Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rebuilding in Cebu

December 5, 2013
On December 2nd I arrived in Cebu and met Tita Pino and her sister and brother at the airport and went to her home. Just over 7 weeks ago on October 15th, an earthquake hit the island of Bohol and also caused extensive damage here in Cebu City.  Almost 200 people were killed on but most of that has been forgotten since the typhoon. There have been numerous after-shocks since then with the latest only a few nights ago. The family slept outside on the street during the earthquake in fear of the home crashing down. The cracks in the cement walls are still visible and when the after-shocks come the family rushes outside to the safety of the street. Here is Tita’s nephew preparing himself for a potential collapse.
Ready for an aftershock
Tita’s brother borrowed a truck from his boss and we drove the 3 hours up to the northern Cebu town of Bogo. Here we are all packed up and ready for the road trip north.
Truck to Bogo
This part of Cebu was directly in the path of typhoon Yolanda and suffered extensive wind damage but because of the distance from the water were spared the storm surge that typically causes the most destruction. The smaller towns and barangays did not get the media attention but there are millions of people without basic shelter or food all over Central Philippines. We arrived in Bogo and I noticed a number of relief agencies set up including a large contingent of doctors from Israel, another military type compound with the German flag and a large group of Filipino volunteers with the Red Cross.
The area is a poor farming community with sugar cane being the staple crop. There is no running water or underground sanitation and the barangays share a number of wells for their source of water. My day would start with a walk to the community well where we would draw water by rope and use that for a shower. Then when we were clean, we would carry a pail back to wash clothes or feed the pig, dogs, roosters, chickens and cat. The water in one of the wells is drawn up with an old basketball.
Water in an old basketball
Getting water for a bath
Doing laundry
The family home that was destroyed only had electricity for the first time about 6 months ago, so Tita’s parents raised 8 children without electric power or running water. Here are a few members of the family just after our arrival in Bogo.
The family in Bogo

I stayed for 2 nights in the makeshift home. The corrugated steel walls here used to be the roof of the old home and the roof is now a canvas tent. You can see pictures of the home immediately after the typhoon in my last journal entry. Here are the front and rear views of the temporary home.
Temporary shelter
Back of temporary home
The homes in this farming community are spread out but the devastation is everywhere. All of the electrical wires are down so people have fires and you can see candles flickering at night. It is something to see strong coconut trees with half the tree completely severed by the force of the wind. Even concrete structures did not get a pass as you can see in this partially rebuilt home.
Homes in Bogo
Here is the interior of the home where we slept.
Sleeping quarters
There is no electricity so everything is cooked over an open fire. Here is the daily pot of rice cooking.
Cooking dinner
On this night, the following breakfast and dinner and breakfast the following day, Tita had her favorite meal of rice and fried fish with the small fish fried directly on the fire.
Fried fish for dinner
The pig could smell the food cooking and was waiting impatiently for his share.
Pig waiting impatiently for food
I was here 24 days after the typhoon hit and the only relief goods the family received was a small package of food that wouldn’t even feed the parents for 1 day. Tita and her sister drove up to Bogo twice in the last few weeks to provide enough for them to live. To feed all the people in the vast area impacted by the storm is a daunting task and it is the families in the small outlying barangays like this one that are at the most risk of going without.
On Tuesday December 3rd, all the families were given a large tarp provided by World Vision.
Tarp from World Vision
It is nice to see practical supplies reach the people. I saw a number of clothes being distributed but as is always the case in disasters, donating clothes and shoes is not a good idea for a number of reasons. First, most people donate clothes and shoes because they want to get rid of the excess from their closets but they aren’t often practical for the local people. I was here when Tita’s mother brought in some clothes from a South Korean aid agency. They were given clothes that would have been suitable in a very cold climate in winter but the long thick shirts and sweaters have no useful value here. The people here know what works best and if they were given money to buy the clothes that work well in their environment, it would save a lot of waste. I also think there is a negative association with receiving second hand clothes that could be avoided if the people could select their own goods.
The second reason that donating clothes and shoes is not a good idea is that you deprive the local merchants of making a living. If people give clothes, the local retail outlets and market sellers lose business so you are actually increasing unemployment at a time they desperately need to work. If they could work it would make them feel useful after losing everything so having free clothing pour into the city really hurts their chance to make a living. If people donated cash directly to the families, they could buy clothes for their children and give income to the retailers. The last thing you want is to create a welfare society where people become dependent on aid so handing out clothes and shoes is sending the wrong message. Food, water, medicine and materials for shelter can save lives and is needed in the immediate aftermath but you have to get the local businesses up and running to get the economy back in order.
Finally, there is a large backlog of vehicles trying to get clothes to the people. The vital relief goods have to take priority so the clothes clog up airports and shipping yards and they end up sitting there for months or years. They have stopped taking clothes donations here in the Philippines but the foreign supplies of clothing and shoes are still piling up in the docks and it is doubtful if the vast majority of those goods will ever get to the intended recipients.
It is now Wednesday December 4th and I am staying at a hotel close to the ferry port in Cebu City. I will be on the early ferry heading towards Tacloban and will be there about noon on Thursday. I have been getting a few updates on the situation and it seems some things are improving but the people face a long road ahead in terms of rebuilding. I am praying that the children I knew from the orphanage are safe. All of the kids were living in an area completely wiped out so they will all be at one of the temporary shelters. My first priority will be to find those kids and make sure their families have enough to eat and drink. Then I will be working with Jennifer’s father to organize the building of their home.  I also have a few families to contact for Filipinos working overseas who want to make sure their families have enough relief goods.
The money that so many have generously donated has already been and will continue to be well spent. I wish all of you could see the gratitude expressed by the family in Bogo as they prepare to rebuild their home with materials purchased with your money. The money is going directly to the people and will only be spent on what they need most to survive and get their lives back to normal. I will write as often as I can from Tacloban and please keep the people there in your prayers.


  1. HI Fred, thank you for the update. It's good to hear from you and knowingly that you found your friends in Cebu. But it's also good to know what's happening with people donating clothes and shoes, it makes sense. The picture helps a lot as well.
    Prayers are always with you, your friends there and all victims of Hyan, and hopefully more support to come.

  2. Thanks for the update Fred. Amazing to see people smiling even in these terrible times.

  3. Brenda_Schepper@kprdsb.caDecember 23, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Dear Fred -

    I love your bright orange shirt...I'm not sure the title but I see "the happiest people on earth". What stands out for me ... any of the photos with children and adults are smiling! A startling message for all of us who have so much to be thankful for.
    Thanks for donating your time Fred!
    With love, Brenda