It was all smiles for the 42 CapitaLand staff volunteers who spent five days helping to rebuild a school in Tacloban to bring some care and joy to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan
It was all smiles for the 42 CapitaLand staff volunteers who spent five days helping to rebuild a school in Tacloban to bring some care and joy to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ goes the saying about loyal friendships in trying times. The truth of this hit home for Myrna Canete and her family in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda as the Filipinos called the mega storm. When the winds and waves hit Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines last November, Canete, like most of the people in the city, lost her home and had her workplace nearly destroyed.

“Our school was totally damaged – the classrooms collapsed, the auditorium was totally damaged, the children lost their school materials. Most of the students, like me, became homeless. Everything was gone,” said the principal of Tabontabon Central School, one of the many schools in the city devastated by the storm.

“I’m thankful we survived and thankful to CapitaLand for their great help,” said Canete.

Banding Together to Aid

Within days of the disaster, The Ascott Limited (Ascott) in the Philippines stepped in to raise funds through its serviced residences in the country. With support from CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF), the philanthropic arm of Ascott’s parent company, PHP1.87 million (S$53622.25) was raised for World Vision Philippines’relief and rehabilitation work in the affected areas.

The donation includes contribution from Ascott’s local and international employees and its residents staying in its three operating serviced residences in the Philippines – Ascott Makati, Somerset Millennium Makati and Somerset Olympia Makati. CapitaLand Hope Foundation contributed a total of PHP850,000 from the Send E-card N Donate for Hope Christmas campaign.

More was to come. CHF partnered with World Vision Philippines to build three new classrooms for Tabontabon Central School, providing not just funds but labour as well.

In May 2014, 42 CapitaLand staff from the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore came together and spent five days helping to rebuild the school which has nearly 900 students. Among them was Tacloban native, Joanne Golong-Gomez, Sales and Marketing Director, The Ascott Limited (Philippines).

“We have always had typhoons in Tacloban. When I heard that there was an upcoming typhoon that was going to hit Tacloban, I was not worried,” said Golong who lives in Manila.

She only panicked when she saw the destruction on the news and could not contact her family.

“It was only after four days that my father was able to go to the city and borrow a cell phone to call me. I never thought ‘hello’ could be such an important word.”

Many of her closest friends lost their loved ones. Going home to help was only natural.

Joining Joanne and the other CapitaLand staff volunteers were Mr Arthur Gindap, Regional General Manager, Philippines and Thailand, The Ascott Limited; and Ms Tan Bee Leng, General Manager, CapitaLand Hope Foundation. They not only lent a hand but also their support to both the staff volunteers and children of Tabontabon Central School.

“We believe in giving back to the communities we have a presence in. Coming to the aid of these children is only a small part of what we can do to help. We are so proud of all the hard work put in and the spirit of service,” said Mr Gindap.

“Your leadership is willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. That in itself is a statement. It’s easier for the people to move forward knowing that even those who are not related to you care,” added Mr Jun Godornes, Associate Director for National Resource Development, World Vision Philippines.

In all, 150 wooden chairs and tables were repainted, and ceiling fans in the three classrooms sponsored by CapitaLand were installed. The classrooms will benefit a total of 150 Grade 4 students. The volunteers even worked in the tropical heat of the Philippines and manually sifted dirt to make cement to rebuild the school. Finally, to give a unique look to the new classrooms donated by CHF, the volunteers painted a beautiful mural on the exterior wall of the school.

“The mural is very beautiful. I look forward to having lessons in the classroom when school starts,” said 10-year-old Kristine Joy of the wall art which depicts a garden complete with a tree with leaves made out of the handprints of the volunteers.

Beyond the Aid

Beyond the hardware, the volunteers also provided “heart-ware”. A sack race, an obstacle course challenge, a game of dodge ball, and even a puzzle-making competition – a thoughtfully-planned sports day by the volunteers gave the children some fun and laughter. Even a slight shower did not dampen spirits.

“I liked the dodge ball best, it’s so fun” said 10-year-old Madera Cheirlyn.

In additional, staff volunteers also organised interactive sessions for the children. B V Bharadwaja, Vice President, New Business, CapitaLand Limited, entertained with an animated story-telling session that had everyone laughing and chattering in delight.

“We put a lot of effort to make it lively. We enacted, made eye contact, used big actions, and moderated our voice,” said Bharadwaja, sharing the secret of his success.

Although the laughter he brought to the children that afternoon was for a moment, Bharadwaja got something in return that would last a lifetime.

“Once you have been a part of this, the way you think changes. You begin to see what is really important. I am proud to be in a company that has given me this opportunity to be a part of the expedition. It has made me more my loyal to the company.”

There were music and sports lessons, and an afternoon spent decorating their very own eco bags as well. But more than imparting skills, the volunteers also won the hearts of the children just as the children won theirs. Marcom Executive, CapitaMall Crystal Beijing, CapitaMalls Asia (China), Yang Yang, was surprised at how quickly the children took to her. Tentative and curious at first, they were chatting with her by the first afternoon.

On her last day, the children presented her with letters asking her not to forget them and a pair of hairpins.

“We held hands and hugged. As we drove off, I saw them chasing our van and waving to me. I was shedding tears of joy and I will never forget them.”

Marcom Executive, Queensbay Mall, CapitaMalls Asia (Malaysia), Lim Boon Hui, was equally moved when he visited the students at their homes during the house visits. The little girl he visited hopes to be teacher when she grows up.

“It was then I saw first-hand how resilient they were. No matter how tough their circumstances, they are determined to pull through,” Lim said.

“It’s also touching to see people of different nationalities and seniority in the company coming together to make a difference,” he added.

“We may come from different countries and speak different languages but we can overcome anything if we work together,” agreed Yang.

The care and commitment by CapitaLand staff volunteers have truly shown what it means to be citizens of the same world by reaching out to help another community in need, regardless of differences in nationality, race and language.