There are really no words to describe the experiences I had on my first day in Tacloban, Philippines. As we flew into the airport on January 29, I could immediately see the damage from Yolanda. Trees that weren’t uprooted from the storm were bare of all leaves, piles of garbage sat waiting for someone to clean them up, a windowless airport sat in the middle of nothing…it looked like a tornado had come through. We walked down the steps from the plane and faced an airport that looked like it could be on the cover of “Abandoned Buildings” (if that’s even a thing). There were no windows or doors to be seen, the one carousel was not functioning, and there were only a handful of workers. We waited with about 100 other people for our bags to be handed over to us. We got our bags and walked through a doorless exit to the small parking lot of cars. After loading up, we set off. Devastation surrounded us as we drove away from the airport. Shock of the real situation of this place started to sink in.
The drive to our destination was full of expressions of “oh my gosh!” and “look over there!” No one could really believe what they were seeing. We knew there had been a lot of clean up over the last 2 1/2 months but nothing can really prepare you for the widespread ruin Yolanda has left. I thought about Hurricane Sandy in the States and the immediate relief efforts to bring those areas back to their original state. Yolanda has probably left years of recovery for the people of Tacloban.
After a morning of getting settled into the church we were staying in, we set out to start our relief efforts. We split into two groups, one going to do medical aid and the other to go cook and then distribute the food. I was put into the food distribution group. We helped prepare and cook the food to distribute to some of the needier areas of Tacloban.
The first area was a short walk from our cars into a village full of smiling children and curious mothers standing in the shadows. As soon as the children saw us, they ran into their homes to bring out whatever they had for us to fill with the “lugaw” (porridge) we had prepared. I took out my camera and started taking photos of the smiling children receiving their lugaw. There were some shy girls standing off to the side so a snapped a few photos of them and showed them their pictures. I started asking them their names and how old they all were as I continued to snap some more photos. I took a video of them and started to play it back on my camera screen. Within seconds, about 20 children had surrounded me to try to get a peek at the small screen. I had found a way to break through their shyness. We played with the children and finished distributing to anyone who wanted food and moved on.
We then traveled to one of the hardest hit areas in Tacloban – an oceanfront village. As we drove up and yelled “lugaw” out of the windows, women and children came running up to the vans jumping up and down with joyous expressions on their faces. These people were truly thankful that we had arrived with food for them. This was perhaps the first hot meal of the week for them. Laura and I decided to walk down the street and get more people to come get food. We reached a group of young girls and motioned for them to follow us. As we started walking back to the vans, one of the girls asked me what my name was. I answered and then asked her the same question as I took her hand; her name was Jana. When we got to the vans distributing food, I noticed that she did not have anything to collect the food. Little Jana didn’t care that she didn’t have a bowl for food; the love I was showing her was enough at that moment. As we talked and she kept asking questions, “Ashleigh….”, a little boy came up with two bowls. She pointed at him and said, “my brother.” I felt relieved that she would get a hot meal after all. When we needed to leave I told Jana that maybe I would see her again sometime. She tried to give me her phone number but could only remember 0946…she was so sad she couldn’t remember more. I told her that I would always remember her and I loved her. I was the last one to climb in the van and waved to her as I listened to her call my name and say goodbye. I didn’t get a chance to visit her again but thought of her every day as we helped every other man, woman, child, and baby.
This was only the first day of our relief efforts. God continued to work through our team over the next 4 days.
How can you help??
- Visit the Kids International Ministries website to keep up-to-date on the relief efforts happening in Tacloban
- Give a donation to help in the relief efforts for Tacloban