By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
QUEZON CITY, Philippines (CNS) — Biology major Seary Balliard is finding there’s a lot more to a university education than knowing how the parts of the human body function.
She is also learning about the human psyche and the compassion it can share.
As one of hundreds of students whose college education at the University of the Philippines Visayas’ Tacloban College was disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan Nov. 8, Balliard has been welcomed by a new university community and its affiliated Catholic parish, giving her the opportunity to continue her studies with barely an interruption.
"The university gave us everything we need: food, a home, psycho-social guidance. They were very accommodating," Balliard, 17, told Catholic News Service Feb. 2 in a balmy courtyard on the campus of the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, her new college home.
Balliard is one of about 200 Tacloban College students who made their way to the Diliman campus after officials of the nationwide University of the Philippines system allowed them to register immediately at no extra cost. Students also are receiving no-cost dorm rooms and benefiting from donations of food from suppliers and a nearby Protestant church.
There also has been a film festival and entertainment featuring well-known Philippine performers who have put on shows for the displaced students.
It’s not just the university that students such as Balliard credit, but the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice of the Diocese of Cubao, which has played a major role in helping students adjust to their new circumstances.
Johaina Langco, 19, another transfer student, credits the parish priests, led by pastor Father Henry Ferreras, for delivering inspirational homilies, special programs and social events that allowed the new students to overcome the traumatic experience of being forced to suddenly flee floodwaters and high winds.
"They welcomed us like we were friends, we were family," Langco told CNS.
"Every time a problem comes, I can hear the priest preaching that I am not the only one suffering problems. There’s this urge I have to be like the others, that I have to overcome these problems," she said.
The words at Mass often cause Langco’s thoughts to turn homeward. She said it was difficult to leave her family behind in order to continue her education.
"My family told me ‘It’s okay. Just do your best there. Don’t worry about us,’" she said.
The welcoming actions of the university community and the prayerful presence of the Holy Sacrifice community led Langco, Jean Peralta, 19, and other former Tacloban College students to begin organizing fundraisers at Diliman for Haiyan survivors.
Peralta said many people, including her family, have been unable to undertake repairs of their homes because reconstruction materials are costly and in short supply. Her family’s home remains covered by a tarp that ripples in the wind and leaks when it rains, she said.
Returning home in December for Christmas, Peralta saw people struggling to find safe water for drinking and obtaining food.
Rex Olis, 18, and his friends Ross Ali Ramacula, 18, and Darryl Vidad, 17, made their way to Diliman as a group, glad for the opportunity to continue their studies. Their families, who live in areas far from the central Philippines through which Haiyan passed, were not affected by the storm.
"(The university) made me feel like they really care for us," he said. "They that know we’ve gone through a lot. So it is their way of helping us to get over it and move on and start anew," said Olis, whose family lives in eastern Samar and was largely spared by the storm.
The Parish of the Holy Sacrifice also has been helpful with distribution of food, basic hygiene materials and other supplies, said Vidad, who is studying accounting.
Still, his thoughts remain on the people of Tacloban.
"It’s really great here," Vidad said. "For now, we’re not looking for ourselves only. We’re also worried for our friends in Tacloban. They really need much more help than we need."
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