Unedited feature: UP opens exhibit of Yolanda survivors


Edited story published in The Philippine Star, 23 March 2014

When Super Typhoon Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas in Nov. 8 last year, 18-year old Ernest Reyes Dimakiling was with his family in Palo, Leyte, trying to brace the door of their house and stop it from being blown away by the wind.

For Dimakiling, the door was their primary defense that held their shelter against the rage of the super typhoon. Without it, he said, they would not survive the calamity.

The concept of shelter has gone a long way for Dimakiling, a Biology student who was among the 200 students of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Tacloban who cross-registered to the university’s flagship campus in Diliman, Quezon City this semester.

Last week, the UP College of Arts and Letters (CAL) launched an exhibit of the works of 20 students affected – physically, psychologically and emotionally – of the typhoon.

Some of the participants, like Dimakiling, were in Eastern Visayas when Yolanda struck. Others were in UP Diliman when it happened, but were nonetheless affected as their families are back in the affected areas.

The exhibit, titled Bakawan (Mangrove), contains the output of the series of writing, dance and drawing psychosocial workshops conducted by various experts in the past several weeks.

Art studies professor Flaudette May Datuin, one of the organizers of the workshops, said the activities served as a healing sanctuary – or a metaphorical bakawan – for the participants.

“(It served as) a platform for creativity, empowerment and spiritual retreat, specially designed, but not limited to, the students affected by Typhoon Haiyan,” she said.

“The bakawan is a natural shelter for living beings, the first line of defense from strong surges of wind and rain. This wondrous habitat symbolizes the compassion and love of our Creator for the human and non-human world,” she said.

The exhibit – which will run until March 31 at the UP Diliman Faculty Center – features different storybooks and artworks created by the workshop participants. During the launch, some of the poems written by the students were also read.

“I did not expect that our works will be featured here,” said Kay Noreene Dula, a freshman psychology student from UP Tacloban whose poem was read during the launch.

“I thought that it was just a workshop… I feel proud that I can do something like this,” she added.

Gerard Alain Aclan, a freshman political science student from UP Tacloban, said the workshops were effective is diverting their attention from the aftermath of the typhoon to other interesting activities.

He said the project helped him a lot because he was able to channel the emotions that he felt following Yolanda to creative activities that were part of the workshop.


Expressive arts as a form of healing

The objective of workshops is not limited to honing the artistic side of the participants.

“We thought that the college should do something for the students coming in from UP Tacloban,” said CAL dean Elena Mirano.

“What we could provide, of course, which is specific to our college was the experience of art as a (form of) healing,” she added.

Mirano said the project came about following a series of discussions with professors, experts and counsellors who committed some of their time for the activities and workshops.

She noted that the funding that financed the activities came from various – even unlikely – sources, such as the donation from a group of senior students from Cavite who raised funds for the benefit of the workshops.

Speech communication professor Belen Calingacion, also an organizer, said the objective of the project is to utilize the process of expressive arts as a form of healing for those affected by calamities.

“We have been doing this for some time now,” said Calingacion, noting that previous workshops have also been conducted at the female dormitory of the Quezon City jail and in Bohol, which was devastated by an earthquake last year.

“It’s really for psychosocial healing, we call it transformation,” she said. “If you are in a sad situation, you can confront that issue through expression because it is not as painful (compared to direct talk therapy).”

Calingacion said their participants were able to express themselves and confront the issues that they are facing through the process of expressive arts.

The team earlier went to Bohol and Tacloban to provide similar psychosocial activities to teachers and other survivors of the calamities.

She said the idea of the project is to educate teachers about the need for such activities in order for them to replicate it to their respective students and communities.

“We want more people to adapt this approach of dealing with the effects of calamities such as the earthquake and Yolanda,” said the professor.

The ‘flower’ to the STEM

UP Diliman chancellor Michael Tan, during the exhibit launch, urged the organizers of the workshops to come up with a proposal containing all the information about the project.

“It’s time to show that what you did has to be an integral part of any kind of disaster-response program,” he said.

Tan said such activities that originated from the social science, arts and humanities will be the “flower” to the current STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus of government agencies and some academic institutions.

Moving on

For Dimakiling, Yolanda is one of the most traumatic and depressive events in his life.

While the door of their house survived the typhoon, the same cannot be said to the second floor of their house, which was totally damaged.

He said he is hoping that the university would allow them to continue studying in the Diliman campus, saying he does not know how he will react once he sees the devastation caused by the typhoon to his hometown.

Dimakiling admitted that it might take him sometime to fully get over what happened, but added that the workshops have helped a lot in helping him face the effects of Yolanda.

“We are not victims of the typhoon. We are survivors,” he said.



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