NOVEMBER 29, 2013
It was a very long night, hauling all the goods we bought from Cebu and plus transporting them to Leyte. It was unimaginable for us to be able to reach Tacloban with all the delays. Four ferry tickets rebooking, four break downs, and the road was filled of uncertainties knowing that we could be stopped by looters on the road.
I had a good sleep of two hours in a tent that I pitched myself on the pavement of a building compound in Tacloban where we intended to repack our goods. Half of what we had were already repacked and yet we needed to have more time and space in which we could do what we needed to do.
Elcid and Glenn had barely slept. They were all up during the night for fear of looting though we had our good in the premise of safety. They think that being up all night could save us from the risk of being looted, so they slept on top of more than fifty sacks of rice we stacked few hours earlier.
A GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING
I was awakened by a loud voice and my tent was shaking. My eyes were barely opened yet I was compelled to get out of the tent and know what was happening. Our contact, Pastor Mahinay was standing outside of the tent already giving orders and updates to his staff while shaking my tent.
The Pastor is the president of a local Seventhday Adventist Church conference that I have spoken to three days after Haiyan landed on Tacloban in November 8, 2014. We promised him that we will bring goods to Tacloban and do what we could in order for us help ; he too was a survivor along with his conference members. The building where we kept our goods was a church and it was totally broken. This structure is just twenty to twenty five meters away from the ocean and it took the first wave of the storm surge. The structure was facing the ocean alright, but the side walls also became like the foundation or support for the flat façade of the church.
THE LONGEST DAY
As we donned our clothes for the day; we headed for some breakfast at 8:00 o’ clock in the morning. After having breakfast we were ready to repack. Almost half of the goods we took to Tacloban were already repacked by students of the East Visayan Academy under the command of the Pathfinder Director Caliph A. Mindalano Jr. and together with the school principal, Lemuel G. Banday.
We started unpacking our seven ton grocery from Cebu and we lined everything up. We sorted the goods according to three categories; food, hygiene, and cooking ware.
The food section included: 5 kilos of rice, soy sauce, vinegar, 1 can of sardines, 2 cans of corned beef, 1 can of beef loaf, miswa noodles, 1 pack of mongo beans, assorted vegetables (onions, tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, pumpkin, lady fingers, tubers, lemon, ginger, and garlic. We also bought candies, cookies, and some other snacks for the kids to have. The hygiene section: 2 toothbrushes, 108 head of cotton buds pack, 2 bars of detergent soap, 5 small bars of bath soap, 1 bottle of dishwashing liquid, 1 tube of toothpaste, 5 sachets of shampoo, 1 small plastic bucket, sanitary napkins, underwear. Cooking ware: small kettle, 1 pack of matches of 10 boxes, 1 ladle.
We also stuffed these goodies in one bucket made of plastic except the kettle, ladle, sanitary napkin, rice, and the underwear which we had to give separately.
The church service on the Saturday was going on while we occupied the front side where the stage is s we could do the repacking. We tried to finish everything while the service was going on but we can’t.
So we decided to pack how much we could pack and then deliver right away then comeback for more repacking.
Just as we were going to finish and take the goods to the people of Palo, the Church Pastor, Moses Corro, asked the team to speak to the congregation and tell them what we have come for. All of these members are all survivors of Haiyan and they made it to the church for the first time even their homes were left unattended during the day. They too have suffered so much that seventy members were able to make it on that Sabbath worship. As we have finished introducing the team, they decided to help us pack everything. After packing for one hour at 12:00 o’ clock noon, we decided to give the church members some goods according to what they already have at home.
We announced that if they already have the item at home, then they did not have to ask for what they already have. They cooperated and we have given much more to at least 80 people present in the Saturday church service. The community where we were at, pastor Moses suggested that we should also give outside and the group decided right away that we should. Outside the church, people in that community lined up as their names were called; we had 70 people lining up and received well the goods we have had to give.
FIRST BATCH DELIVERY OF GOODS
Our mini truck was stacked with 150 buckets filled with goods, and plastic bags of rice and kettles and ladles to give away. We left the compound leaving Glenn and Ha, they supervised what was left for everyone to keep.
Elcid, Mo and I together with our guide and some of the church members; we headed to where Palo is.
We were led by a tricycle, a motorcycle, and plus our mini truck. We drove through the city going to near the Mc Arthur landing monument. We were taken by our guide right there and we were shocked to see what was left by Haiyan.
Coconut trees fallen, no more structures standing, some corrugated metal sheets put together to make shelter, some tents occupied by four families at least for one. Our guide called out, this time we had no names to call, we did not want a list, we just want to give to the head of the families what we could give, we only give to the one present and not for those who are not around.
People lined up, most of them fishermen and coconut growers, they were under the mercy of the same sea that slaughtered there family and friends. This location is a community right beside the sea. The road was partially paved leading to the Mc Arthur landing monument. People survived at this area the world’s strongest storm. The only cover they had was the paved road and some coconut trees. I could not imagine how open they were to their death. The ocean was unforgiving.
The line was long; people came one at a time. We gave the 150 buckets filled with goods plus plastic bags of rice. It was almost 3:00 o’ clock in the afternoon. We had to hurry, we still had so much to give and what we have given was not even one fourth of what was left at the compound.
We stayed a while and we spoke and gave to people. They came out wearing short pants, tattered shirts, and whatever that they could have saved during the surge. Their faces were filled with joy as they received the goods and yet we could see through their eyes the agony that they have been through. We took photos and shook hands with them and as they were aware of the cameras, these survivors of the world’s strongest storm ever recorded forced some smiles for us to take. Some of them were wiping the tears from their eyes as they received, some were saying thank for a lot of times before they left, some looked down with embarrassment that they had to receive relief goods for such a tragedy and that the pride of having a life has been taken away from them, some of them chuckled with joy, and most of them carried the sadness and grief on their faces as they have lost their family members and friends.
For that first trip alone, we were shattered. Struck with grief, we felt the tragedy. We hopped on our mini truck and stood on the carriage as our driver, Rowen took us back to the compound. Rowen had to drive slow as he was led by the tricycle and a motor cycle. I took photos from each side of the road that went through the city. I had a camera and a phone in both hands. We were struck with disbelief of what we were going to see more. Even in the townhouses of those who were in the middle class, all destroyed, regular and big houses roofless and abandoned, commercial buildings damaged and barred from outside. We saw people walking on the side of the streets as if they are marching to somewhere we do not know.
Most of them dragging a contraption that allowed them to carry whatever they could find to salvage to sell or to make use in reconstructing their homes; it was like the “Walking Dead.” It was hard to believe as we saw all of these on T.V., but it was devastating for us even to see in person of what has become to their lives after the storm.
Rowen took us back and it was already late in the afternoon. We had a problem now if we could give everything that we purchased in Cebu. Glenn took the initiative of hiring two more vehicles to bring the goods at the center of Palo.
THE FINAL ACT
We thought that last night was long and we barely closed our eyes. We were going to have the longest day. Our convoy went out for the second time, three trucks, two motorcycles, one tricycle. It was almost dark; I told the team to get their head lamps and torches ready. First Aid kits at hand, hydration packs filled, and we were good to go.
Elcid, Glenn, Ha, Mo, Lemuel, Rowen, and I together with the other members of the church where we were at, came along in full force. Our goal was to give everything. Everything had to go! Our convoy stopped into the middle part of the town Palo, we found a section that is crowded. It was crowded because the mayor was giving away goods to people. We decided to move on and go the most difficult places to go to. Our guide led us to a town where homes were built modern material, yet we saw what the storm did to the homes dearly valued-all destroyed and none was spared.
Roofs blown off, walls broken, debris here and there, people were on the street waiting for something good to happen. Again our guide called the people to come and then they came to line up for what they can take away from us. The line was short at first and we thought that we could go to another town after a few minutes. Suddenly people came from nowhere, filling the lines, it was longer then.
We gave what we can give. We still had 350 buckets to give with goods, plastic bags of vegetables, bags of rice and with our food and hygienic stuff in it, underwear and sanitary napkins to give, biscuits and snacks to make children happy. We were ready to give everything.
Dark was consuming the night, we felt the danger, we were uncertain if what’s going to happen when the crowd was going to be bigger.
I can’t see the end of the line anymore, it was getting longer and longer and the end was fading in the dark. I was more concerned of the team then. We have done so much and I thought we had to move on. I told the team that we just had to move on. I told the drivers that we need to move and find another settlement in which we could give the remaining fifteen sacks of rice and something else.
The volunteers from the church helped our female members find their vehicles to ride on. We just announced that we can’t give anymore and we were not sure of what will be the reaction of the crowd to that so we just crossed our fingers and walked to our vehicles so we could leave immediately. Uncertain, we drove off. Instead, we heard people saying thank you, shouting praises and cheers. We were relieved that after that we could not give anymore, nothing happened; we really thought that there would have been a riot.
Our convoy of relief goods moved on to roads that has been destroyed by the storm surges, roads with no light and certainty that no looters would harm us. I was standing on the back of the truck, we all tried to be vigilant if we were going to be stopped or attacked on the road. Everybody in the team, scared!
Later, we heard people coming from the dark. They were shouting, here, were here! We stopped again, we were very exhausted but we had to unload every sack of rice and give them away. We gave everything that was left. They received with thankfulness.
We were all so tired, it was the longest day and the longest night. Tomorrow will be the flight back to Thailand. We packed our things before sleeping. We had to be at airport at 5:00 am. We did not want to be late. Everything at the airport was not restored to normal operation. The desks and counters were all arranged at makeshift offices. It was very difficult at the airport. The two other girls, Mmo and Ha, had to go first. Their flight to Cebu were ahead of us. We agreed to meet there as soon as we have reached Cebu but we ended up eating a hearty breakfast in a nearby restaurant while the girls had to go back to their apartments to get ready for school.
WE NEVER TALKED ABOUT IT
Our travel details were taken cared of Al Baybay. Tickets were bought at the last minute that he had a hard time putting the timing together. So we had to catch our connecting flights just like a reality TV race. From one flight to another was stressful.
Back in Bangkok, we never even talked about what we saw there in Tacloban and the whole experience so to speak. We were affected and we came back as different people. We saw how humanity struggled against a force uncontrollable by whatever man has invented or discovered. Man is vulnerable and it is a pity that we could not even begin to comprehend that it is not just about the borders, economy, race, status, culture, that we fight for; we fight for on how we should take care and respect mother earth and nature as a whole.