“The calling of God for me was very clear, and that is to serve my homeland,” Pastor Jonathan said. That homeland is Cagayan—where his roots are firmly planted—a province in the northernmost part of the Philippine island of Luzon.
Little did Pastor Jonathan know that he was beckoned there to become a part of something big that would happen to his native land.
On October 19, 2016 at around 11 p.m., Typhoon Haima (known in the Philippines as Super Typhoon Lawin), made landfall in Peñablanca, Cagayan, slamming the province with 225-km/h winds and gusts of up to 315, which was nearly as powerful as Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
It had been a Category 5, with maximum sustained winds of 275 km/h, making it the second most intense tropical cyclone of the Northwest Pacific Ocean in 2016.
By comparison, Typhoon Omar, which was the strongest typhoon to strike Guam in 1976, had winds of up to 240 km/h.
Cagayan, which is mostly an agricultural and fishing province, was simply no match for Typhoon Lawin, with its massive 800-kilometer diameter.
The country’s weather bureau, PAGASA, placed the province under storm signal number 5, the first time it has ever issued such a storm signal. For the Cagayanons, it was like hell on earth, if hell were made up of shrieking winds and lashing rains.
For Joann, who lived with Pastor Jonathan in the town of Amulung, a third-class municipality that depended on agriculture for livelihood, it was an excruciating and longest 13 hours of uncertainty.
“I have seen with my eyes the wrath of the storm as it demolished homes and schools, uprooted trees, toppled power lines and street lights,” she said.
When the storm finally abated, four fatalities were reported, and 80% of Cagayan’s households and businesses were destroyed.
Roads were rendered impassable due to debris. Totally blown away homes numbered 25,825, while damaged homes were pegged at 93,834. This translated to 81,092 persons affected.
Damages to agriculture were worth P5,746,052,600, and for infrastructure, it was P2,821,680,660. Closer to Joann’s home, “an entire town of West Amulung was flooded and in ruins,” she reported.
Cagayan Province was put under a state of emergency. “There was no power, no potable water; crops and livelihood gone, and a huge percentage of homes and businesses are in dire condition, needing support to rebuild,” Joann added.
It is said that adversity makes a person, and what Lawin did to Cagayan became a rallying cry for Pastor Jonathan and Joann Camcam.
Instead of relying solely on the local and national governments that had their hands full, as well as from several local government units, the couple picked themselves up and organized a group of friends in and around their place to extend help to their more devastated countrymen.
The group has adopted an official name that said it all: Rebuild Cagayan.
Rebuild Cagayan operated on a three-step premise to achieve its eponymously named goal—Pray, Feed, Rebuild.
With their faith in God becoming stronger in the light of such tragedy, Pastor Jonathan and Joann asked friends, family, and anyone else who would listen to offer prayers for families who have lost loved ones, homes, and livelihood. In the next few days that turned to weeks, they also organized feeding programs especially to far-flung places in Cagayan that were not immediately reached by the government’s relief efforts due to the impassable roads.
With the help of Rebuild Cagayan, many people from the province have gotten the immediate support they badly needed.
Among those who immediately heeded the call were close friends of the Camcams, Anna and John Paul Calvo, and Steve and Leriza Coleman who successfully raised their target $8,000 fund to purchase generators and tools to clean debris, open more relief centers, and begin the rebuilding process.
So far they have acquired not only power generator sets, but also adult and children clothing, toiletries, bottled water, canned goods, diapers, food supplements, noodles, sacks of rice, and even toys.
But the group is not stopping there, as they are now in the midst of realizing the third step towards putting their beloved province back on its feet: Rebuild.
They are currently collaborating with local architects, engineers, hardware suppliers, and community volunteers to actually build homes that are designed to withstand storms and the country’s rainy season.
The houses to be built by Rebuild Cagayan will be an upgrade to most original homes of the victims of Lawin, and will have concrete foundations sized at 5 meters x 4 meters. They will have a bathroom and an open living room and kitchen space, at a cost of P80,000 (US$1,600).
These will be strictly granted to families of totally wrecked houses in municipalities around Amulung.
Rebuild Cagayan has also made use of the GoFundMe crowdfunding and fundraising website to reach people from across the globe who can help fund such a noble endeavor.
Donors will have the opportunity to furnish the houses with basic necessities. Their names will be placed on placards on the front of each house that will be built as a way of saying thank you for their help.
“Some may be skeptical in thinking, ‘Will my donation really go to the right people?’” Joann mused. But she thought, at the end of the day, their work for their fellow men will be more than enough to vouch for their sincerity.
“Please continue to pray for Cagayan, for all the workers and volunteers for their health and endurance. Please pray that we raise more than enough to meet the urgent needs or our people. To everyone who already contributed, our sincere thanks.
“This experience brought so much devastation and suffering to the entire community, but we all have seen the hand of God as it brought unity and strength to all who survived Typhoon Lawin. God has a greater plan to rebuild Cagayan. God bless us all!” she concluded.
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