Mormon Channel Blog

Give Back: Rebuilding Lives after Typhoon Yolanda

February 25, 2016

Husband and Wife

In 2013, the islands of the Philippines were devastated by the strongest typhoon ever recorded. The surge of service, love, and hope that followed, however, was even stronger.

In the remote area of Tacloban, Gemmer and Analyn Esperes struggled to survive during and after the storm. Gemmer was working his second job as a security guard when the first swells hit. His wife, Analyn, was at home with their daughter.

“That night I heard the water coming from the sea, but I just ignored it because it was only the wind,” Analyn recalled. “Then around 5:00 [the following morning] the roofs started flying off.”

When their roof was destroyed, Analyn and her daughter fled, but they were swept away by wind and water. Afraid of getting separated, she instructed her daughter to hold onto her neck while she swam.

The rain beat down on her, the waves slapped her face, and occasionally she was hit by floating debris, but Analyn was more concerned about her daughter. She told her daughter to close her eyes so she wouldn’t see the snakes floating alongside them as the water pulled them toward the rice fields.

As she struggled to stay afloat, Analyn lost consciousness. When she resurfaced and finally caught a breath, her daughter was gone.

“I dived again looking for her,” she said, “but all I [could] see [was] black water.”

She called out for her, searching frantically in the water and through the debris. Then another wave came. As soon as the swell passed, Analyn continued her search. Her strength was gone, so she crawled on her hands and knees. The next day, Gemmer and Analyn found their daughter’s body among others placed in a nearby chapel.

“The pain that I felt was overwhelming,” Gemmer said. “It’s like my chest will explode because of what happened. My daughter was lost.”

Homeless and heavy-hearted, the couple wondered how they could go on, until they learned of a Church-sponsored shelter program that would teach them to build houses for others and offer them a house of their own in return.

Though he had worked on construction sites, Gemmer had never built a house. His work in the shelter program gave him the skills to build a new home, find temporary work with a nongovernmental organization, and get started in a carpentry certificate program.

In addition to providing for his family, Gemmer has helped 15 families in his neighborhood rebuild their lives by building homes for them. Despite their daughter’s passing, he and his wife have found peace in serving others.

Gemmer said, “The pain that I felt because of my child’s passing goes away because of the people I have helped build houses for.”

4.1 million people were displaced by Typhoon Yolanda. Many are still without permanent homes. To help, visit giveback.lds.org.