The Astrodome’s King of Bling


Benjie Amores, goldsmith in residence, Tacloban Convention Centre. 

By Joe Lowry in Tacloban
06 February 2014

After almost three months sitting around, Benjie Amores decided it was time to go back to work. He hadn’t been completely idle – there was the small matter of helping his family overcome the effects of Typhoon Haiyan, move from a wrecked convention centre into a tent, and from a tent into a shack, queue for relief assistance, find medical help when needed and so on.

But last week Benjie, prompted by his dynamic wife Thelma, decided that a man needs to work.

So he borrowed an ancient wooden stall, painted “Benjie, Goldsmith” on it, got some silver on credit and went to work, just inside the “Astrodome” convention centre, which now serves as a camp for over 2,000 displaced people.

He shows us his catalogue and tells us “I can make and repair rings, bracelets, ear-rings, necklaces;  up to ten pieces in a day”.

Business has been slow picking up – hardly surprising given the abject poverty surrounding his stall – but he’s already turned out ten pieces in four days and he has a crowd of onlookers supporting him. Today he’s making a big piece of bling – a heavy man’s ring with the initials JR embossed on it.

Benjie is a shy guy, and lets his work – and his wife – do the talking for him. “We hope he’ll get a lot of work,” says Thelma. “He needs it to make a profit. But he’s already making people happy, just by being here and making beautiful things.”

Benjie bends in close to his work, and smiles. Finally he’s busy. Not yet independent, not yet able to fully provide for his family. But he’s busy, and that’s progress.

It is estimated that over six million workers had their livelihoods destroyed or disrupted when Typhoon Haiyan roared across the Central Philippines on 7 November. Fishing and coconut productions, the lifeblood of the region, were wiped out.

Without jobs, there will  be no recovery from Haiyan. Tacloban, the area’s capital, doesn’t produce much so it relies on salaries to feed its economy. Schools, universities, government departments, all kept the town buoyant in the past. Without jobs people will drift away. At the height of the crisis IOM estimated that 5,000 people were leaving the area for Manila and other cities every day.

There is a mini-boom for local traders at present, caused in part by the arrival of international aid agencies, but also because money is staying in the region. All the major supermarket chains, which served a huge hinterland, have closed, meaning the “mom and pop” stores are the only option for life’s essentials.

That won’t last, of course. The national – even international -  supermarket chains are already circling and local decision-makers are beginning to discuss how to get people back to work. Benjie, he’s way ahead of them. 

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Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM