A Roof Over Their Heads

By Joe Lowry in Tacloban, Central Philippines
09 December 2013

The Gaspean family from Tacloban. Photo by Joe Lowry

Francis Gaspean knows he is lucky to be alive. When Typhoon Haiyan hit, he went to check the nearest evacuation centre in his home town of Tacloban. He and his wife have six kids under seven years old, and when he saw the crowds and the fear he decided to take his chances in his wooden house.

The family of eight endured the full force of the storm, which ripped off the roof and most of the walls, but somehow, Francis’ house, and his brother’s house next door, survived.

“I wasn’t scared: I treated it as another one of life’s challenges”, he says. “And my children didn’t cry because I didn’t cry”.

Francis is one of the first to receive IOM’s newly-arrived shelter materials: ten sheets of corrugated iron, ten thick bamboo poles, a shovel, saw, nails, fixing screws, rope, a crowbar and a hammer. He lines up patiently, and then sets off for home, with the bag of tools over his shoulder.

Francis bringing the IOM-donated shelter tools home. Photo by Joe Lowry

To reach his house, you have to walk across a frail bridge of planks that stretch across 100 metres of vile-smelling mud. “We call this the San Juanico Bridge”, he laughs, referencing the famous two-kilometre bridge that links Tacloban, on Leyte Island, with the neighbouring island of Samar.

Francis walks over the “San Juanico Bridge” to his home. Photo by Joe Lowry

Half the floor of the two-room house is beaten earth. Inside twelve twinkling brown eyes watch every move Dad makes, as he shows us how high the water came up.

Francis Gaspean shows how high the water reached into his house. Photo by Joe Lowry

Francis’s first priority is to fix the roof, which is a plastic sheet at present. Then he wants to find healthcare for the children, particularly the new-born who is constantly sick and has not yet received any vaccinations. Then, he needs a job.

This house is just one of over a million that was damaged by typhoon Haiyan, and the task for the government and agencies like IOM is to help people rebuild, or relocate.

IOM shelter kit distributed this weekend in Tacloban, Central Philippines. Photo by Joe Lowry

“Our objective is to get people back to their communities or to places where they can start getting on with their lives,” says IOM camp management coordinator Mark Maulit. “They are from here, these are their communities”.

Offloading IOM shelter toolkits for distribution to people who lost their homes in typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Joe Lowry

Today’s distribution marks the beginning of a massive scaleup on shelter by IOM. In total, 18,000 corrugated iron sheets, accompanied by tool kits (hammers, saws, crowbars, shovels and fixing kits) arrived in the shattered city this weekend, and be distributed to 1,700 families. Another 100,000 sheets and kits are in the pipeline.

An IOM staffer ensuring that shelter materials are delivered fairly and accurately. Photo by Joe Lowry

In the coming days the Organization will send iron sheets, blankets, tools, nails, ropes, tarpaulins, jerry cans, buckets, mats, bamboos, solar lamps and kitchen sets via its operational hubs in Tacloban, Cebu, Roxas, Ormoc and Guiuan, to serve 50,000 families. Solar lamps, blankets and jerry cans are also being distributed, and solar radio/lamps are being procured for wide distribution.

Shelter toolkits for distribution to survivors of typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Joe Lowry

“The people of the Philippines are very resilient”, notes Marco Boasso, IOM’s Chief of Mission. “But this storm was overwhelming. The needs are immense and we are doing our best to help the Government respond. By giving people shelter materials and tools we also help them take charge of their own recovery, which is of huge emotional significance for them”.


Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM