So, when I last posted on here, I was busy setting up a Situation Room at work, bustling about supporting our team with the Typhoon Haiyan response in The Philippines. Since then, a lot happened very fast.
My colleague P was already out in Manila, and the scale of the disaster rapidly became apparent in the media, so we were all hands on deck.
There were all sorts of dramas – things like the media reporting that it had been 6 days and no aid had come through, people were starving etc. What they don’t mention of course is that all the roads were blocked, and a second tropical storm came through, leaving the airport underwater, and the seas were too rough for a lot of boats to come in, so naturally it’s incredibly hard to get any aid in anywhere! But that’s not quite as interesting as a headline…
Anyhoo, rest assured we were all working as hard as we could, and on Thursday night P emailed me to say that she thought they might need me over there too. So on Friday morning, I got up early, checked my email, and found that sure enough, I had been approved to go, with instructions to get on a plane as soon as possible.
I spent the whole of Friday 15th bustling about at work filling in HR forms, medical forms, insurance forms, and writing up some handover notes so they could backfill my post while I was on secondment, and after getting poked, prodded and vaccinated, I was deemed fit to travel and booked onto a flight for Saturday morning.
My lovely flatmate agreed to look after the cats for me, and I packed my bags, made some hasty phone calls, and headed off to Heathrow. The flight was fine – Singapore Airlines is always excellent, although some particularly sadistic parents of small children apparently thought that a whistle and recorder were sensible toys to give a 5-year old on a 13-hour flight….
I landed in Cebu on Sunday, and went straight to the office, got stuck in, and was told I’d be leaving at 4am Monday morning to conduct an EFSL assessment in Daan Bantayan (the northern tip of Cebu island). So it was all go, and busy busy busy!
4am we loaded up our van and set off in the dark, along with a reporter from Time magazine, who I had to give a quick overview of why we do market assessments instead of just handing out rice willy-nilly. For those of you who don’t know, it’s to do with flooding the market, and depressing the local economy – basically it’s very hard for local rice farmers to make a living if we rock up and start giving it away for free. If people are starving and there’s no food anywhere, then of course giving out food is the best option, but in most cases there are still market traders trying to make a living, so finding other ways to support livelihoods is usually advisable. But you have to assess the market first to see what intervention would be most appropriate.
Anyhow, we spent 2 days in Daan Bantayan talking to local communities, assessing their needs, and trying to understand what would be best for them. Over 90% of the houses had been destroyed, and there were trees down everywhere. It was quite eerie once the sun came up, as it looked like it must be winter – the trees left standing were completely brown and bare, even though everything is lush and green, but it’s because most of the leaves had blown away in the typhoon.
What struck me the most was the overwhelming optimism and resolve of the people to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on. Even 1 week after the typhoon, most people had left the evacuation centres, because they would rather go back and live under a tarpaulin and start clearing away the debris, rebuilding their homes, boats, and clearing their farmland than hang around waiting for aid handouts. Everyone we met was warm and welcoming, smiley and polite, and busy helping each other fix their boats and nets, so that they could start up again. I heard a couple of amazing stories that I’ll post later that really struck me – so many kind and wonderful people in the world, even when they have nothing.