When I left in November and helped distribute aid on Bantayan Island (along with Ryan Edwards and Melanie Conner Lyons), we were shaken. It looked like the whole area was run over with a lawn mower and residents were left to pick up the pieces. That was last November. It’s been months since the typhoon devastated the area and as I came back for my second trip, I was shocked to see areas still left untouched. Many of its residents are still picking up the pieces.
This time around we brought a team of volunteers. Many of whom have helped Child United in the past. We thought this trip would be a life changing experience for them. For some, it has been. I guess you can’t forget the images once you stepped into true disaster zone.
The container that was so lovingly packed in Seattle was a month late. This had nothing to do with Child United. It simply had to do with shipping lines and schedules. It was a difficult time for me especially. I wanted the team to distribute aid and see where it was going. So instead of unpacking a container, we bought items and packaged them into relief bags. We also bought roofing supplies and materials and distributed those. Looking back, it was a blessing that the container didn’t arrive on time. The team actually distributed more aid to devastated areas than first expected. In all, we packed thousands of relief bags and distributed to five areas in the Philippines. We actually became pros for packing relief bags. I can always count on the team for that and to them, THANK YOU for all your hard work and time.
The team left a week before the container arrived. Luckily we had good people on the ground who graciously gave their hearts and time to packing relief supplies from the container and distributing them all over central Philippines.
Andre Gurat and I traveled to Tacloban and Ormoc City three times. We (along with our local Philippines team) jumped on a three hour ferry ride and it took another 3 hours of winding roads to reach Tacloban, the most devastated area of the typhoon. Those trips were the most memorable for me and I’m sure Andre can say the same thing. The first trip we stopped at a church with makeshift graves in the front. There were hundreds of them. I cried seeing the pictures of children. How can you not? What I thought were makeshift graves was in fact an actual mass grave containing thousands of people who lost their lives Nov. 8, 2014. This was one of two mass graves in the area. To this day, those images and what I felt is something that can’t escape me. I thank God every day for my life and now I live to LIVE. There is nothing worse than what we saw that day. Nothing.
Our next stop was to a Barangay Magay, a small village in Tanuan (north of Tacloban). Their whole village was wiped out. Not even a building survived the devastation. About 30% of their residents died during the typhoon. What I remember most are the children. They continue to smile and laugh despite everything that has gone on. They truly are the reason why I continue to push forth. I’m hoping to help them build a learning center some day.
What I take most from this trip is this: Live every moment and what I mean is LIVE. Our lives can’t compare to what these survivors are going through. To this day, they continue to live in tents without electricity or water. I look at my life here in the United States and all I can say is THANK YOU. I live for the present day, thanking God and every one else in my path. Our lives are an experience and it’s something we can’t take for granted.