Rosario Ruiz and family
When the reports of super typhoon Yolanda and its devastating effects on the city of Tacloban and the surrounding areas made the news, we heard from many people, both strangers and regular donors, asking what was the best way they could help. Wary of donating to a large faceless agency or government, they wanted to know how to get the the best bang for their donation buck. We connected with Sylvia Ordonez who manages our foundation's charity clinic in the Philippines. Sylvia is the former head of disaster relief in the Philippines, their version of FEMA in the US and she oversaw the recovery efforts after the volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991, a natural disaster of biblical proportions. As soon as communications could be established, Sylvia worked with Sister Eloise David, MD at the Divine Mercy Hospital in Tacloban. With the money raised from our donors we sponsored a shipping container full of basic medical supplies and had it trucked directly to Sister Eloise at the hospital in Tacloban. During our trip to the Philippines earlier this month we decided to take a trip to to Tacloban to visit Sister Eloise and report back to our foundation donors on how things were in Tacloban 18 months after the typhoon.
Accompanied by Sylvia Ordonez we landed late morning on Feb 6 at the small Tacloban airport on the 9am flight from Manila. The airport and runway were destroyed by the typhoon but are now rebuilt and servicing several flights a day. Except for a private jet still lying in a field near the runway after being blown off its moorings, the airport shows little after effects from the typhoon.
On our drive from the airport to visit Sister Eloise we stopped to talk to some of the locals and listen to their experiences during the storm and with the recovery effort. One of the people we spoke to was Rosario Ruiz. Ms Ruiz lives with her mother, husband and five children in a one room shanty with a tin roof, typical of many family dwellings in the Tacloban area. The front of the home was open to the street where Rosario sold snacks to passers by to eek out a meager living for her family. Located only 100 yards from the beach, The Ruiz family was extremely lucky to survive the storm. "A huge pile of debris made from the remains of my neighbors homes lodged in front of our shanty which sheltered us from the biggest waves" explained Rosario. "We climbed onto the roof and hung on to the the sides. My youngest son was blown off the roof but I was able to save him by grabbing onto his t shirt" she said. Her neighbors were not so fortunate. When the waters receded the area surrounding the remains of her shack was littered with the bodies of her friends and neighbors. Rosario was able to rebuild her shanty with a $300.00 grant from OXFAM. This was enough to purchase some 2" x 2" framing, some galvanized metal sheeting for the roof and a single light bulb socket to light the interior.
We then made our way to meet sister Eloise at Divine Word hospital by driving from the outskirts of the city along the coast to the hospital in the heart of Tacloban. We saw that most of the simple residential dwellings similar to The Ruiz' shanty had been or were in the process of being rebuilt. Some of the more structurally complex homes and buildings had been rebuilt, many more were in the process of rebuilding. However many buildings were destroyed beyond repair and lie as skeletal remains among their more fortunate siblings. One of the more interesting sites was that of a coastal freighter that had been blown half a mile inland landing in a residential neighborhood. The remains of the freighter were being disassembled and hauled away one piece at a time.
We met sister Eloise at the hospital which is now fully functioning and in the process of adding a new wing which will increase its operational capacity by approximately one third. In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, the hospital, despite being flooded and without power, was at the epicenter of medical relief for hundreds of storm victims who occupied almost every square inch of the hospital's patient rooms, hallways and public spaces. Over lunch Sister Eloise told us that when the storm hit she was actually in nearby Bohol assisting in disaster relief after the area was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake the previous month. Unable to get back to Tacloban by conventional means, sister Eloise was flown in by military helicopter to oversea operations at the hospital.
One of sister Eloises' top priorities in the aftermath of the typhoon is a training program for the local residents to enable them to have a permanent means of providing for themselves and their families. Her ARADO foundation teaches them sustainable farming and trade occupations. The foundations original school, a modern 50 room structure was completely destroyed during the typhoon. Despite this huge setback, classes continue in a nearby warehouse. We visited a farming class where students are taught how to operate a self sufficient farm on a very small parcel of land less of than half an acre where corn and vegetables are grown and pigs and chickens can be raised. The sustainable farming model was developed by horticulturist Jonathan to ensure the farmers do not have the financial burdens such as livestock feed and fertilizers that have bankrupt previous such endeavors. For example, the students are taught to grow corn first, the corn can be sold or eaten and the husks mulched into a supply of pig feed to be used when the piglets arrive at a later time. Jonathan's plan is to eventually have donors sponsor individual mini farms where they can watch the farm they sponsored develop via webcam from anywhere in the world. One of the ARADO foundations other ongoing projects is the growing of soybean which is made into soy milk to be used a a badly needed nutritional supplement for local school children.
We also visited a nearby birthing clinic where 25 pregnant women were being taught the basics of childbirth and child rearing by a trained midwife. The birthing classes are a function of the Bles foundation founded by Sister Eloise to combat the high incidence of paternal mortality in Leyte.
On our way back to the airport we visited the Tacloban cathedral where Pope Francis had held Mass only a few weeks prior. The Cathedral grounds were used as a mass grave after the typhoon and hold the remains of hundreds of victims. Before leaving for Manila we donated the remaining money ($1000.00) from our Typhoon relief fund to the ARADO foundation in Tacloban.
Love for Life members with Sister Eloise David
Sustainable farming in Tacloban
Typhoon blown ship being dismantled in Tacloban
Mass Gravesite at Tacloban Cathedral