Last week Charity, our Director, as well as Minet, our Senior Social Worker, and Eddy went down as our Assessment Team to Tacloban.
The objective of the trip was to find out what was going on “on the ground”, and have a better idea of the specifics of what Gentle Hands’ role will be in amidst the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
Here is Charity’s Update from their time there:
Tacloban. The site of the worst typhoon recorded in history. Death toll of 5200 and missing numbers upwards of 1600. The destruction as though a bomb had been dropped.
Someone wondered if I had made a mistake in going.
I wondered too.
The feeling as we got off the plane was one of those you get from watching a movie. The entire airport was annihilated and the helicopters, C130’s, other aircraft, and the US military presence made it feel like a war zone. The endless lines of people stretched far down the road. They were desperate to get out. I stopped making eye contact. Each face held so much emotion. It was too much.
The roads were full of debris and traffic was so slow. People walked in single file hunting for relief. Trucks would suddenly pull to the side of the road, open the hatch and throw out relief to those who would run. A little rice, a few canned goods, and some water. It was always too little and someone was always left empty handed.
It was hard to watch. I noted our backpacks full of bottled water and granola bars. We had to be self sufficient for three days. As the hours went on, we interviewed, questioned, and met with many different international aid partners, including the local government. We walked among the debris, talking to survivors., and sometimes stood not speaking. We went to evacuation centers and watched as relief goods were sometimes handed out, and sometimes not.
It was a lot to take in. A lot to assess and a lot to process. Nothing compared to those who survived the devastation with only their life.
Several times, I think I wanted to cry but the hours of walking in the hot sun relieved me of that. Body bags were still scattered and the smell of death still took our breath away. It was easy to walk without speaking… so much to think about.
We had gathered a lot of information, some of it we wished we hadn’t come to know. As we learned our flight was cancelled, I felt a twinge of the panic. We had no more food and no more water. We had no place to sleep either. Thankfully, the US C130, was open to taking Canadian citizens on board. I was so thankful that I and my two staff got on.
In the back of the C130, the little boy beside me held my hand. He whispered how he and his family were going to Manila just for a time. They were going back. But they had nothing and no food and his sister was hungry. They were lucky to be alive, he said. I listened quietly. I knew he just needed to talk. He was thin and had dark circles under his eyes. He and his family had waited in line at the airport for 5 days to get on one of these flights. I was ashamed at using my Canadian passport to get on board.
His head rested on my arm and when he wasn’t playing with my hands, he was feigning sleep. He gave me a hug when we got to the airbase in Manila and I took the cellphone number of his parents. It was surreal, actually. It was like stepping out of a movie… Life was still going on.
A week later, my sleep is still fitful. I cannot imagine the pain and trauma of so many. I have been left on my knees asking God for direction and His leading to the lives that need our specific and unique way of helping others.
A phone call came yesterday. Five orphaned teens who lost both parents and three siblings. Nowhere to go. Would we take them? I did not hesitate. I will, I said. They will need counseling, the voice on the other end of the line said. I know, I said, so grateful for the opportunity to take these ones in.
A text came last night. A family from Tacloban with nothing left. Nowhere to stay and no job. Their children needed to go to school. They were willing to work. Could we help?
Gentle Hands has always focused on the least of these. Often that has included homeless and broken people, young and old alike, who have experienced loss or trauma.
One of the beautiful things about being a local organization is that we are here for the long haul. There will be work to do in the area itself as the foreign aid will not stay forever.
The relief aid has poured into our country to those affected. It has been absolutely amazing to watch the international organizations come to our small islands and relieve the thousands upon thousands affected, with basic relief goods.
We will wait on this part to see how things change when international agencies have all gone home. We continue to meet with refugees here in Manila and we will continue to be in contact with the people we met when we were in Tacloban, citizens and local organizations.
As we continue to be sensitive the needs of the people of Tacloban, we see that the situation on the ground is changing daily.
Temporary housing is needed and long term planning is of the essence. Reviving livelihood and replanting trees. Rebuilding a city, many communities, families and lives, in real, tangible ways.
This is what we, as Gentle Hands, will be to some in Tacloban: the hands and feet of Jesus, helping rebuild lives.
All images from http://metro.co.uk/2013/11/17/gallery-latest-images-of-typhoon-haiyan-devastation-4189629/