Mom-Daughter Team Writes Yolanda-inspired Children’s Storybook

Ella (left) and Minnie Francia

Ella (left) and Minnie Francia

To mark the first anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda, the mom-and-daughter team of Minnie Francisco-Francia and Ella Louise Francia recently released an illustrated children’s storybook inspired by the tales of typhoon survivors in Bantayan Island, Northern Cebu.  

Titled “Maria’s Colorful Banca”, the book chronicles the idyllic life of Maria in the island, how it was disrupted by the super-typhoon and how her friends helped her after the calamity.  The central character Maria was named after Maria Dominika, a baby girl born in Bantayan shortly after the typhoon, amid the devastation in the island.

It was during a holiday in Bantayan Island that then 11-year-old Ella got inspiration for this story. She was there to see the bancas that she and her brother helped donate to a family in the island. Seeing remnants of Yolanda’s devastation in the island, and meeting other children who survived the typhoon, Ella thought she wanted to share their story and encourage others to keep helping Typhoon Yolanda’s survivors. Aside from writing, Ella also loves to read and dance ballet. She also plays the piano, guitar and ukulele. She is now in her last year at The Learning Tree Child Growth Center and hopes to continue her writing, dancing and musical interests beyond her grade school years.

Minnie is the mother of two children: Ella and Benjamin. A Communication Arts major at the Ateneo de Manila University, she is a freelance writer and editor. As a hands-on parent, she considers it a reward that her kids love reading and writing. One of her greatest joys is being able to pass on books to her kids that she herself loved while growing up. 

This pioneering project is in collaboration with Cebu-based artists Janice Y. Perez and RJ Aquino. 

About Janice Y. Perez

Janice spent so many unforgettable childhood summers in Bantayan Island, cementing her deep love for the island, which would never fade away even as she moved to New York City. She lived in the Big Apple for 10 years to pursue a career in Filmmaking, specializing in Screenwriting and Directing. She returned to Cebu in the end of 2012 to direct her first feature-length film, "The Muses." Typhoon Yolanda changed her mind about returning to the States and instead focus on helping out in the relief and rebuilding efforts in Bantayan Island. She formed the “League of Private Citizens Who Give A Damn” after volunteering in the island for 6 months. Along with a handful of good friends, she also co-founded the Motion Picture Society of Cebu (MPSC) in July of 2014. While not working on film or volunteering, she likes to spend her time running outdoors, making driftwood art, and playing with her dog, "Brandy." 

About RJ Aquino

R.J., on the other hand,  is a blue-blooded Cebuano, born and raised in Cebu City. He originally trained and studied as a medical student, but eventually, the call to fulfill his passion of becoming a filmmaker led him to pursue his real path, a journey that began after he first saw Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, "Jurassic Park" as a young boy. He currently works as a prolific Director and Editor for Dreamline Productions, one of Cebu City's major production companies. His passions outside of movies include drawing, graphic novels, and cartoons. His biggest dream is to shake Steven Spielberg's hand one day.


by Janice Y. Perez
October 10, 2014

Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), considered the strongest typhoon ever to hit our planet, changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipino families, including my own. The typhoon badly damaged family properties in Bantayan Island in the northernmost tip of Cebu Province. 

Bantayan Island was Typhoon Yolanda's fourth landfall that tragic day of November 8, 2013, with the small island with a population of less than 150,000 battered by 215mph winds. Five days after the typhoon, I was in the island to check what happened and to see how I could help. I clearly remember the moment when I arrived at the pier in Santa Fe, Bantayan. Everything around was total chaos. Galvanized iron sheets were strewn on top of trees and scattered all over the shore. Fallen trees covered the ground that you could no longer see the road. Homes mostly made of nipa and amakan were flattened like boards. I wiped a tear and thought to myself, "If this is what a war zone looks like, I pray that may I never have to see this again ever in my whole life”.

As devastating as that first day was, marvelous things would somehow unravel, and the beauty and magnanimity of humanity would be shown thereafter. One of those who was first to offer help was the unlikeliest source -- the family of Joseph Francia, an acquaintance I met when I was still very active in the independent film scene in New York City some five years before. Joseph, whom I hadn't seen in quite a long time, reached out to me on Facebook and offered to send some money to have two bancas made. Quite honestly, I deemed it as an odd request as most friends and family from overseas were donating cash for housing materials. But I gladly accepted his offer, and soon enough, the money that he donated became two brand new bancas for the Deo brothers - Armando and Silverio, Jr. 

The two bancas made for the Deo brothers, "Benjamin" (top) and "Ella" named after Joseph Francia's children. (Photo courtesy of the Francia family)

The two bancas made for the Deo brothers, "Benjamin" (top) and "Ella" named after Joseph Francia's children. (Photo courtesy of the Francia family)

Before the typhoon, the Deo brothers’ main source of income was tending to their cultivated seaweed farm. Typhoon Yolanda, unfortunately, obliterated all of their seaweed patches and their bancas. When the bancas requested by Joseph were finished by the boat-maker, for some reason, I began to think: why not go the extra mile and paint some cool designs on the boats, just for kicks. A handful of friends joined me in the island one weekend January 2014 and we designed the bancas, named "Ella" and "Benjamin", after Joseph's kids. What started out as a small project from one friend to another eventually turned into a "revolutionary idea." I posted about the two bancas on my Facebook profile, and before I knew it, more family and friends sponsored for other fishermen. Even a large non-profit company jumped ship (pardon the pun) and by May of this year, we were able to have 38 bancas, all painted with cool designs, donated to fishing families in Bantayan Island and Medellin town. 

The best part of all about this whole thing was when Joseph and his family got to join my family and me in Bantayan Island for Holy Week of this year. They finally met Armando, Silverio, Jr., and their respective families during that time. And of course, it was a treat even for me, to see Ella and Benjamin get to ride the two bancas named after them along with their parents. Most significantly, the Francia family was able to meet little Maria Dominika, Silverio, Jr.'s three-month old baby who was graciously named after two Polish humanitarian aid workers, Maria Lukowska and Dominika Arseniuk of Polska Humanitarna Akcja (Polish Humanitarian Action), who spearheaded a large housing rebuilding project in the island that same time. 

This was just one of the countless of feel-good stories you heard around the island, at a time when the world was expecting the islanders and the Filipinos to be crushed with such massive destruction. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This story book, Maria's story, is a testament to not only the unbreakable, waterproof spirit of our people, but also the immeasurable vastness of our hearts. 

To order the book, please check the book's FB Page and leave a message.