4 Cebu volunteers strike out on their own to deliver aid to a town with no roofs, no power
Instead of handing over noodles and cash to big-name relief organizations, they decided to to bring the relief goods and see for themselves the state of disaster in the once “typhoon-free” tropical paradise of Baganga town.
In a two-day lightning trip, the volunteers, who are career professionals in HR and management, took leaves of absence from work, and traveled to the remote coastal town, where typhoon Pablo had made landfall a week earlier in Dec. 4.
“We knew the need was urgent,” said Rosalyn, who first asked a relief organization what areas needed help. She was told Baganga was already being sent enough relief goods.
She couldn’t believe that.
“I have clients in Mindanao. A fellow consultant there e-mailed me for help,” she told Cebu Daily News.
For this story, Rosalyn, a petite business consultant whose husband supports her volunteer work, asked that they remain anonymous private citizens. CDN editors know the group to be silent workers in their outreach projects with disadvantaged children in Cebu.
The biggest obstacle to relief operations, and the reason for delays, is access to the hardest-hit parts of Davao Oriental like Baganga, where the main Caraga bridge collapsed.
To get there, the group had to fly to Davao City at dawn, buy relief goods, hire a truck to make the six-hour road trip, cross a river no longer passable by bridge, and ride a multi-cab to reach Baganga by nightfall.
The women paid for their own fare, bringing with them P170,000 cash contributed by friends and relatives.
Like pioneers, they had to map out their own way to Baganga after requests to the Army for a truck were turned down (they had no formal organization).
Red Cross protocols were time-consuming. The women also wanted to avoid the credit-grabbing practice of some local government officials who would receive goods turned over as calamity aid.
The scenes of damage along the way were already staggering. (See their photos on page 7.)
No building was left standing intact. The roofs were blown off. The Baganga Municipal Hall by the sea and a multi-purpose hall across it were broken, abandoned shells.
Coconut trees and crops lay fallen in all directions.
“When we arrived, the residents still weren’t eating fish or going out to sea. The fishermen were still hauling up nets and finding corpses there,” said Rosalyn.
With the people’s source of livelihood – farming and fishing – gone, the population of over 45,000 was left dazed and dependent on relief aid.
Baganga is a first class municipality with the longest coast line in Davao Oriental, facing the Pacific ocean.
“They eat dinner by 4 p.m. before it gets dark because there’s no electric power. There’s nothing to do. Life stopped,” said Rosalyn.
While news reports highlight relief efforts to reach the hardest hit towns of Boston, Cateel and Baganga, Baganga has a distinct disadvantage: the Caraga bridge is destroyed.
Land transportation access goes only up to Cateel, said Rosalyn.
“When we arrived, residents said we were only the third relief group they had seen,” she said.
The supplies they brought – sacks of rice, bottled water, canned goods, medicine and some toys for the children – were packed in boxes that had to be loaded on an Elf truck, then ferried in bancas across the river.
What kept them going was the urgency of the Dec. 6 e-mail from a colleague’s former staffer who lives in Baganga town.
“Residents are running out of food to eat, water to drink, clothes and medicine for the sick children and old alike, and even shelter. They are now staying at Baculin Gym and the place is congested,” said Rose Neli Lelis in her SOS e-mail.
“Almost 90 percent of all residents are declared homeless as of today. Please, friends, if you could share some of your blessings, it would be greatly appreciated. Instead of buying new gadgets for yourself this holiday season, just donate a portion of that amount to help our kababayans. Text me or call me.”
The mission to Baganga included a doctor, who quickly ran out of Paracetamol and antibiotics tablets.
“Their biggest need is clean water,” said Rosalyn.
The force of typhoon Pablo was enough to bend steel trusses and crumple buildings.
“The adults we talked to all said the same thing – this had never happened before in Baganga since 1948,” Rosalyn told CDN editors.
The concrete bust of Jose Rizal in the municipal plaza has no more head. The wind had torn it off.
Without roofs over their heads or tree cover, people bear the full force of the sun in the day.
With the sometimes unbearable heat, Rosalyn said donors should send tarpaulin sheets and nails so that residents can start building shelters of their own.
Rose Lelis, their contact in Baganga, was instrumental in organizing neighbors to repack the supplies and help distribute.
In each yellow plastic bag went four kilos of rice, canned goods and noodles. Water gallons were distributed.
There were no food mobs, shoving or acts of desperation. According to Rosalyn, the residents themselves, in an act of “bayanihan”, decided to repack the rice to smaller two-kilo bags so that more families could be reached.
Most of the relief operations from government and private agencies are concentrated in Cateel, Compostela Valley and in New Bataan where the high fatality rate got media attention.
“It was difficult to transport the goods from Davao to Caraga. The logistics took up 10 percent of our donations,” said Rosalyn.
She said humanitarian efforts like this should prompt airlines to consider discounts, and for the military to help private groups transport the goods. (The women did write Cebu Pacific and a top military official but didn’t get a response in time for their trip.)
The group’s first mission served at least 400 families (extended to 800 because neighbors divided the relief bags).
It’s a drop in the bucket, considering that one relief bag “is good to sustain a family for one day.”
This weekend, the women left Cebu again for Baganga to deliver a second wave of goods to a community they said “will go hungry again soon”.
This time they raised about P200,000 from their circle of friends and simplified the purchase relief goods in Davao by making payment in the Gaisano Capital office in Cebu.
“It’s better to give a cash donation to reduce the problem and cost of logistics,” suggested Rosalyn.
Asked what’s the biggest item she would ask from donors, she suggested chainsaws. The men need them to cut the fallen logs strewn in the area and rebuild their houses.
And because it’s Christmas next week, Rosalyn and friends include on the supply list toys for the children, something to lift the spirits of families in a crisis she said not be over for several months.
“The kids were really looking forward to the toys when they saw the contents of the box.”
What they volunteers recommend as relief goods:
canned goods, noodles
medicine ( Paracetamol, antibiotics)
tarpaulin or canvass sheets as temporary roofs and walls to shield people from rain and sun
flashlights (The town has no electric power)
Toys for the children/Eileen G. Mangubat and Marian Codilla