The Christmas Tree Story
(Exclusive to The Philippine Reporter)
THIS CHRITMAS TREE has gone viral. It has been called many names: the Tree of Life; the Tree of Hope; The Most Beautiful Tree in the World; and even won an award as The Best Christmas Tree in Leyte.
This fallen acacia tree, a victim of Typhoon Haiyan, was transformed into a beautiful and meaningful Christmas tree by survivors in Barangay Buntay, Tanauan, Leyte. It was first posted in facebook and has since gone viral. It has touched the hearts of local and foreign visitors alike, that it was featured in Singaporean media by a writer so touched by the sight of the tree standing amidst the ruins, that she wrote about it; it even made into the front page of Starweek Magazine of The Philippine Star (Dec. 29 issue); and was awarded P100,000 for residents of Barangay Buntay, who built the tree.
In an interview conducted by Typhoon Haiyan survivor Regie Musca with another survivor who started it all, The Philippine Reporter got this story:
Malou De Leon Salvacion, a young mom with two daughters, thought of giving life to the felled acacia tree in front of her ancestral home. It was after all the beloved tree of many generations, so hugh and beautiful in its majestic beauty, it provided a lot of good memories for her family and earlier generations: it was the favorite backdrop of many family photos; a place where children played games from “bahay-bahayan” (playing house), to hide-and-seek; a cool shade where drinking buddies set up tables for “tuba” (vinegar wine) breaks; and where ladies gathered for gossip.
In the aftermath of Haiyan where there was hardly any water, food and decent shelter for survivors, Malou and her husband Joh, a police officer in a nearby town, and their two daughters, along with a dozen other family members including her 97 year old grandma, cousins; nephews and nieces, travelled by car all the way to Manila, where the family could be safer, could have basic supplies, and could avail of much needed medical needs, with the help of funds raised by relatives in the Philippines and abroad.
Once the family was settled and the two daughters safe in the care of aunts and uncles, Malou and her husband promptly returned back to Barangay Buntay to help her uncle, Reynaldo Musca, a barangay captain, and her parents (her mom Lollie de Leon is a barangay “kagawad”) rebuild the village with the assistance of other survivors.
Always grateful with the thought that she and her family survived the typhoon, and feeling the spirit of the blessed season, Malou thought of making the tree stump, along with other debris, into a Christmas tree of thanks and hope, to acknowledge those who provided relief and assistance during those most trying days, and to give the message that Buntay and Tanauan would rise up again.
With the help of family and Barangay Buntay folks, “bayanihan style,” she gathered drifted plywood on which she wrote the names of the donors, and put them all around to decorate the tree.
In her own words, Malou tells the story:
“I felt so blessed because God gave me a second life not only for me but my whole family who survived this super typhoon. After the typhoon came all our worries and fears on how and where can we get our food, water, and medicine when the children and my grandmother got sick. But God gave us hope by bringing to us all these local and foreign aide which helped us directly. I always brought a pentel pen in my pocket because everytime I received a relief/donation, I put the name of the donor to keep a record. It then came to my mind to put the names on a piece of wood of all those who helped our barangay to let them know we acknowledged all the help and support. I shared the idea to my famiy and they started picking up pieces of drift wood with the help of the Buntay boys, who helped us place the ‘placards’ on the roots of the acacia tree. It is our Christmas tree of thanks and hope. We did not even know that there was a contest. Someone just came to us to tell us that we were an official entry of the xmas tree contest in Leyte, sponsored by Congressman Romualdez, and that we we had won.”
Now, the beautiful tree stands tall and proud as an inspiring testimony to the strength, courage, graciousness, love and hope of the survivors, who believe they will rise again and rebuild their lives.
Story by Malou De Leon Salvacion (Tanauan, Leyte), as told to Reggie Musca (Manila) and Mila Astorga-Garcia (Toronto). See related story: How our Family Miraculously Survived Typhoon Haiyan, The Philippine Reporter, December 20, 2013 – Jan. 9, 2014 issue)