My name is Jane Hiatt. I am also a Kumon Instructor but in Canberra Australia and I am the Vice President of the Australasian Kumon Franchisees Association. Irene Rempillo has reached out to our organisation through our Filipina-Australian Kumon members to help raise funds to rebuild her centre in Tacloban.
While Irene will need a building to house her centre she is also wanting to help her students (those that are still alive) continue studying the Kumon program. Tacloban is a poor community and now that people's homes and livelihoods have been destroyed the last thing they will be able to afford is their child's educational costs. Teacher Irene is determined to support her surviving students through this time until the families are back on their feet. Once the infrastructure of schools and facilities are up and going again in this region Kumon will be most children's only access to education.
TACLOBAN is 368 miles southeast from Manila (the country's capital) and is considered the fastest growing city due to its low poverty rate. It is not Irene's birthplace, but it has become her home since she opened her Kumon center in January 2009. As a result of her dedication and hardwork her center grew in numbers quickly and has been consistently recognized as an excellent center in the Kumon Asia and Oceania region providing a wonderful academic opportunity for the children on Tacloban and their families.
Here is Irene's Story in her own words.....
Life has been so normal not until the massive distraction of the typhoon Yolanda (known as HAIYAN) battered the EASTERN VISAYAS region, leaving a trail of total devastation. It was typhoon season and tropical storms where common in the Philippines, but still even the last storm warning had produced nothing but blue skies. From that, I even wondered if this time would be any different. November 6, 2013 (Wednesday), most of the schools cancelled classes when a heavy rain started pouring in. That week, the center was expecting a visitor from the Instruction Division, so I decided to conduct a regular class. We usually end our everyday session with a prayer, but on that night there was a strange feeling that I cannot somehow describe. Ignoring it, I continued by making an announcement about the incoming typhoon and some preparation that we have to do before going home. Together with my assistants, we hurriedly packed half of our worksheet shelves estimating that water will only rise up to 5 to 6 meters up. Then, I distributed money so they can do panic buying in preparation for the typhoon and officially declared "NO CLASS" for Thursday and Friday.
THURSDAY came, and I was greeted with a warm sunny day, very fine weather that no one will expect that tomorrow will be our worst nightmare. While keeping some updates, I advised my family members to pack all their important things in one suitcase. After watching the midnight news a heavy rain started with a whispering sound of the wind. But I managed to find a way and sleep.
THE TERROR (November 8, 2013)
Around 5:00am when I heard the swaying of the tress caused by the raging wind, it was my first time to witness an upcoming storm so I open the balcony door while taking some video clips, but to my surprised, the huge mango and coconut tree suddenly crashed my parking lot in front. That gave me a signal to stop what I'm doing and prepared for the coming of the worst storm in the history. At 8:00 am the harrowing wind worsened and made a violent crack on a glass window, fearing that it will hit us, we locked ourselves inside the bathroom. Despite being barred by the cement walls I could feel the shaking of the house and metal poles outside snapping. Then the roofing of the second floor was finally smashed. While constantly praying, I glanced the window covered with metal bars, preventing an escape outside I eventually told them that we have to face the rising water so we can transfer to the neighbor's second floor house with a stronger foundation. An opened main door cleared our way for another shelter. But the monster on path might separate us from one another. So we promised to hold hands together no matter what happen. I cannot imagine that anytime on that moment one will perish. But I have to remain focused and silently prayed that the wind will be very kind to us. As I made the last step, I looked up in the sky, while tears rolled into my eyes - thanking HIM for saving our life.
ORDEAL OF SURVIVAL
As the storm made its final hit, I thought that would be the darkest time of our life. Never did, I realized the repercussions of such unpleasant event was the worst. As the water washed out all our things, the next challenge is SURVIVAL. Most of our neighbor's including my ailing mother gathered in one house. Scattered all over the ground are fallen trees, compounded debris and blown iron sheets. Though the stinky mucky water in the subdivision has not yet subsided, we are forced to go down to look for food and water. But I never expected what will I encounter outside; trucks and cars in different direction are all in total wreck, roads are not passable, vestiges of modern living, power and communications are all down. I never thought that I'm standing in a scenario that could only be seen in the movies. The saddest part was countless of dead bodies strewn all over the streets. People are all going in different direction looking for their families and love ones. Some of those dead bodies exhibits struggle of survival. In spite of what I saw, I continued walking until I reached my KUMON CENTRE. My usual 10-15minutes, drive to the center took me six (6) hours on foot. Getting near, I recognized a blue color down in the street - it was the KUMON signage- folded and ripped. As I get inside, all the worksheets that are properly packed on our last meeting are lying on the muddy floor. Tables and chairs were thrown all over the place. But I did not waste any time, instead I looked for the sealed extra galloons of water and knocked the owner of the building if she can spare for some extra food. Without hesitation, the owner shared some.
For about 4 days in TACLOBAN, I've seen more scenarios of destruction some people are losing their minds from hunger. They are looting business establishments just to find food, rice and water. The city has descended for chaos and lawlessness. Every time darkness filled the place, fear struck me. I cannot even recognize the days because terror surrounds the entire me everyday. As the sickening stench of bloated bodies started and the resources of food became lesser, I tried to figure out the worst of it. So the next morning, walking on foot in a heavy rain we packed and headed to the airport. But the agony does not stop there, we spent one and a half day in the airport with no food and water, but I am desperate to save all of us immediately. Luckily, the commercial flight open and was able to secure a boarding pass for CEBU. As the plane, started to take off, leaving TACLOBAN " I have no words for it" - but just tears, uncertain if I can still go back. When the steward handed a packed of biscuit to us, I cannot help but totally cried.
A BEACON OF HOPE
Two weeks after a series of debriefing, I finally decided to go back and rebuild. With the outpouring help and inspiration given by KUMON families and friends I know, I will be able to stand again. I have to search for my assistants and have to stand by with all my students and parents in this crisis. This is the time where they needed the institution most. KUMON has to stand as an educational institution in TACLOBAN and help the children rebuild their dreams As I gather the pieces of what was left in my center, I am truly inspired to start all over again. I may have lost everything but the fire to survive and the well of positive optimism run so deep and cannot be quench by any typhoon. I have faith that KUMON will make a difference in acquiring change in the community.
Twenty-one days after the ravage and terrible ordeal made by the typhoon, I was able to completely account all 19 assistants safe, we are helping each other in doing home visit with our affected students. While doing home visit, we were able to asses that most of their major concern is the amount of tuition fee in KUMON. They have always believed the KUMON method, but since most of devastation particularly focused in the basic necessity like food and shelter, priorities has to be set first.
I am set to open by January of 2014 and I won't be taking any child's education for granted. By encouraging more and more parents to go back, my center will be able to employ again all my 19 assistants and they too can recover from the great loss.
As of this moment, with the help offered all over the world, TACLOBAN is gradually finding it's way forward. Everyday you see some changes in the place and we are forever grateful as the entire world bind forces together to restore us.
Today, I am hearing great news of excitement from students and parents about KUMON opening. And somehow, I am keeping the hope that I will be able to sustain all their enthusiasm especially when I open my center. For this, I am humbly seeking for help so I can continuously support my student and assistants in one -way or another. I am looking forward that in the future KUMON TACLOBAN CENTER will shine again! Thank you very much.
Wishing you all a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous 2014!
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