The first signs of wide-scale typhoon damage start to be apparent on the roadside as we approach the town of Borbon, 80 kilometres from Cebu city. We continue our journey up through some hilly terrain and then on to a wide plateau with hills in the distance. As we enter the outskirts of Bogo, we come across human need for the first time. A group of children are standing passively on the roadside holding up pieces of cardboard with pleas for help. Instinctively, I cry out to the driver to stop; it is a pitiful sight and I cannot pass by our first group of victims without giving help.
Our team worked hard in the school yesterday evening to prepare relief supplies to hand out today. We have 210 plastic bags containing rice, bottles of water and canned goods. We also have 500 rolls of bread to give away. The children with their cardboard signs are our first beneficiaries of relief supplies and they are smiling with delight as we resume our journey.
We drive on for another half hour seeing more and more uprooted trees and destroyed houses on either side. We turn right off the main road and head for the barangay of Guadalupe. This is the home village of Ann, a member of our team today and a parent of a former pupil of our school. She is excited to see her family again, especially her ‘Lolo’ -grandfather Enrique who raised her as a child; she never knew her father.
We arrive in the ‘poblacion’ of Guadalupe and Roy parks the van in front of the barangay hall. There is a truck from a Christian school nearby delivering donated clothing to crowds of villagers. We get out and walk the 50 yards to find Ann’s family. There is a joyful reunion between Ann, her uncle, brothers and Lolo Enrique. As for the family home, it is completely destroyed. Her brother Rony is a carpenter and he is already laying the foundations of a new home using wood that he has been able to retrieve.
I talk to Rhea, a 13 year old and Ann’s Godchild and ask her about the day of the typhoon. She tells me the peak winds lashed her village for a couple of hours in the early afternoon of November 8th. I learn that all her family opted to stay outside during the typhoon as the risks were too great to stay indoors. Most importantly, they had to stay away from the nearby coconut trees, many of which would fall to the ground that day. Despite these precautions, Rhea’s mother was hit in the neck by flying debris but she is OK.
While I am talking to Rhea, Ireen is hearing Lolo Enrique’s account of what happened to him on that fateful day. He tells her that he was in his home (semi-concrete) until 2pm when the wind started to intensify. At this point, his son Reynaldo (45) and grandson Rony (38) rushed into his house and insisted that he evacuate to a neighbour’s concrete house. At 3pm with the storm still intensifying, they sought further refuge in the barangay hall.
Enrique later saw with his own eyes the wreckage of his home. The tin roofing had been blown away and the wooden structures had collapsed to the ground. He was sad to see his mango and coconut trees uprooted and lying on the ground. He is grateful to his son and grandson for saving his life; he could never have made his way to safety without their help.
We leave Ann in the company of her Lolo and other family members and seek out a barangay official to get an understanding of the needs in the area as we are keen to distribute our relief supplies. We meet Glen, a former city councillor and he agrees to lead us on his motorcycle to a couple of nearby sitios. We are perhaps too hasty to give out our supplies at the first sight of people as we soon discover that word of our presence had reached the barangay hall and before we know it, large numbers of people have rushed over and joined the line. We decide to limit our giving of relief packs to the senior citizens and give rolls of bread to the others.
We proceed to the hillside sitio of Lib-og, a ten minute drive along the track. Roy stops the van at the bottom of the hill and we get out. Soon, crowds of people are gathering around us and our team hands out supplies. The mood is joyful. I take leave of the team and walk up the hill on my own to connect with some of the residents. One woman after another is eager to show me her destroyed home. I listen to their stories, take some photos and make a promise to come back soon.
When I get back to the van, the team are ready to return to the barangay hall to pick up Ann. Ireen tells me about Juliana, a woman with a goitre who had been in the line for relief packs. Juliana also has diabetes which has resulted in near blindness. Ireen asks me if we could give her give her some money for her maintenance medicines. We see her walking home as we drive by so I open the van window and give her 1,000 pesos. She is teary-eyed as we say goodbye.
On our return to Guadalupe, we have our picture taken in front of the damaged school house. Glenn tells us the original building was constructed in the American colonial period. The roof has survived intact but the walls are gone. Books are laid out on the ground to dry.
It is 4.30pm and it is time to head back to the city. The traffic is likely to be bad again with relief vehicles all heading south at the same time. We are glad to have a number of relief packs still available as people are lining the roadsides hoping for food hand-outs. We stop every few hundred metres or so, whenever we see a cluster of people. We especially want to give food to senior citizens but we try to give something to everyone. Our driver, Roy even gets out himself to give out packs of food to people on the opposite side of the road. One such person is Lolo Felix Romagus. The three LLC mothers had spotted him looking out of a house window hours earlier on our outward journey and worried about him. Here he is again in exactly the same place and Roy jumps out to go and give him a couple of our remaining relief packs. It transpires the man is disabled and cannot walk. He is misty-eyed as he waves us all goodbye.
We reach Cebu city at 8.30pm and stop off in the Country Mall for dinner in a Filipino restaurant. It has been a rewarding day and we look forward to returning next week to start giving out housing assistance to the most vulnerable families.