This year with christmas I have decided to go to Tacloban to help the communities with Mercy Relief and to assess if projects are possible in the area for WorldActivity Philippines.
After leaving metro Manila and while I was stuck in traffic (had not even left Makati yet, 3 hours later), I wanted to go home already, considering a trip longer than 24 hours in an overpopulated van.
Is helping the communities in Tacloban with christmas really what I want? For whom am I doing it? Would people really appreciate it? What kind of expectations are in my head? What shall I see? All kinds of analyses went through my head.
The night of arrival in Tacloban somewhere, I slept in an evacuation centre tent of the UNHCR, in some barangay after having lost the way. What a hospitality, opening your tent to strangers! I would have never suspect sleeping in a evacuation tent.
The next morning in broad daylight, while walking in the area, the whole area looks like a war zone. A post war zone, of course I have seen it on television but actually really seeing it, is different. Speechless. No words, speechless. The power of the typhoon was enormous, as we all know, but to see actually everything (everything around you) distroyed, either roofs, whole houses, trees, is different.
Stories told from the community: All men from the community would gather at night and all people unknown would be stabbed and killed, because they were afraid of people stealing things. Due to all emotions, some people were killed out of stress and lack of sleep and panic attacks. All I was thinking was, what is there to steal? Everything is gone.
Trucks heading towards Manila were held and goods were stolen, people were so scared and hungry the first 48 hours, before the relief started. They feel guilty up to now, having stopped the trucks and getting people into trouble.
Now, six weeks after, people are tired of eating noodles and canned food, even the children complain. The people are proud, they want to have their livelihood back and to take care of themselves.
When you really zoom into the stories, all the destruction has a story and holds pain and devastation. At the mass grave, I see a baby bottle filled with milk at the grave. I see glasses of coke, all given by parents who has not accepted the death of their children. Most affected in the area I have visited were children, due to the amount of water, most children died, children living near the sea shore.
One man, lost his wife and 3 children, he gave his wife mouth to mouth under water, the water was high for around 30 minutes, only to discover a lot of blood coming out of her throat, because she got pieces of junk on her head and already died.
Filipinos are very superstitious, in the barangay I have stayed they have seen a running ghost, knocking on doors asking for help for weeks in a row.
All the days during the stay it was raining and raining. With christmas people would go to church with their umbrellas inside, since it was raining inside.
Our games brought relief, it brought smiles. It brought entertainment, distraction. A different night, than sitting in your tent without electricity.
Our christmas packages brought hope and the feeling to have not been forgotten. It brought smiles on faces to people who are not used to standing in line to get goodies.
The people in Tacloban are ready to rebuild, in the area I have visited. The children want to go to school. Some children start crying if it rains, they cry for their moms and dads. Some children don’t say anything, they keep quiet, they don’t talk. The teachers, heavily affected themselves support the children. They get courses how to deal with disasters, what to do after. NGOs start coming in to talk about the traumas.
The people I have spoken to all want to go back to the normal way of living, fishing, building furniture. Being able to work and to be able to take care of themselves. To get over this horrible experience, and I wish they do soon.
I have learned a lot, life is a gift, we should enjoy every moment, cherish every moment. Adjust with the wind, if needed, and let go. On paper always very practical and do-able. I have seem it now, the people of Tacloban are my example! Thank you very much….