The personification of resilience: Santiago Gargantilla

Santiago Gargantilla, one of the participants of the Household Disaster Preparedness Workshop which is part of the IDRR Project, received a wheelchair from HI in replacement of his old one. © Rowen S. Obaña/Handicap International

Santiago Gargantilla, one of the participants of the Household Disaster Preparedness Workshop which is part of the IDRR Project, received a wheelchair from HI in replacement of his old one. © Rowen S. Obaña/Handicap International

Santiago Gargantilla lost his ability to walk in 2006. Being a coconut farmer, he went to the farm to harvest and climbed to the top of a tree when the unexpected happened – he slipped, fell hard to the ground, and injured his spine. This caused the paralysis of both of his legs.

Not only did he lose his ability to walk, but also the ability to provide for the day-to-day subsistence for himself and his family.

To make Santiago’s condition worse, the incident affected his psyche. During the first few years after the accident, his morale was at its lowest, his self-esteem was at rock bottom. Being the breadwinner of the family, all of a sudden, Santiago was forced to depend on his children for provision and sustenance. He was in a state of denial and self-pity during the first few years after the accident.

He thought of his condition as a curse. His inability to provide for his family struck him the most and it took him years to recover from the psychological effects of the accident. But one day, he decided to leave behind all of the negativity that the incident brought to his life and “walked forward”.

Handicap International (HI) Philippines staff based in the Province of Leyte first met Santiago when they conducted the Household Disaster Preparedness Workshop, an activity within the frame of the “Strengthening the Capacity of Local Government Units and Vulnerable Households in Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction” (Inclusive DRR Project). The workshop was held last 14 March 2016 in Barangay (village) Castilla, Palo, Leyte and HI staff observed that Santiago showed great interest and actively participated in the activity.

Further interaction with him revealed that Santiago experienced first-hand the devastating effects of super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in 2013. Leyte is one of the provinces in the Visayas region of the Philippines that was badly hit by the super typhoon and being a person with disability worsened his experience during the situation. He shared to HI staff that he had difficulty evacuating to the elementary school of their community and furthered that he felt helpless for not being able to contribute much to the process of recovery of his children and grandchildren.

Santiago shared that attending the Household Disaster Preparedness Workshop complemented his first-hand experience during Yolanda with technical knowledge on concrete methods in preparation for natural hazards. Facilitators of the workshop used the Inclusive Household Disaster Preparedness Workbook developed by HI and participants come-up with household contingency plans outlining what to do before, during and after disasters.

Furthermore, the workshop gave him knowledge about his rights as a person with disability. Now, Santiago is more prepared when another emergency situation happens and is also looking forward to apply for his Persons with Disability ID Card.

Santiago is just one of the 40 residents of the barangay that was reached by HI through the IDRR Project on the above-mentioned date. From February to April 2016, HI was able to conduct five (5) workshops similar to this and has reached 100 households in Leyte to increase preparedness capacities of vulnerable households through the drafting and implementing of household contingency plans. With this, children, older people, and persons with disabilities are empowered by guaranteeing that they are integrated to the local DRR efforts.

Aside from the workshop, Santiago also received a wheelchair from HI as part of the IDRR Project. Due to his impairment, Santiago depends on a wheelchair for mobility. Years of use made his wheelchair dilapidated so HI replaced it with one that is specifically engineered to him based on his measurements.

He was thankful to HI and expressed his appreciation to the staff who brought his wheelchair and jovially said to his grandchild: “Magkakabagong sasakyan na si lolo! (Grandpa will have a new ride!).”

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