In the past six months, Singaporean Julian Tan went knocking on every door he possibly could, in a bid to raise funds to rebuild parts of the Philippines which were badly hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan last November.
The former Singapore Armed Forces commando's perseverance paid off when Singapore Red Cross decided to contribute $300,000 of the donations it had raised for the disaster, to his school project in Albuera, Leyte.
Almost 80 per cent of Leyte was flattened by the tsunami-like waves, which swept across central Philippines on Nov 8.
Said Mr Tan: "The school will be built with typhoon- and flood-resistant materials. It will serve as an emergency centre when the next disaster strikes.
"There will also be an agricultural plot within the school's compound where children can learn to plant crops which they could sell later."
The 40-year-old was presented a $300,000 cheque by President Tony Tan Keng Yam, patron of the Singapore Red Cross in Leyte province last month. Dr Tan was on his first state visit to the Philippines, where he presented over $7 million in donations from Singaporeans to partners of Singapore Red Cross, helping some 1.5 million victims of Haiyan.
Groundwork for the construction of the school is scheduled to start next week.
The school, targeted to be completed by the middle of next month, will be assembled with prefabricated and modular building blocks. It can house 200 students per session, said Mr Tan, who works in the security industry and runs a fitness programme.
Major Reynaldo B. Balido Junior, who heads the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said that more than 5,000 families with over 21,000 individuals fled Leyte and Samar, the worst-hit areas, within a month of the typhoon.
Six months on, "we are still in transition from early recovery to rehabilitation stage", said Maj Reynaldo, who reckons it will take at least four to five years to rebuild the typhoon-hit areas. "Relief items are still given to those vulnerable and incapable of having their own provisions, like pregnant women and orphans."
Mr Tan, who has been travelling to Leyte at least once a month since last November, said "people are still living in self-made wooden shacks". "The situation has improved only in terms of removal of debris."
More needs to be done, added Mr Tan, who plans to build homes for families in Albuera.
Calling his project "Homes for Hope", he wants to engage the local community in Albuera to build their own homes. "It takes just one day to build one prefabricated house. It's like Lego. We will teach the locals to build their own homes, at the same time, getting paid for their work."
PropNex high-flier Kelvin Fong, 39, together with his team of property agents, has already contributed $35,000 to Mr Tan's cause.
Mr Fong, who has managed to raise another $25,000 through his team of Powerful Negotiators, said: "It's a huge responsibility upon a fund-raiser to ensure that the money raised is put to good use and accounted for."
Mr Tan said there have been times when he had wanted to give up. "I get a fair amount of criticisms from people who are sceptical of my cause. But I carried on with my belief when I think of how much the survivors would benefit from it.
"I often get people asking me why I am helping the Filipinos. My reply would be (that) they are survivors of a disaster. I didn't go there to care for some old folks. But they are people who have lost everything in a disaster. They have no means to survive if we don't help them. They live on ground zero."
This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.
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