Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to make landfall in world history, affected more than 14 million people, and displaced 4 million. The Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide, together with partners Zakat Foundation and volunteer Medical Action Group (MAG), responded quickly by coordinating on the ground relief efforts in the affected areas. We wanted to share observations made by Dale Asis, Founder and President of the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide, who recently returned from his journey to Philippines, where he surveyed the devastated communities in the wake of the storm.
Day 1 – My flight from Manila to Tacloban was delayed for hours as our small plane
circled Leyte Island unable to land: A US military C-130 cargo plane was stuck in the potholes of the airport’s makeshift runaway and it had to unload its cargo of emergency food supplies to move. Our plane eventually ran out of fuel and had to be diverted into the next island, Cebu. Four hours later, I finally landed into Leyte Airport…The control tower of the airport was torn off… The only remaining building seemed to be held together by tarpaulin and makeshift plywood. It was raining outside and water leaked into the terminal. The metal luggage carousel was broken into pieces and strewn all over
the building. … Evelyn Castillo, the Foundation’s Philippine Liaison met me at the airport. It was a relief to find her in the chaos. I also connected with Mr. Murat Kose of the Zakat Foundation. The scene outside the car window was surreal. …I felt like we landed into the set of “The Walking Dead” as we saw the storm’s devastation that surrounded us. There was rubble and debris everywhere. Coconut trees were uprooted. All rooftops were gone. Only a few concrete buildings remain standing. Twisted metal and debris was strewn all over the
streets. There were long lines to get gasoline and people stood patiently in line for blocks on end.
I saw a barge stranded near the street, but could not see the shoreline from where the boat was stuck. So I asked a local resident and she replied, “Oh no, the shore line is at least three kilometers away; the storm’s surge carried that cargo boat inland. That was the regular ferry that carried rice from Cebu to Leyte.” I saw body bags lined up the street from the airport. I stopped counting after nine. There was the smell of rotting flesh that permeated the air; I had to roll up and close the car window… the constant rain and tropical humidity clinging in the air made the situation worse.
We drove into downtown Tacloban to find a place to eat and finally found one restaurant open. The proprietress, Ruth Mano, had four small pieces of fried fish and a bowl of rice left. While we ate, Mrs. Mano tearfully told her
story to us. She had not been able to meet up with her family, who gathered in their two-story home in Tanawan, a few kilometers south of Tacloban. She lost seventeen family members: her mother, husband, children, sisters, nieces and 87 year-old grandmother. With a stoic face she said, “I buried all 17 of them in a mass grave the other day. I don’t know. I thought that I just have to move on and so I opened my restaurant today and so here I am.” …we spent a few minutes in silence with Ruth. She closed the restaurant as soon as we left.
After lunch, Murat and I distributed some emergency food packs near an elementary
school just outside the city center. In Tacloban, there was still no electricity but cell phone service was available. People were pumping water from manual water wells and taking showers right outside in the open. They were smiles on their faces. It seems to give dignity back to people as they washed off that grime and debris of the storm.
Slowly, but surely, Tacloban is crawling out from the disaster and adapting to daily life, attesting to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Tomorrow, we’re off to Giporlos and Guiuan, Samar, where the storm first hit landfall.
Day 2 – Evelyn Castillo and I traveled to Samar Island and we crossed the San Juanico Bridge, that connects Leyte and Samar Islands. Two miles long, it was left intact and unscathed by the Typhoon. From the top of the bridge it looked serene, like nothing had happened. The two tropical islands glistened in the sun. I said to myself, “It couldn’t be that bad, after all.” I was gravely mistaken.
As we drove inland I saw the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan unfurl before us. Coconut trees and green rice fields once covered the rolling hills East Samar. Now they were flattened and denuded…Wooden houses and thatched huts were all destroyed. A few concrete houses remained standing but with their roofs blown off and all their glass windows broken. It looks like an atom bomb hit the island….It hurts to look outside and to see all that debris and destruction.
We finally arrived in Giporlos, the second town ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan – and the
hometown of Evelyn. We walked through the town’s main plaza. The covered basketball court and the Giporlos Catholic Church across the plaza were totally ruined. The metal roof of the basketball court was like a piece of crumbled paper. The church’s roof had caved in and collapsed into the pews below.
Evelyn and I went to visit her home and what is left of it. She was caught in Manila during the
storm and she has not been home to Giporlos since. The iron gate of her house was torn in half by the storm… Her dresser landed on the front door. Her refrigerator was found three blocks away. She rummaged through the debris and found a wooden rosary that used to decorate her bedroom wall…Evelyn was silent the entire time she surveyed her devastated home. I guess no words could describe the pain… She was relieved that her family was safe. Evelny’s daughter Vanna had been swept away by the giant waves, but survived by clinging on to a fragment of a tin roof.
We continued our journey to Guiuan, Samar, the first town hit by the Typhoon Haiyan.
Day 3 – Guiuan, located on the southern edge of Samar Island, has a rich history. Four hundred years ago, this little town became a major outpost of the Catholic Church in Samar Island as the Spaniards built one of their largest churches in the Philippines, to convert the island natives to Catholicism. During World War II, Guiuan became a major landing point of US Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the US military, as the Allied Forces reclaimed the Philippines from Japanese occupation. Today, the concrete runaway that the US military built is still completely intact after all these years, and became the landing pad of US C-130 cargo planes – this time full of relief supplies for Typhoon Haiyan victims in Samar and Leyte islands. The historic Catholic church of Guiuan did not survive the Typhoon Haiyan. The church was destroyed. Only the old bell tower and the concrete ramparts holding the church walls were left standing.
It is a bit overwhelming to see firsthand the extensive damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, and to think about despair and suffering that the survivors are facing…the long road toward recovery. But as I walked around Guiuan, I was comforted to see glimpses of the resiliency of the human spirit. Amidst the ruins, children were playing and enjoying themselves while filling up their jugs of water to carry home.
It was humbling to work alongside the Zakat Foundation and the Medical Action Group
(MAG), a volunteer team based in Metro-Manila comprising 10 medical doctors, 2 nurses and 1 dentist. We were among the first responders to carry out a medical mission in Giporlos and Guiuan, Samar. I noticed that many international volunteer organizations were crowded in urban Tacloban City, but they were not to be seen in Giporlos or Guiuan, Samar. I also noticed that one prominent international disaster response organization was just setting up in Guiuan on our last day there.
The MAG had already been on Samar island for four days and treated thousands of patients in Guiuan and the nearby outlying islands. In Giporlos alone, MAG treated over 250 patients in one day. The recipients were especially grateful for the medical attention. They are poor and live in rural areas, and do not receive regular medical care. We gave them medicine and first aid supplies to take home, items that we often take for granted – such as aspirin, vitamin C, and band-aids – but are precious and expensive in rural areas.
Day 4 – Today, we distributed 100 emergency food packs to families in Barangay (“community village”) Santa Rosa in Giporlos, Samar, one of the villages severely affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The packs contained food supplies purchased from funds raised and the generous support of the Zakat Foundation: rice, canned sardines, packets of energy drinks, brown sugar, to feed a family of six. We also included mosquito repellent, to stave off the growing swarms of mosquitoes that are breeding in standing water everywhere left by the rains. I believe Bayanihan Foundation was one of the only organizations to provide this basic, but important, protection.
These emergency food packs are essential for Typhoon Haiyan survivors, as many retail
stores are shut down or do not have any food to sell. Many outlying barangays in rural areas are still without any emergency food and relief services.
I also gave away chocolates that I had bought and carried from Chicago, to hundreds of children there. I’m so glad that I did this: it was one of the highlights of my trip. One young boy exclaimed, “Yum! So this is what chocolates taste like! I’ve never tasted chocolate before in my life.”
I was touched by Evelyn’s involvement, despite of her personal circumstances. She unhesitatingly organized on the ground efforts on the Bayanihan Foundation’s behalf. She coordinated with the Medical Action Group, and recruited local volunteers to help assemble the initial emergency food packs. Evelyn’s connection with the local Barangay leader helped pave the way for an orderly distribution. And through it all, she didn’t say much. She smiled. Thank you, Evelyn. Salamat.
Day 5 – I visited these islands less than two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan hit and affected millions of people’s lives in central Philippines. During the last five days, I have talked to tens of hundreds of people about their lives, before and in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. It is a daunting task to fully comprehend the heavy weight of human tragedy that has enveloped the islands and the still-isolated communities that have received little or no aid. I feel honored to have been able to spend time among the survivors, and that the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide was able to help give them some respite. They embody all that is beautiful about the Philippines: they are gracious, proud, and resilient. With very mixed feelings, I am leaving for Manila in less than 24 hours, to board a return flight to Chicago.
This journey was a life-changing experience. I thought about the many things we take for granted, living in Chicago – clean water, a decent meal and a safe place to stay. The families affected by Typhoon Haiyan were stripped of these basic necessities of life, and they have nowhere to turn.
This was made starkly clear: In Giporlos, Samar, I had to share one egg for breakfast with a volunteer medical doctor. It hit me really hard. I realized how precious eggs were as food items. Every evening, I had to sleep on the hard floor with 10 volunteer medical doctors under a leaky roof. We were all lined up on the floor like sardines. I had to ration my water to one-half liter of bottled water that Evelyn carried from Manila, and allocated for me.
Throughout the week, we discussed the need of continued support of immediate relief efforts, but also how to contribute toward long-term recovery. Today, Evelyn Castillo met with all the barangay leaders of Giporlos, Samar and asked them about the needs that would be helpful to assist their local communities in rebuilding their villages. They each submitted written reports about their immediate and future needs. Many of them requested funds to help the local fisher folk to buy local boats and fishing nets, to help them fish and rebuild their lives.