Humanitarian hero – Filipino engineer Rizel Mayo

Filipino Rizel Mayo is supervising the construction of the school buildings.

Young Filipino Rizel Mayo is a typhoon Haiyan survivor. After her narrow escape, she has been heavily involved in rebuilding her community and is currently helping build classrooms for schools destroyed by the super typhoon that hit in November last year.

“I like my job because we provide comfortable classrooms for the children,” Rizel Mayo, 27, says.

Classrooms are sorely needed because the typhoon destroyed hundreds of schools. Children across the affected areas have been studying under tarpaulins or crammed into the only classroom in a school that  still has a roof.

ACT Alliance member Finn Church Aid is rebuilding 27 completely or partially damaged schools, altogether some 47 classrooms. Hundreds of children will benefit.

Keeping the schedule is stressful

Mayo is one of the five Filipino engineers involved in the undertaking. She has two female and two male colleagues. The project also employs two Finnish engineers.

“The work has been slowed down by difficulties in getting materials, and keeping up with the deadlines has caused pressure. And it has been difficult to hire skilled workforce because everyone is employed now.”

Although her work is rewarding, it has also meant making sacrifices. Mayo has to leave her two small children with their father and grandparents from Monday to Friday, as the construction sites are situated in different rural villages and towns around Eastern Samar, the second-poorest area of the Philippines.

A survivor rebuilding her own town

However, the current construction site is the nearest – and the most meaningful for Mayo. She is now leading the construction of a two classroom building in her own barangay (village) of Salvacion in Jinamoc Island in Basey, Samar. The main building of the village school had to be torn down as its structures were no longer safe after the typhoon.

Mayo beams as she stands by the construction site. If they can keep the deadline, children will be able to start using the building in time before the hardest monsoon rains. One of the students will be Mayo’s own five year old daughter, Eunice.

“The model of the building is very good – it can sustain hard winds and rains. It is safe,” Mayo says.

Today she is monitoring the mixing of the concrete and the proper placing of steel bars for the Foundation.

Children remember the storm

Even before the school project, Mayo has been involved in the reconstruction of her village. She was asked by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) to draw the vicinity map for the new, safe relocation site, situated on a hill in the middle of the island. Together with the community, NCCP will build houses there, and Mayo and her family will also get a new house.

All the homes near the shoreline will be relocated, as the typhoon completely destroyed 80 per cent of the houses on the island. The storm surge brought by the typhoon submerged the island three times.

When the waves came, the Mayo family was trapped in their house. Then the door was washed away and they were able to get on the roof of the house, lying flat and holding on to the edges. Two-year-old Hughan went twice below the surface of the black water, which carried rocks and sand but the other were able to pull him back up. Their house was completely destroyed and they still live with her parents-in-law.

“Children remember the storm very well. When the movie Titanic was on television, Hughan said: “Just like the typhoon.”

Humanitarian Heroes – World Humanitarian Day 2014, 19 August.

Text and photo: Ulla Kärki