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Jess’ First Relief Work Experience in the Philippines

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Hi! This is Jess! I just returned from a short 3 day trip to the Philippines in the light of typhoon Yolanda that swept through central Philippines earlier this month. The hometown of one my close friends Joan was hit and I decided to make a trip down together with her. Being so blessed living in Singapore with a roof over my head and a comfortable bed to sleep on every night, I just thought sharing my first experience lending a helping hand in person on site would be something meaningful and some food for thought for our viewers and readers. 🙂

People in Singapore who knew Joan just started donating money, along with boxes or clothing and food, upon learning that she will be going back to the Philippines for a week. A day before our flight, we spoke to a friend who was telling us about a torch light that could be charged by hand so no batteries were needed. The next day, she contacted us saying she found a hardware store in Bishan selling this item at just $1 a piece! We bought a box with 200 pieces, and checked it in, together with more than 80kg of donated items.

Joan’s family picked us up from Ilo Ilo airport at 6am and we headed to a wholesale area, where we bought 400m of tarpaulin, enough for 100 families, and purchased more than a hundred pieces of large blankets. After lunch, we travelled more than an 2 hours to Dao, Capiz. (Thanks to the store bosses who gave us a discount knowing these were to be distributed!) Knowing the situation back home, Joan’s mother advised us as to what the people needed.

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As we journeyed out of Ilo Ilo city, the aftermath of the typhoon became more and more evident. What used to be a scene of luscious green had turned into a brown one, with bare trees, fallen trees, bamboo plants bent to near 90 degrees and flooded rice fields. Palm trees that still had had leaves on them clearly reflected the direction of the wind with all its remaining leaves gathered on one side. We passed by slanted, roofless, wall-less houses. Some homes had a tarpaulin sheet draped across the top supported by a few bamboo poles and they looked more like temporary shelters. Other houses had been reduced to a pile of debris with bamboo, wood and flimsy metal sheets stacked like the end of a Jenga game. The more fortunate with brick or stone houses had their houses still standing. Despite this, somehow the pristine blue sky seemed to be a source of hope. When we arrived at Joan’s hometown, the air was smokey as people burnt fallen leaves and tree branches in an attempt to clear them.

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In the evening, we travelled another hour and a half to the supermarket in Roxas city. En route was our first encounter with the typhoon victims. We stopped midway just to check on the vehicle and people started to swarm from the roadsides toward us, thinking we were there to distribute relief goods, to which Joan responded “Tomorrow, tomorrow,” in the local dialect.

After ride too bumpy ride for my stomach, we arrived at the supermarket and scanned the shelves of canned goods to spot the most value for money items. Joan’s mother instructed the supermarket staff to bring out cartons of canned meat loaf and beef stew at about $0.60 apiece. We also bought cartons of instant noodles. Joan had a friend who was a biscuit wholesaler so we managed to buy boxes of biscuits at a better price. Not forgetting the children, we bought 2 bags of candy to spread some cheer.

On our drive back, we saw a few orange lights across the countryside from the fires that the people can built. There was no light (nor telecommunication signals) as power was down. (We heard that power would be restored by the end of the year.) People who lived along the roads sat or stood around outside their houses where there was light from passing vehicles.

The rest of the night was spent packing – 2 bottles of water (which Joan had ordered before leaving Singapore), 3 packets of instant noodles, 2 cans of canned food, 4 small packets of biscuits and a flashlight for the first 200 relief packs.

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Packing continued in the morning and the tarpaulin was cut into 4m apiece. After lunch, we went just across the road to a group of people standing by the road. Their houses were further in and away from the road. I could see in the distance houses that had been destroyed amidst tall grass. We handed them a relief packs and the smiles on their faces were instant. Soon after, we were ready to head out in our truck with the first batch of relief packs. We drove into an area with dirt roads that seemed really inaccessible for cars and suited for the local tricycles. We drove along a very narrow dirt road with rice fields on both sides and turned onto a path littered with fallen trees and branches by the sides. With Joan’s brother’s superb driving skills, we managed to avoid getting stuck midway. We stopped in between 2 wide fields with houses on either ends and honked a few times and called out to the residents. It was not long before we started to see people streaming quickly towards us as they cut across the fields. Soon there was a loud and excited exchange of the Ilongo dialect and the relief packs were distributed. The instruction to the people was “Only one pack per household.” Some blankets and tarpaulins were given out as well. One lady probably in her 70s was the first I saw tear as she expressed her thankfulness.

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Throughout the day, we went back home to replenish the back of the truck twice and went to nearby areas where we knew the more needy were living. We also visited the nearby market to purchase more instant noodles and biscuits as we had run out and prepared more packs. While we returned to replenish the relief packs, residents started to appear at Joan’s home as they had heard food packs were being given out. Joan’s mother explained to the people that the supply was very limited and only for the needy, one pack per household. Throughout the day, we hear countless people tell us of how their houses had been destroyed and express how much the food packs help them. One man asked for another food pack for his blind neighbour who could not leave her house, while another elderly woman teared as she spoke of how she had a mentally disabled son they had to chain up as he was violent.

I felt a little helpless as the food distribution was going on with the language barrier so I left Joan and her family with maintaining order and distributing to the people. I helped to hand out the items from the back of the truck and gave out the candy to the kids. Throughout the distribution, Joan’s family pointed to me and said the gifts were from people in Singapore. As they conveyed their thank yous, I just gave a wide smile and said “Walang anuman!” (you’re welcome) and “God bless!” as cheerfully as I could. To those who contributed in one way or another, you can be sure that you have the heartfelt gratitude of the people.

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With the contributions of friends in Singapore, almost 400 relief packs, 100 tarpaulins, more than 100 blankets and 3 boxes of used clothing were given to the people on the first day of distribution. Even on the second day, people who heard of the distribution from their neighbours but were not at home at that time travelled miles on foot under the scorching sun to Joan’s house to ask for the food packs. As Joan continues the work in the Philippines, more families are set to be blessed.

I believe this giving not only bought 400 families a meal and some shelter, but it gave the people hope and encouragement to rebuild their lives.

One of our friends went to Estancia, Ilo Ilo, a coastal area much worse hit due to the flood, to help with relief work. From the pictures he took, it looks exactly like a scene out of a war or horror movie. Not to mention Tacloban which we hear so much of on the news. What is encouraging is to see and hear so many countries and its people all over the world give so much help just to help one country. Continue to pray, give and count our blessings!

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