by VOLET CAROLAN
I visited Tacloban on 4 March 2014 to see the progress of the relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Yolanda and deliver some help and good wishes from the Filipino Community Council of the ACT in Canberra who raised almost $7,000 during the Pasko sa Canberra celebrations in December 2013. The amount was divided and given to relief efforts in Iloilo through the Jesus Is Lord Ministry, Gawad Kalinga, Feed the Children Foundation based in Sydney, an island community in Cebu through the Philippine Cultural Society and the Direct Relief Action Group for communities in Tacloban.
I left for Manila on 1 March 2014 then flew to Tacloban on 4 March (at my own expense) with my auntie and her family from London. When we got on the plane, several passengers were foreigners working for international organisations such as the United Nations World Food program and Doctors without Frontiers. After an hour, I could see Tacloban Airport in the distance. I could not help but cry when I saw a sea of blue and white tents among the trees. I could not imagine what life was for everyone who have been living in these tents for the last four months – including spending Christmas there. I remember going camping with my family many years ago and we would only spend one night and go home the next day after being rained in overnight in our tent in a camping ground. The people in these tents in Tacloban are in worst conditions.
My Aunty Merlyn McGuire also delivered donations they raised in London. They were met by the Catholic Women’s League. I was fortunate to have been able to partner with the New Life Christian Church headed by Ram Canes to carry out this project. They met me at the airport at 5.30 in the morning. The airport had roof without outside walls. We drove around the island to assess the current situation there. I was really surprised by the devastation that I saw – 90% of the buildings were damaged and had not yet been rebuilt. The bigger houses that were damaged were completed deserted. Even government building had not been rebuilt. Victims are either living in tents or left the island or living in houses made from salvaged materials. Some private businesses are up and running such as Jollibee and the Philippine National Bank – where I withdrew some money to give to the victims.
It was a long day visiting communities devastated by the typhoon. My son James went there in November a week after the typhoon. I am sure what I saw was much better than what he saw but I think more progress could have been achieved – what with all the news of millions of dollars coming from other countries, businesses and private individuals. The locals said they have not really received much help and had been depending on friends and relatives. When we went to an orphanage, they said that supplies come very slowly from the government because of the bureaucracy as usual. I saw several trucks carried some workers who collected rubbish. These workers were being paid by the NGOs. Many new electric posts had been installed but the wires hanging low from the old posts looked really dangerous.
I distributed bags of food, clothing and some cash. The victims in Barangay Taguiktik were very humble receiving these items and surprised that I just turned up and gave these to them. When I asked how they survived the storm surge, they said that they hid behind the walls. I was really touched by their courage thinking about what they have been through. They have not seen relief goods since Christmas. I found out that a lot of people do not have jobs so I contacted a friend in Sydney and hopefully her organisation can provide tricycles for some of the families so they can earn some income for their daily needs. The houses were made from galvanized iron sheets and wood salvaged from the destroyed homes and did not have any flooring. Our Team assessed that the funds from the FCCACT will be used to purchase building materials to improve some homes. The New Life Christian Church had already distributed construction kits. As part of the FCCACT project, we will be sending more bags of powdered milk from Australia for the children.
Late in the morning, we visited the temporary kitchen run by the New Life Christian Church managed by their Korean members. There I was surprised and happy to see my friends Wilma and Robert stirring a giant casserole pot, one of the several pots used to prepare lunch everyday and feed 5,000 school children – this is the only decent meal each child receive each day. I believe this is also an encouragement for children to go to school. You can see in the photos the smiles on the faces of the volunteers, which show how happy they are to be doing this. In the afternoon, we visited an orphanage and we promised to buy some milk and medicines for the children – they were orphaned after the typhoon.
Then we went to the coastal areas in Palo, Leyte. The signs ‘No building 40 meters from the seashore’ were very noticeable. There was no debris around so I wonder if all the debris were taken back to sea when the storm surge receded. I do not want to think what else went back to the sea with the debris. I also noticed the few trees that survived are getting new leaves – very good signs of hope and new life.
I left at 5pm the same day, as there really are no hotels around. The airport did not have any proper metal detectors so all bags were opened and checked manually. As the building did not have any walls, the noise when a plane lands was so loud I felt like I was right on the tarmac. I was happy that I visited and at the same time sad for what I saw. I wish I can do more to help but I know that every little thing we do for them will make a difference. So please think of how much luckier we all are compared to the victims of typhoon Yolanda.