Hope returns as kids come out to play in streets of storm-blasted city

By Todd Pitman

Children make use of the playground of the typhoon-damaged Pawing Elementary School in Palo town, Leyte province. Photo / AP
Children make use of the playground of the typhoon-damaged Pawing Elementary School in Palo town, Leyte province. Photo / AP

They found the hoop in the ruins of their obliterated neighbourhood. They propped up the backboard with broken beams of wood and rusty nails scavenged from vast mounds of storm-blasted homes.

A crowd gathered around. And on one of the few stretches of road that wasn't overflowing with debris, they played basketball.

I didn't know what to think when I stumbled upon six teenagers shooting hoops in a wrecked neighbourhood of Tacloban, a Philippine city that Typhoon Haiyan reduced to rubble, bodies and uprooted trees.

As a foreign correspondent working in the middle of a horrendous disaster zone, I didn't expect to see people having a good time or asking me to play ball. I was even more stunned when I learned that the basketball goal was one of the first things this neighbourhood rebuilt.

It took a moment for me to realise that it made all the sense in the world.

The kids wanted to play so they could take their minds off what happened, said Elanie Saranillo, one of the spectators. "And we want to watch so we, too, can forget."

Countless families lost loved ones to the typhoon. Hundreds of thousands of survivors have endured unimaginable suffering: hunger, thirst, makeshift shelter, little if any medical care, and a desperate, days-long wait for aid to arrive. Tacloban was filled with hopeless, fear-filled faces. Even now, blackened bodies with peeling skin still lie by the roads, or are trapped under the rubble.

But as the crisis eases and aid begins to flow, hope is flickering. People smile, if only briefly, and joke, if only in passing. For some, there is a newfound enthusiasm for life that comes from having just escaped death.

In Saranillo's neighbourhood, I saw four giggling children jumping up and down on two soiled mattresses strung across a cobweb of smashed wooden beams that had once formed somebody's home. Two women stood on a hilltop high above, dancing.

While walking through Tacloban's ruins, whenever I asked how people were doing, people who had lost everything said, "Good."

Perhaps it has something to do with an expression Filipinos have: "Bahala Na." It means: Whatever happens, leave it to God.

- AP

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