams

(Orendain & Associates, published in Manila Times- January 06, 2008)

LEGAZPI CITY, Albay — Tears stream down her cheeks, but typhoon victim Rebecca Potentado is smiling. After almost one year of painful waiting, she can now help finish building houses not only for her family, but also for many other Bicolanos left homeless when super typhoon Reming ravaged the Bicol region on November 30, 2006.

(Click image to enlarge)

Armed with newly learned skills from cement manufacturer Holcim Philippines’ seven-day Galing Mason basic masonry skills training program, 49-year-old “Aling” Rebecca says her priority project is to fast-track construction work for her new house. The local government and various local and international civic organizations awarded her a basic unfinished structure in the Taysan Resettlement Area which she will proudly finish, applying her freshly acquired masonry techniques. After that, she says, she will assist her neighbors in building their own houses.

“The ‘galing Mason program is a brainchild of Holcim Philippines and it has become our flagship corporate social responsibility program. This is Holcim’s way of giving back to the community what we know and we have as a construction materials manufacturer,” says Ian Thackwray, Chief Operating Officer. Apart from training, the ‘galing Mason program also has the Galing Mason Olympics which showcases masons’ skills in various levels of competition and the Galing Mason Award which recognizes exemplary masons.

“Aling” Rebecca was among thousands of Bicolanos affected by the strong winds, heavy downpour, and mud rush brought by typhoon Reming. Barangay Padang where she, her husband, and their five children used to live, recorded the biggest number of casualties among villages in Legazpi City.

As if watching their home get buried under deep mud was not painful enough, the family, like their neighbors, had to endure almost a year of living in tents and makeshift houses. Difficult and depressing is how “Aling” Rebecca describes their living conditions. Apart from the lack of proper housing, she and her neighbors have undergone health problems, lack of food, and joblessness, not to mention nigh hopelessness.

Hearing about Holcim’s Galing Mason training program for Albay typhoon victims, the homemaker quickly signed up. “I wanted to learn the basics of building a house, the proper measurements, the correct use of cement, bricklaying, and all other masonry tasks. After this training, I will work double-time to finish our house,” she says in the vernacular, pointing to a bare concrete frame which she will finish to make her home. Her family is proud of her, she says.

Amid the hustle and bustle of building four houses as part of training activities, it was easy to spot “Aling Rebecca,” the only woman among 38 trainees in Taysan. Unmindful of the view that masonry is a man’s world, she braved the rainy afternoon workday, shoveling sand into bags, laying bricks, and mixing cement. “She is good and she is a fast-learner. This, despite the fact that she does not have previous masonry experience,” Justo Ferolino, an accredited assessor from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), says.

Another training session was held simultaneously at the Anislag Resettlement Area where 40 typhoon victims, seven of whom were females, participated. As with the Taysan trainees, they were assigned to build four houses.

Under the Galing Mason program, “Aling” Rebecca and her co-trainees learned trade mathematics, work safety, basic masonry tools and equipment, masonry works, basic carpentry, mortar, concrete, and many other skills, from trainers sent by the Association of Construction and Informal Workers (ACIW). Other project partners are the local government of Legazpi, the National Disaster Coordinating Council, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

“After the seven-day program, trainees were given a TESDA certificate, making them highly employable not only locally, but internationally,” ACIW head Eduardo La Cumbias says. The rigorous training, he adds, has produced about 80 skilled typhoon victims who will form part of the province’s pool of workers to hasten rebuilding homes. Sorely needed are their skills. Of 4,000 families left homeless by the typhoon there, only 1,600 have benefited from housing units.

In addition to the free training sessions and certification, Holcim gave each mason-participant a set of construction tools — a trowel, working gloves, safety hat, dust mask, safety goggles and paint brush. The company also shipped cement for their training and to build houses, as the Bicol region is not its market area.

“The most important thing I learned apart from masonry skills,” says “Aling” Rebecca, “is having the proper work attitude. I learned that cooperation is very important in building a house. Safety at work, too, is a key factor in the training sessions.”

On graduation day, “Aling” Rebecca and her fellow trainees were all smiles receiving the TESDA certificate they have worked so hard for. The TESDA certificate means not only new skills acquired and broader employment opportunities, but also hopes for a fresh start.

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