I took this photo at the tail end of a twelve-hour road trip to Northern Cebu yesterday. It was one of the most emotionally exhausting days I have experienced in a long time. The kid with the sign says it all. I think everyone in our vehicle was on the verge of tears, for the nth time in half a day. We started out of Cebu City at 6am on a cloudy, rainy grey morning…
We headed towards Bogo, but after the town of Sogod, we turned westward on a road that traversed the island to the town of Tabuelan, through small puroks and mountain barangays that had probably not been seen by many in the previous 4 days since the storm.
We came across flattened chicken houses or poultries, with thousands of the birds roaming freely, as their cages were completely destroyed, but they were hanging around for some feed. The stench of death from thousands of dead birds was overwhelming, I can only imagine with horror what it’s like in Tacloban where the bodies are human instead of fowl…
At the town of Tabuelan, we turned North and started to see increasingly severe destruction to homes, crops and electric poles… We accompanied a medium sized truck provided by GMA Foundation, our relief goods in the back covered with a tarpaulin.
We drove by public school houses (apparently where most people went for shelter) that had their roofs ripped open with giant can openers. Large sections of roof had literally blown off.
Homes of both the rich and poor were ravaged, though more cement homes seemed to survive in this area, some 30-40 kilometers from the eye of the storm…
The landscape was devoid of leaves, nearly every single one ripped off branches. Coconut trees snapped in half, banana trees felled like cards in a strong breeze. It’s amazing to see square kilometer after square kilometer of ravaged foliage and crops and fruit trees.
We stopped at the first barangay and unloaded ten sacks or roughly 150 care packages. The process was very organized, with GMA volunteers having gone ahead to ask barangay captains to list every family in their area. Each family was handed a package, some water, and some baked pizza dough, a donation from a pizza chain. It was relatively orderly, but crowds started to build. Of course a few tried to game the system and claim several packages, but for the most part it was a really well organized distribution.
What was truly amazing in the midst of hunger and desperation, was that everyone was so incredibly polite, so grateful, so appreciative and so darned proper. Some of these folks hadn’t had a drink of fresh water in days (but at least they had some coconuts) nor stocks of rice, but they were calm and still had smiles despite the difficult circumstances.
In true provincial style, the older folks inquired after who specifically was providing the aid or assistance and when told it was a Cebuano family (working on behlaf of hundreds of donors around the world), graciously said they would say a prayer of thanks for all that lent a hand… You can imagine how many times all of our eyes welled up per hour. We tried to move from barangay to barangay without lingering, but the distribution does take time.
There were several elderly women, many widowed, and their homes destroyed but they seemed so calm or were they shocked, in the aftermath of the storm. I think we may have been the first folks to reach these barangays, as many other groups headed as far north in Cebu as they could. I am glad we saw this side of the island, and got to these smaller barangays with sufficient stocks for nearly every family in the area.
Minutes after we finished distributing in the first barangay, these four men passed bearing a coffin for burial. It seems they had delayed the funeral as getting the aid packages were deemed essential or they might have been passed by. The silence that descended when we realized this was yet another sharp pang of emotion. The four men, then followed by the residents of that barangay, headed a few hundred meters towards the shore for a simple burial. I didn’t ask what caused the death.
As we headed up the coast, word spread like wildfire, how I DO NOT KNOW. There was no cell signal in these parts, so I can only think bamboo telegraph, but all bamboo stands were down.
The lines of people were starting to build and we were quickly going through the roughly 1,500-2,000 aid packages that we brought along.
Somewhere along the way, we were informed that there were still quite a few NPA in the hills of this part of the island. This surprised me a bit, but I have to say, never once did our convoy feel any risk or threat at any point in time. Unlike the stories coming out of Tacloban, with hijackings of aid vehicles, armed robberies of commercial warehouses, this part of Cebu seemed almost peaceful in a way.
The Teen distributed much of the goods, and I have to say, she was as poised and appropriate as my mother and grandmother would have been proud of. This whole experience has been a real eye-opener for her and for all of us…
This scene of a nearly totaled restaurant with the resident dog on the steps looking up at the damage was just as heart wrenching as hearing peoples’ stories. The pets and animals are also victims of this storm…
The Teen, a long time staff member and I fell for this cute dog, a nursing mother who BEGGED for food. She kept returning to the vehicle, stepped into the back seat and you just knew she was hungry. We fed her some of the baked dough and she scurried off to eat and watch over her pups.
There were several more dogs along the way.
Part of our team, taking a break along the way. The smiling lady in the middle of the photo was accompanying us on her way home to Bantayan, where her family lived on an outer island, and she reported back later that ALL the homes on the island were wiped out and everyone was near starving. We had sent a couple of sacks of relief goods with her, and she said they were the FIRST aid to reach that island.
We spent today buying and re-packing and it’s getting late, but we have to do this trip all over again to Medellin and perhaps Daanbantayan tomorrow, leaving Cebu at 6am. We could not have done these trips without all of your generous contributions, thank you very much. :)