Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Long Road Ahead

December 9th, 2013
A Long Road Ahead
Yesterday I wrote about the heroic efforts of Gemma and Bella as they walked through water that rose to their necks to save the lives of 16 children. Both of them lost their homes in the typhoon and now live with their children at the Missionaries of Charity. Here are photos of both.
Today I woke up anxious to get on the road and see what life is like outside of Tacloban and in the smaller towns I arranged a motorcycle cab to meet Jenn and me at 8:00 am so that we could go to the small town of Tabontaban, about an hour away. Prior to coming here I put out an open request to any Filipinos interested in having me check up on their families. Cristina Cadaro lives in the Middle East as an overseas worker and her 2 young daughters (age 5 and 3) are living with her mother here. In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, Cristina could not reach them and had no idea if they were even alive. Without the means to travel here she lived with a lot of uncertainly. She was able to confirm they were alive but asked me to visit and make sure they had enough food, water and adequate living conditions.
I met the driver and we went to look for supplies. I was told that a few shops have opened up selling goods at inflated prices, over double the normal rate. I was able to scrounge up some oranges, apples, bread, soap, hot dogs, coffee and milo. We drove and I noticed a really big effort to get the electricity back in order. I saw truck after truck carrying loads of 26 hydro poles ready to be raised, along with dozens of teams of workers lining the roads. They have a goal of getting streetlights operating by December 24th and are racing to meet that deadline. The views on the road however, didn’t change a lot as we drove. The piles of garbage and scenes of homes torn apart have been a constant sight in all directions.
I didn’t know the location of the home but after asking around we found Cristina’s mom and 2 beautiful daughters. I introduced myself to her mother and told her I knew her daughter and I was here to see if they needed anything. I gave them the food and some cash and told her it was a gift from people all around the world who want to help. I asked what she needed and her response was typical of the things people really need in disasters. They need fresh water, fresh food (she is getting tired of 28 consecutive days of canned sardines), cleaning supplies, mops, tools like hammers and shovels, flashlights and batteries. There is a strange irony to seeing hundreds of containers full of clothes blocking the ports when you can’t find a flashlight or spare batteries in a city without electricity. People had their roofs blown off but don’t have shovels to clear out the mud or scrub brushes or mops to clean the floors. All the tools were destroyed in the typhoon. I told her that I was planning to rent a van and go to Ormoc to load up on supplies for a number or people and then would be back. She wanted me to extend her families gratitude to all those who donated. Here is Cristina’s mother and daughters Shantel and Samantha.
Cristina’s family
The driver, Jenn and I then returned to Tacloban and went to Jenn’s home to see what happened at her home. I met Jennifer Jabolen at the Missionaries of Charity (MC) in 2011. She is the eldest of a family of 4 with 3 younger brothers and parents living in a small home. Jenn had health problems growing up and MC paid her medical bills and in return, she donates her time to help care for the children. Prior to me leaving in 2011, she was unselfishly giving all her time to MC on a volunteer basis and because of her health could not get a full time job. Her health improved so I asked if she would be interested in going to school. She said she would love to but her parents didn’t have the money. I spoke with her parents and asked permission to support her through College. She was just starting her last semester in her 2nd year of Business when the typhoon hit. Jenn was left with no home, no school and only the clothes on her back. Her story of the typhoon is no less dramatic than any other I have heard.
I was in Tacloban in the first week of November and spent a lot of my time with Jenn and Ruchelle. We would all go to dinner together and spend time talking about her school or Ruchelle’s upcoming job in Taiwan.  I had met many of Jenn’s friends in the past few years and this visit was much like the others. We all heard the reports of the typhoon being billed as the biggest storm in history but the attention was mostly focused on the wind, not the potential storm surge. I left Tacloban on November 5th and Ruchelle left on November 7th so Jenn was left here with her family.
Jenn lives in a small single story 2-room home directly beside her grandmother’s small home that extends to 2 floors. When the typhoon hit and the water started rising they wisely moved over to her grandmother’s home. They were soon joined by 6 other families all-searching for a way to escape. In a matter of minutes the water and mud completely covered the entire ground floor. All 7 families climbed the stairs and huddled on the small 2nd floor, not sure if the water would completely wipe out the house. The wind blew off the roof and some of the walls and they were exposed to the elements above and to the side and the water was now at the level of the top stair below, with nothing but 10 feet of surging water below. There were 30 people standing in a small area trapped and simply hanging on for life, for over 4 hours. All of them survived. I don’t think words can adequately describe what I heard from Jenn and her mother. They really lived through a nightmare.
Here is a picture of the grandmother’s home, 29 days after the typhoon hit. The sheet metal on the sides of the home is temporary replacements from pieces of roof found after the storm.
Shelter during Yolanda
This is the landing area above the stairs where 7 families huddled during the typhoon.
Room of refuge
This is the landing area showing the top of the stairs coming up from the ground floor. At the height of the storm, the water rose right up to the top step. There were 30 people up there with the roof and sides of the home gone, and everyone wondering if the home would collapse and be washed away or if the water would continue to rise.
Top Landing
Here is the kitchen in Jenn’s house on the ground floor. It was completely submerged by water and mud.
Jenn’s Kitchen
Here is the living room, also submerged to the height of the ceiling. When the water receded they were left with about 3 feet of mud that they cleaned up, one bucket at a time. This is why one of the big necessities here is cleaning supplies, pails, scrub brushes and mops.
Living room wall
Here is the living room after almost a month of cleaning. Jenn’s father built the bunk beds with some of the debris.
Jenn’s living room
This is a view through the open window in the living room showing the remains of 3 homes. All the members of those families were part of the large group hiding in Jenn’s grandmother’s home.
Houses gone
This is the view from the back of the house. There were 8 bodies pulled from the rubble in this area.
View from Jenn’s home
This is the family guard monkey. He is a nasty fellow ready to attack anyone within arm’s reach. I walked by and he grabbed the bag on my back before I retreated. I had to duck to walk under his menacing glare. I told him I would buy him a banana but it didn’t change his mood. Maybe he thinks I was responsible for the typhoon.
Monkey in the rafters
Jenn’s home is one we will rebuild with some of the donation money. We discussed what to do and decided to build a 2nd floor on the current structure to ensure they are safe if another storm hits. It is not the first time their home has been flooded and it makes no sense to just keep the existing home without an escape route. I asked her father to figure out what is needed and to contact a building supply store as to the best way to get started. Jenn’s father is now working for the Buddhist Work for Pay program where they hire local people and pay them to clean up the city. It is a perfect solution to the problems here but it means her father will not be able to help build during the day. He will continue to work as long as he can so he feels like he is supporting his family, a very important and often overlooked aspect of trying to rebuild. If the men are left at home to just wait for relief aid they can easily start growing dependent and lose incentive to work. The faster you can get people to take responsibility for their own situation, the better things will be in the long run.
Jenn’s uncle will come to Tacloban from the nearby province to supervise the work so we will create a job for him, in addition to the 3 or 4 locals who will help to rebuild. Jenn’s father will come home after work and monitor the progress as we go. Jenn’s mother will keep the men in line. Her family is very hard working and exceedingly honest so I can trust they will work hard and hold the other workers accountable.
The biggest hurdle now is to find building materials. In the home we are building in Bogo, we had to get building supplies in the city, a drive of 2 hours. We got 2 trucks to drive the materials to Bogo and we may have to do the same here. It is an expensive alternative but it could if you consider every single home in a city of 250,000 people needs some form of work, you can understand the logistical problems. That doesn’t even consider the hundreds of small communities surrounding Tacloban.
One of the big issues here is as I mentioned earlier, that of land ownership. Jenn’s family do not own the land so are officially considered squatters but the government is allowing people to rebuild here as they have no alternative plan to relocate the families here. That is why we will build on this site, they have no alternative in terms of location.
Tomorrow I will be making a second attempt to find Michael and his family. I met his aunt who gave me the general area of where he lived. I will also try to find Angel, April and Jerry Boy, the twins and brother who were also at MC in 2011. I visited with the children and their parents when I returned at Christmas 2012 and have heard conflicting reports on their safety. I really pray that there is good news.


  1. You are one very special man Fred, one I am honored to call a friend.


  2. Brenda_Schepper@kprdsb.caDecember 23, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Dear Fred -

    Did the banana change the Monkey in the Rafter's mood? He is understandably suspicious but hopefully he'll come to learn that you are there to help.
    I wanted to tell you that I have sent 10 picture books to Angel House Orphanage ... presents for each one of the orphans. I have also included some dropjes and a Christmas Card for you...I don't think it's going to get there for quite some time though?
    Can we send any goods to you now? Or is it better to send money?
    Love, Brenda

  3. HI Brenda,

    You can't really send me anything, I am moving around a lot. It's far better to send money as the goods are all intercepted here. The Customs is very corrupt and most goods will not arrive in one piece. If you send money, people can spend it for things they really need, not what we think they might need, which is very different. For example, their biggest needs are water purification tablets, flashlights, cleaning supplies for their homes, rice etc. Most people send clothes that are not suitable for the heat here so it's best they pick out what they need.

    Also, if you send clothes or goods, you are taking business away from the small businesses here and making things worse. If you send money, it stimulates the spending and you can help the people and all those who run businesses. If I had one wish it would be that when there are disasters, that people only donate money, it would save a lot of problems.