Bohol Earthquake Relief

By: Geneviève Bisson

If you ask anyone who lives in the Visaya region where they were the morning of October 15th, they will absolutely be able to provide their precise location. Some of them have stories of waking up and running outside in their pj’s, some were at work, some were even focused on saving their beer bottle collection. Unfortunately, many have stories that don’t end there.  In fact, they have stories that will break your heart.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake with 3,038 aftershocks, 218 reported dead, another 790 injured, and endless structural damage to schools, churches and homes is only the tip of the iceberg when you start learning more about everything that followed. I’m far from an expert on disaster relief and I don’t want to pretend to know what has been going on especially regarding the politics behind it all, but reading and hearing about people taking advantage of these kind of situations for personal gain makes my skin crawl to say the least.

To be honest, I’ve never experienced as much anger as I have over the past few months. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself.  I get angry by watching children beg for money. I get angry when I feel like parents don’t care enough about educating their children. I get angry with some of the foreigners who come here and take more then they give. I get angry at inequality. I get angry with people who live without empathy. And then I get angry with myself for getting angry.

I’d rather feel anger than close my eyes but I’d rather feel hope than anger.  In the end, that is what Pandoo Foundation serves to do, to implement solutions, to unite people together, to educate and elevate. Hope is everywhere.

Truth is, as sad as disasters like this earthquake are, good can also come from them. It opens up dialogues, it brings people together, and it makes people appreciate more.  Over the past few weeks I’ve witnessed people, organizations and communities coming together to help.  I had the chance to take part in a few relief programs and I will soon be going to Bohol, the region most affected by the earthquake, for about 2 weeks to take part in construction work. Disaster relief will eventually be a part of our programs and I find it is essential to experience working with an organization on the ground to learn as much as possible.

This weekend I took part in a relief program led by the Kindred Nomad Project and sponsored by Union Bank. Jilly and a few others once again took the initiative to gather people together and give back. I am truly in awe of the energy and passion she puts into making her country a better place and I’m inspired by her ability to bring people along with her.

On Saturday, about 40 volunteers gathered to pack 800 bags for families in need. These bags included food, blankets and tents to serve as temporary shelter.  They organized everything in order to make the distribution as easy as possible.

Sunday we were set to leave on the 7 am ferry and, despite a vast number of the volunteers who barely had a chance to close their eyes, the vibe was positive and everyone seemed eager to lend a helping hand. We had a group of about 100 volunteers and they divided us into 4 groups to help 4 different communities. Kris and I led one of the groups. We first got them together to inform them of the game plan for the day, and then divided the tasks. We unloaded the goods from the ferry only to then load them back up into trucks to head out to the communities. We all jumped on board the trucks sitting on the bags with high spirits and energy. The group soon fell silent as we started passing by all the damage caused by the earthquake. Churches completely flat to the ground, destroyed homes, roads cracked and signs asking and thanking for help. When we arrived, the people of the community were waiting and gathered to greet us. In no time I was on the cracked basketball court initiating a game. I quickly realized that I had lost my skills and was getting beaten by 8 years old shooting 3 pointers left and right. I would like to believe that I let them win to make them feel good, but anyways…

Then I heard that one of the volunteers collapsed and was unconscious. We had no cell phone signal and needed to respond quickly. We stopped all other activities in order to fully tend to him. Luckily we had a Japanese nurse on our team and Kris did a great job managing the situation. I then headed out with the Baranguay captain to the municipality hall to go get an ambulance. By the time we came back he was conscious again.

We continued giving out the goods and when everyone had a pack we loaded up to go help another group.  I got the chance to talk more with the last community since we had enough hands to distribute the rest of the things. I befriended a small group and it didn’t take long for the crowd to multiply. I suspect they all wanted an equal share of listening to me butchering Visaya. We had a great time dancing and taking pictures. It was a truly humbling experience to listen to them speak about the impact of the earthquake and to see how grateful they are to be alive. The way they focus on everything they still have instead of things they lost is a lesson for all. It goes to show that although you don’t choose what happens to you in life, you can choose your attitude towards it. I’ll think of them next time I need to put things in to perspective.

We finally wrapped up the day by passing around bottles of water on the street as we made our way back to port. When we got there we realized that the ferry was completely full and the next one wasn’t for 6 hours . Time to put into practice this perspective thing. We made the best of it and had a blast hanging out at the park until it was time to leave.

All in all it was a great experience and I am looking forward our future work in Bohol. We hope to change that destruction to construction bit-by-bit and spend more time with these inspiring people. Days like this make that anger feel so far away, and seeing these caring people help one another makes me realize how powerful coming together can be. I feel hope.

So, yes… they have stories that will break your heart, but don’t keep that heart broken. What is currently debris will very soon be new houses, schools, and united communities. After all, every flower must grow through dirt.