Philippine Self-Help Foundation


It was a chance remark by Ireen which got me thinking about the bereaved from the earthquake and how we might be able to help them. She mentioned that throughout the period of our relief work, we had not yet come across anyone who had lost a loved one in the earthquake. This was to change on January 30th but in an unexpected way. There had been a story going around that five children had been trapped in a cave below a waterfall when the earthquake struck on October 15th and that they had managed to get out and return home when all hope had been lost.

A team of us from the PSHF arrived in Barangay Catipunan in the late morning of January 30th. We were eager to meet the children who had been trapped in the cave on that fateful day. We stopped at the Barangay hall and made enquiries. The elementary school day was nearby and children were milling around during their lunch break. Not long after our initial enquiry, Ireen was introduced to Genara, one of the mothers of the children. Sadly, it transpired that the children had not survived the landslide at the falls. Genara lost her 11 and 13 year old daughters, Joewellen and Jonaline on that day and their bodies have never been found.

Genara is glad to lead us to the waterfalls. We walk a couple of hundred yards and come to a wooden house with clothes hanging on a line outside. Genara tells us these are the t-shirts of the children; they would have left them on the bank just before jumping into the pool beneath the falls. As we start the steep descent along a narrow path, a young woman comes up behind me and tells me she also lost two children that day, Jess aged 10 and Jane aged 8 and her husband lost his 14 year old brother Reynald. Her name is Prima and she takes up the lead. The path looks daunting to us with a fallen tree blocking the path ahead and a sharp incline to the left but not to Prima who races along with great agility and a sense of urgency.

When we reach the falls, Prima is already down by the rocks which had crashed to the ground from all sides in the landslide; she tells me later that she lives in hope of finding the bones of her children. Genara does not hold such hopes; she just comes here to remember her children. She tells us that her husband always discourages her from visiting the falls as it always makes her cry.

We spend half an hour at the falls, taking a few photos and reflecting on the personal tragedies of these two women. We go back up the hill and say goodbye to Prima and Genara, promising to return. We feel so inadequate; we want to help but nothing we do can bring back their children.

Our last stop for the day is the town of Maribojoc. We drop by to see Aracelli, Joyce and the couple, Mike and Rose, all of whom featured in my previous article. Mike lost two friends in the earthquake and his wife Rose has conducted grief seminars in the town. They tell us more about the female high school student who lost her life in the nearby high school and Jenny, the mother of 2 who was tragically paralyzed by falling masonry in the earthquake. We make enquiries as to how we could find them.

Click here to continue reading MEETING THE BEREAVED (Part 2)


Genara, the mother of Joewellen and Jonaline

The children’s clothes recovered from the falls.

Prima, the mother of Jess and Jane

Prima tells us why she continues to visit the falls