After two hours of car drive along the Cebu island we reached places which several days ago were struck by a massive typhoon Haiyan. The northern part of the province together with adjacent islands was destroyed. Despite an early hour, courtyards were crowded with people tidying up the debris and lanes between buildings.
After another hour of ship travel from Hagnay harbor, we saw Bantayan Island. From a distance the crowns of damaged, wind-swept coconut palms, a symbol of holiday-paradise, looked as a scenery for moon-landscape movie. After one and half hour we reached the shore. Bantayan was in the very pupil of the cyclone eye. It belongs to the most destroyed islands in the Philippines.
In the centre of Bantayan municipality¹, in the main office of local authorities a crisis centre has been organized. Offices of officials were adopted as temporary "posts" of organizations operating in this region. A lot of men with name tags moved around inside and women in an out-of-use toilet tried on the shirts selected from a huge pile of clothes. By the building we found set up boards with details concerning help provided with division into villages, number of families and households. There was also a map of organizations, which in order to raise the effectiveness of the help provided "adopted" particular barangays, i.e. took them as concentration points of their operations. There is no place for chaos here. Everything remains under close supervision of the mayor of Bantayan, who welcomes us proudly. We receive information package concerning the volume of damage caused by the typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, including also a list of damaged schools. We are told that we can provide help for Sungko barangay, which so far has been overlooked by international NGOs. We did not even finish a sentence on the purchase of generators when we were provided with an idea concerning their usage as a station for charging cell phones for the inhabitants, since electricity still has not been back on the island. One can learn a lot from such an organized headquarters. We hope that this is a regular care of local authorities prepared for similar situations, provided for everyone, regardless of political views.
Then we go to meet the family of Janice – a Filipino, student of an American film school, whose family suffered during the typhoon. Her uncle together with his family lives by the very ocean. From three houses which they had only one survived - made of brick. We ask about 8 November. “It began quite innocently, like a hurricane typical for this region. After half an hour when many of us thought that it was all over, the cyclone returned and struck twice as strong. It was like a tornado.” With calmness that we can only admire, they describe how the whole family lied on the floor, listening to the sound of the wind tearing away roofs. The oldest inhabitants admit that they have never experienced anything like that. Janice’s family, although it has to cope with the effects of Yolanda itself, brings help to the poorer regions of the island.
After a short conversation with our informer we move to make a reconnaissance. On our way we stop by the biggest public school in the neighborhood - Bantayan Central School, with its principal showing us around. Although several classrooms were completely destroyed, the school has numerous foreign sponsors who plan to send help. Neatly dressed children with filled schoolbags pass by a few destroyed buildings; there are classes in the adjacent classrooms. The principal wearing a pink uniform talks much about psychologists working with children, traumas and return to normal life. Later we found out that this school was very lucky. A few kilometers further the typhoon caused much more damage, completely wrecking careless childhood of many students.
Right after that we move inside the island to Sungko barangay, which has not been "adopted" yet by international NGOs. First, we have a short talk with the local captain (leader of barangay), then with the inhabitants. Here the poverty is reflected in people´s eyes. A group of women is quickly joined by a cluster of bare-foot children, interested more with our presence than the conversation itself. Children seem to accept the new state of affairs immediately. Or maybe it is just thanks to the fact they have been raised in the atmosphere of smile and thanksgiving...? Their child world sends one request to ours: "We want home, home for Christmas!"
Within a few days, after many preparations we start distribution of building materials among the inhabitants of Sungko barangay. We need to hurry. After all, home must be ready for Christmas!
Text translation was made thanks to courtesy of Embassy of the Philippines in Warsaw