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Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.

What day is it?

Posted by Carin van der Hor, Plan Philippines Country Director |

Carin van der Hor29 November 2013: Working round-the-clock in a large scale emergency response will do funny things to a person.

The distinction between working days and weekends has gone completely. This doesn’t mean that we don’t take a break every now and then, it just means that regular patterns are abandoned.

Yesterday I caught myself asking my assistant probably for the fifth time that day: “What day is today, and what is the date?”  I find myself double checking especially the dates, as I am signing off on contracts and procurement orders continuously and I am adamant that I sign things off correctly. But it does feel like I have a problem with my short term memory!

What time is it?

With meetings starting around 7.30 am every day and finishing off very late, (because we work through different time zones) our sense of time also seems to be blurred.

Frequently we are reminded that it is lunchtime because our colleagues simply put food in front of us. We chew our way through dinner while on telecons (just mute the mike and you can eat that apple).

I have put my assistant in charge of watching the clock for me, to remind me of the next meeting, or the need for me to leave in order to make it to an external meeting. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am a teenager having to be reminded of her schedule!

Are you okay? A hug will do!

Fortunately Plan International puts a lot of emphasis on staff well being. We had our very own Doc Sandy doing nothing but taking care of staff wellbeing for the first couple of weeks. He would have quiet talks with anybody who showed signs of stress, remind people to drink water, organise sessions with our counsellors and psychologist and refer people to medical services for sore throats, headaches and other minor inconveniences.

I continuously hear my colleagues asking each other: “Are you okay?”. Everybody is keeping an eye on everybody, and that is good to see.

Working under this kind of pressure also requires that we overcome hurdles together and that we celebrate successes, big or small. It’s amazing to see the group spontaneously applaud their colleague for getting a record number of concept notes in, for getting those airplanes to deliver the food to the far flung areas or for winning a big grant from an institutional donor.

Fantastic response

We have a tremendous amount of surge capacity coming in: colleagues from all over the world who join our team to deliver our response. Where we previously would have greeted our international colleagues with a firm handshake, we have now become an office of huggers.

Doc Sandy approves of course, because hugging is a much more heartfelt and meaningful way of greeting and thanking each other than that handshake!

We are delivering a fantastic response with an amazing team and it is fantastic to see our One Plan, One Goal in action. This disaster has transformed all of us and although it is early days, I think it is fair to say that things will never be the same: they will be better.

Support the emergency response: Donate to the appeal now

Read more about Plan’s response to Typhoon Haiyan

 

Nov 29, 2013 10:42 AM

Haiyan: Digging in for the long haul

Posted by Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International |

Nigel Chapman28 November 2013: Driving out of Tacloban Airport is easier than in the early days of Typhoon Haiyan's aftermath, but the scenes on either side of the road still assault the senses. The occasional lorry loads up corpses still being discovered in shattered houses.

Everywhere, there is debris - some of it in neat piles in front of its origins - homes for thousands of families which will have to be razed to the ground by bulldozers before they can be rebuilt. But there is normality returning. Some of the landmark buildings, especially the churches, have survived this deadly mixture of wind, rain and high water which characterised Typhoon Haiyan. And the vegetable markets are beginning to return to their street-side stalls.

No protection

But Tacloban's damage is different in nature compared to the total all-encompassing devastation which has hit small, rural settlements like Hernani in Eastern Samar. This is a ribbon development metres in from the coast - there was no protection when the 16ft wave arrived.

Great chunks of the only road have been ripped away, necessitating hasty repairs. A graveyard has had its marble tombstones, its contents tossed over the road. After a 5-hour drive from Tacloban, we arrive at the municipal HQ.

I meet the mayor, Edgar Boco, who has been unloading food aid in what was until recently an outside hangar with a roof. Now it is open to the elements and as this is the rainy season, the mayor is soaked. The local doctor, social worker and district registrar are working in what is left of the municipal hall, surrounded by gifts of clothes, food aid and bric a brac. The damage to this building should mean it is closed for safety, but there is no alternative.

Two hours sleep

Mr Boco (whose last name means coconut in the local language) is getting 2 hours sleep a night. He is very worried about the long term future of his community. He tells me families earn their living planting coconut trees and harvesting the fruits, or by fishing.

Tens of thousands of coconut trees have been destroyed by the typhoon. It’s as if a chainsaw-wielding madman has been let loose. It will take years to replant the trees. Even those still standing may not yield much fruit as the seawater has contaminated the land.

Everyone we meet gives us a thumbs-up. Plan International is widely known in these communities having worked in both East and West Samar over 12 years. The rebuilding job could be as long. Very few schools are habitable; indeed the whole physical infrastructure is shot to pieces, tangled up in electricity power lines, masonry and fallen trees.

Funds needed

At least we have been able to distribute food, water and tarpaulins for shelter. But the community needs huge plastic sheeting now to make temporary schools and safe areas for children. And funds are needed to rebuild its homes far more robustly as the number and intensity of weather-related disasters grows.

Plan has responded to 20 such emergencies in the last 12 months across the Philippines. In terms of space, it is difficult to move inland; the poorest families in what is now a rubble of housing debris lived nearest the water. Many have gone to stay with relatives in other parts of Samar or as far as Manila.

$75 million

There are fears that food will run out and there will be outbreaks of preventable childhood illnesses like measles or diarrhoea. Plan is on the case; 10,000 ready to eat meals are on their way this weekend.  The local doctor is vaccinating young babies.

And in times like these, the unscrupulous can play on the hopes of families, offering their young boys and girls opportunities for work in the cities. The reality can be very different; to be trafficked into sex work or poorly paid labour. It is estimated that child trafficking grows by at least 10% after a disaster like Haiyan.

Building new schools and local facilities will cost far more than Plan's response budget of $25 million. That’s why we have raised it to $75 million.

In for the long haul

We meet Plan volunteers and staff; we come across Jesse, a 16-year-old who is a youth advocate with Plan. He recounts the terror of the night of Haiyan.  “Where is the work?” he asks. “Cash for work schemes are better than nothing, paying people to begin the massive clean-up. But we need long-term jobs to rebuild our homes and communities,” he says.

Jesse and his 2 cousins have rescued a Christmas tree and set it up on the side of the road. It is garish and bright against a sea of muddy trees and grey, damp debris.

They are looking forward to this annual holiday. As the TV cameras and the pop-up NGO operations leave, development agencies like ours will be digging in for the long haul. We owe these positive, hard-working people nothing less.

Support the emergency response: Donate to the appeal now

Read more about Plan’s response to Typhoon Haiyan

Nov 28, 2013 05:05 PM

The Blue Brigades: Four days journey into the heart of Haiyan

Posted by Carin van der Hor, Plan Philippines Country Director |
Carin van der Hor, Plan Philippines Country Director

Carin wearing Plan's 'blue brigade' shirt aboard a busy flight to Manila

28 November 2013: When Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) hit the Philippines, almost all of Plan International's areas were hit.

We were well prepared. We had worked with communities to stockpile hygiene kits, emergency shelter materials and clean water kits.

Yet, the magnitude of the super typhoon and the devastating effect of the storm surges were much bigger than anyone could have imagined.

I have been asked why it is so difficult to deliver aid to the hardest hit areas. The answer is not simple. The Philippines is an archipelago. There are many small islands, many remote areas. Some are a day's walk or more from the nearest town.

And then there's the sheer magnitude of Yolanda. Roads were washed out and bridges were destroyed. It's difficult just delivering a couple of hundred jerry cans to a community.

Travelling with the brigade

Let me take you on a journey that I just completed to meet with my emergency response teams. We call them the Blue Brigades because of the bright blue Plan International shirts we all wear.

I flew from Manila to Cebu, very early in the morning. No surprise that our flight was delayed. With huge amounts of aid flying into Cebu, flights are unpredictable.

Then comes a ferry ride to Ormoc, in Leyte.

Ormoc was hit hard by the typhoon. Now people are on the ferry to find relatives and to bring food and relief. So the ferry schedule is completely unreliable.

We find a vehicle waiting for us. We're lucky: If you do not have a vehicle in Ormoc, you must rely on little bike carts because fuel is scarce. This is what our team found when they arrived in Ormoc on the Saturday morning after the typhoon. They were the first team to arrive there. They found total devastation. They had to walk for hours and finally had to ask for help to find a safe place to stay for the night.

Logistics bottlenecks

The biggest bottlenecks are all related to logistics: it's difficult to find fuel, to find trucks and to get goods on the ferry.

We headed south to Baybay, where I reached one of our teams.

The entire province is out of electricity. We depend on mobile phones, laptops and satellite phones to communicate. We need electricity.

The owner of our hostel has agreed to turn on a generator for 5 hours in the evening. So as night falls, there is a dash to recharge all our laptops and phones. If the team is lucky, they can find 15 minutes to have a shower - it's the only time there is any hot water.

Dinner is hastily prepared - rice and fish. The atmosphere is great, everything is shared and people encourage each other to finish the fish: we cannot refrigerate any left overs!

Incredible stories

The next morning we go to Tacloban.

Anybody going to Tacloban needs to be self sufficient. Bring your own water, food, bedding and anything else you need. We are lucky, because we have an operational office in Tacloban, although there is no water and electricity. We sleep on the floor.

From Tacloban we move on to Catbalogan, where we also have an office. Fortunately, food is available and the office has a generator.

I hear incredible stories of how people managed to reunite with their families when there was no functioning transport. One person I spoke to walked for 6 hours to find his children. His kids had applied all the disaster risk management techniques he had taught them. His son saved his sister: a storm surge forced them to swim for their lives.

Staff solidarity

All our staff are determined to assist communities in the Visayas, an area where Plan International has worked for decades.

There is a strong feeling of solidarity. I urge them to take care of themselves and of each other.
We take staff care seriously and have sent in teams of counsellors and psychologists to work with the teams who are responding. It is important that they are debriefed and that we look for signs of stress.

The staff poked fun at me, because an insect bite the previous night left me with a swollen eye. I don't care, it's great to hear their laughter.

We say goodbye and move on to Calbayog. From Calbayog, we must travel by land, sea and air to make it back to Manila. There are flights from Calbayog - but no seats for 9 days.

We journey for more than 2 hours to Allen, where we take a ferry to Matnog. There's no schedule. We're just hoping it leaves in the next 3 hours. From there, we have another car journey of about 3 hours to Legazpi. We arrive too late for the last flight to Manila. We take the first flight out the next morning.

What would have once taken a day or 2 has taken us 4 full days.

Respect

But it was worth it: to meet with my teams and to see, feel and experience firsthand what it is to be without communications, to fear that your phone battery will run out soon with no way of recharging, to take small sips of water because you don't know when the next bottle will be available and to be hungry, hot, tired and frustrated.

It makes me appreciate those small luxuries we have and so easily forget. It also means I appreciate our Blue Brigades even more.

To them I say: Respect.

Support the emergency response: Donate to the appeal now

Read more about Plan’s response to Typhoon Haiyan

Nov 28, 2013 12:40 PM

Learning how to play again

Posted by Beverly Bicaldo, Plan Philippines’ early childhood care and development specialist |

Beverly BicaldoHandmade toys being distributed with aid supplies will help children to recover from Typhoon Haiyan, blogs Plan Philippines’ early childhood care and development specialist, Beverly Bicaldo.

27 November 2013: In a disaster situation, it’s essential to think outside of the box - especially when responding to the needs of children.

When Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, it took with it people’s homes, livelihoods and everything that was familiar to them.

With nowhere to go, families and children had to take shelter in evacuation centres and the only home comforts they had were their rain-sodden shoes and the clothes they’d been wearing that day.

For children, their school books and toys were all but gone.

While food, shelter, water and sanitation, are paramount to the recovery of the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – so is a child’s right to learn and to play.

Harrowing reality

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, children were faced with a harrowing reality – some were separated from their parents, dead bodies were seen strewn across the street, buildings had been torn apart and the roads were in ruins.

Faced with this devastating scene, children were quickly robbed of their innocent outlook on life.

As Plan’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) specialist in Leyte, I was keen to provide children with the opportunity to learn and to play and to give them some sense of normality.

Children have routines and their routines consist of being with other children in structured learning environments. However, after a disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan, this everyday routine is disrupted, heavily impacting the children.

Play paramount

Child drawing

Play and fun activities give children the opportunity to divert their minds from the scenes they have witnessed

Providing opportunities for children to play and interact with other children in a structured way, is a way for children to release and divert their minds from the scenes they’ve witnessed.

Play is a paramount part of the life of the child. Not only is it their right, it’s in their nature to explore the things around them. When they do not have that opportunity, the tendency is to go over what they have seen or experienced, but by giving them opportunities to play, we are giving them opportunities to focus their minds on something else.

That’s why my team and I set about developing interactive learning materials, visual aids and toys from whatever we could find – in some instances this included adapting what we already had. For example, in Plan Philippines, they call their emergency ECCD kit the “big blue bag” – here in Leyte, we found a black and white bag and called it the big zebra bag.

Of course, you will have read how difficult it has been for aid to reach us here in Leyte, but we weren’t going to let that deter us.

Toys distributed with aid

That’s why my team and I decided to make toys from simple materials so that they could be distributed with the aid when it arrived.

For us, the toys and learning tools didn’t have to be expensive, nor purchased, we just had to think outside the box and use whatever we could get our hands on.

We endeavoured to source materials that could be recycled and safely used for toys. The materials included old water bottles, cartons, old magazines and natural materials, such as wood.

Glimmers of hope

It showed that children do not need to be dependent on ready-made toys, as long as the learning and educative components are included. It also showed that early childhood education could resume even under the circumstances when there were no materials to use.

The tools we created are fun, simple and educational and we hope they will provide the children of the Leyte with an opportunity to learn and to play – and provide a glimmer of light and hope for the future.

Read about Plan's child-friendly spaces being set up near aid distribution points

Support Plan’s life-saving relief work in the Philippines: Donate to the appeal now

Find out more about Plan’s Typhoon Haiyan response

Nov 27, 2013 04:20 PM

Why aid workers face challenges crossing the Philippines

Posted by Stuart Coles, Plan global media manager |

26 November 2013: The Philippines is an archipelago, some 2,000 inhabited islands scattered like petals upon the ocean. Getting around it is not easy at the best of times. There is dense forest, hills and mountains, roads of varying quality, a voracious rainy season bringing with it flash floods and treacherous landslides.

Throw into the mix a super typhoon, reportedly one of the biggest on record, wreaking havoc with power, telecommunications, roads, fuel, security and life in general – and it soon becomes apparent why getting information out and aid into the country was proving so difficult.

Planes, a ferry, cars...

My journey into East Samar from the capital Manila had been tricky enough – a 2-day slog consisting of a flight, a drive, a ferry journey, another drive, an overnight stop and another car journey.

Getting back to Manila a week later, would prove no less eventful. My little video blog shows just one small example of how things are not always as straightforward as you think from the outside.

Support Plan’s emergency relief work in the Philippines: Donate to the appeal

Read about Plan’s Typhoon Haiyan response

Nov 26, 2013 05:05 PM

Haiyan: Déjà vu 4 times over

Posted by Mardy Halcon, Plan's communications officer in the Philippines |

25 November 2013: It was like typhoons Ketsana, Washi and Bopha, and Bohol’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake rolled into one. That’s how I would describe Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda).

The stories of massive amounts of water killing over a thousand people reminded me of Ketsana. Survivors’ account of being shocked at the sudden rise in water brought me back to 2011 when I heard similar stories from Washi survivors in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

The sights of uprooted trees, damaged houses, washed out roads, toppled cars and debris of varying shapes and sizes were similar to what I saw in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley in December of 2012 when Bopha battered Mindanao. Flattened 2-storey houses, shattered glasses and cracked roads were exactly the same to what I saw 4 weeks ago when I went to Bohol after it was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

It was déjà vu 4 times over.

Walls ripped open, windows shattered

As we drove to Balangkayan, I saw the havoc that Haiyan brought to East Samar. Huge trees were uprooted, concrete houses thrashed. My attention was caught by a beautifully painted 2-storey purple house. But it looks as if it cannot be home to anyone anymore. Its walls were ripped open, windows shattered.

A few steps from there, I saw a woman inside a temporary tent provided by Plan International a day after Haiyan hit East Samar. She was washing dishes. A jerry can given by the organisation is among the few possessions she has. A few steps away, I saw a group of men combing through piles of wood and metal sheets, trying to salvage what they can to start anew. Two young boys were running around, and little girls were laughing not far behind. People were trying to be normal under an abnormal condition.

Tombs on both sides of the road

As we negotiated the road to Hernani, I couldn’t help but wonder where the survivors are. After all, we were driving into what used to be a vibrant, densely populated community where people know each other. On Monday afternoon that part of Hernani, where Plan staff Nickson Gensis filmed the storm surge, looked desolate. A few children gathered near us, curious. A man commented that a house used to stand where I stood. Some women were staring at the now calm sea, which killed many people last Friday, 8 November.

We walked a little further, towards where the cemetery is. One of my colleagues wondered why there were tombs on both sides of the road. Cemeteries we’ve seen in rural areas occupy only one side of the road.

Speechless

“Oh no, the cemetery is only here (pointing to the right side of the road),” said Darwin, a Plan staff member in East Samar. “Those tombs and caskets were blown and swept away to the other side last Friday.”

We were speechless. No other typhoon in my recent memory has tormented both the living and the dead.

It was getting dark, and the stench of dead bodies – presumably those still unrecovered – permeates the air. The night was silent. It was almost deafening.

Even the air is filled with sadness. Yes, it was déjà vu 4 times over.

Please help us deliver aid: Donate to the emergency appeal

Watch Mardy's video clips on devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan

Read about Plan's response to Typhoon Haiyan

Nov 25, 2013 05:10 PM

Delivering aid to Tacloban

Posted by Frank Manfredi, Plan USA's Director of Disaster Relief Management |
Frank Manfredi

Frank preparing aid for distribution in Tacloban

22 November 2013: Tacloban is completely in ruins. People have started to clean up, clearing debris and salvaging belongings, even as recovery continues.

I saw an older gentleman sweeping debris off the sidewalk, careful not to disturb the body in a white tarp awaiting collection. As grim as some of the scenes, just the fact that people have started getting on with the clean-up is hopeful.

Flight relief

Aid is now getting in. I spent Sunday at the airport with Plan’s emergency response team loading supplies for delivery and distribution. There were dozens of C-130 flights from the U.S. military and the militaries of Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and others. Most carried relief commodities, people to carry out aid work, or both.

Plan staff members in Tacloban are working and sleeping in the office, which itself was flooded and suffered storm damage. In the male staff room, 6 of us slept on the floor. Many of the local area staff were themselves impacted, suffering losses during Typhoon Haiyan. Still, here they were working.

Evacuation centre support

Mother and child receiving aid

A mother and child receiving hygiene kits from a Plan volunteer

Plan was able to get 3 pallets of family hygiene kits and water treatment kits onto a C-130 from Manila into Tacloban. In Tacloban, Plan scheduled a distribution at an evacuation centre. On Sunday morning, we loaded up a truck from the pallets on the tarmac and sent a team to prepare for the distribution. More than 200 of each were distributed in that one evacuation centre. Just a drop in the bucket, but it is a start . . .

Working with village-level emergency response team members trained through a Plan Disaster Risk Reduction programme in the Eastern Visayas, we stored the remaining stock in the World Food Programme mobile storage unit on the airport grounds for distribution in other nearby impacted areas.

On Sunday night, we were loaded onto a C-130 along with well over 150 others, mostly Filipinos evacuating from Tacloban. Some people seemed relieved, others apprehensive. Many just seemed shell-shocked or numb, heading into an uncertain future.

Support the emergency response: Donate to the appeal now

Read more about Plan’s response to Typhoon Haiyan

Nov 22, 2013 04:20 PM

World Toilet Day: Reasons to be cheerful

Posted by Darren Saywell, Plan USA Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Technical Director |
Children washing a toilet floor, Togo

Over 2 billion people lack access to improved sanitation

19 November 2013: Almost as if by magic, World Toilet Day has arrived!  A few months ago, sanitation practitioners worldwide celebrated concerted lobbying efforts after the UN’s General Assembly officially recognised each November 19th as World Toilet Day.

Like many of the international days of recognition, World Toilet Day* aims to draw attention to its own cause – in this case the growing global sanitation crisis – but unlike many of its counterparts, this day has struggled to be taken seriously, often being belittled in the media, or dismissed in a fit of giggles by colleagues.

2.2 million deaths

Yet there is a deadly serious message behind the day – not least for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack access to improved sanitation; the 2.2 million deaths per year, mainly in children under 5; the women and girls who suffer violence when searching for a safe place to defecate after dark; or the children who will grow up stunted as a result of persistent bouts of diarrhoea.

Yet, whilst sector specialists have long been advocating for greater recognition for the very reasons given above, others have simply turned a blind eye.  The original Millennium Development Goals in 2000 missed out sanitation altogether; at national levels no single ministry typically wants to take responsibility for this cause; politicians love to open water schemes, yet rarely think sewerage treatment plants or latrines fit to spend political capital on, or a photo opportunity.  The list goes on and on.

A whiff of change

So why am I so optimistic this 19th November?  There are reasons to be cheerful – at least 3 (with apologies to Ian Drury):

  1. The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, established in 2010, provides a platform for the highest level of political prioritisation in our sector.  Led by former President John Kufour of Ghana, the SWA has been successful in organising high level political dialogues on sanitation, including sector ministers, ministers of finance, senior leadership from the UN system, industry, civil society and donors.  This is unprecedented in our sector.
  2. Sanitation is the new sexy: I marvel at the celebrity endorsements that our common cause gets these days – Matt Damon and his ‘Toilet Strike’; Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan and cricket god Sachin Tendulkar have all lent considerable fame and brand profile to sanitation.
  3. The numbers are beginning to add up: the evidence for inaction on sanitation is growing.  The World Bank reports that US$260 billion* is lost in economic growth each year because of poor sanitation – these figures, when boiled down to the impact on annual GDP growth, tends to get the attention of ministers of finance, who begin to see why making small % changes in national budgetary allocations brings huge health and economic rewards.

Of course, our focus remains on addressing challenges, but the nature of the debate has changed fundamentally with sanitation.  No longer the domain purely of engineers and technocrats, the sector is working in a much smarter way to look at blockages to service delivery, policy reform, financial flows, lifecycle costing and the realpolitik of national level coverage.

For a subject that has been dismissed for so long, there is finally a whiff of real change in the air.

Read about Plan's global water and sanitation work

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Nov 19, 2013 05:55 PM

Trying to communicate from Tacloban City

Posted by Hatai Limprayoonyong, Plan Asia Internal Communications Specialist |

Hatai Limprayoonyong14 November 2013: Today, I went to Tacloban City, one of the worst-affected areas, together with my Plan colleagues and 13 volunteers.

There is no signal here at the Plan office in Tacloban and things are in a bad way. To get connected, you need to go out to the city hall. At the city hall there is a vital hub served by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, where you can make contact with others through radio. There are also computers with internet access.

"I am alive"

They tell me this hub has been set up here since 9 November and 1,000 people come here every day. There are only 5 computers and our time is limited to 3 minutes per person. I suppose this is just enough time to Facebook or Tweet those close to us, those who depend on us, that we’re OK.

"I am alive" is the popular phrase here.

They say this centre will be here as long as the gas and generator are working.

Strict curfew

Things aren’t safe here and we’re given a strict curfew from the government by 8pm but for Plan staff, we set it to our base by 5pm – the security guard will be waiting for us and there is a password for us to get access to our team house. People sleep wherever they can.

But now I hear there is an issue with transportation. We’re in trouble as we’ve run out of fuel.  Gasoline is precious - for power and transportation.

For now, we have to wait and I wonder when we will make it back to Plan’s base in Manila.

We are staying positive and doing what we can, but I can see the staff from Plan’s local team are tired and exhausted. Some have lost their homes. Others have lost everything they know.

It’s a difficult situation to comprehend, as we are responsible for providing relief for people, yet we are also affected.

Please support Plan’s emergency relief work: Donate to the appeal

Nov 14, 2013 12:05 PM

Typhoon Haiyan: The hardest ride of my life

Posted by Michael Angelo Suarez, Videographer |

Michael Angelo SuarezThe devastation is like a typhoon and a tsunami combined forces, blogs videographer Michael Angelo Suarez, who travelled with Plan to Salcedo in Eastern Samar before, during and after Typhoon Haiyan hit.

14 November 2013: We arrived in Tacloban City on Thursday, 7 November, and travelled to Salcedo, a community positioned on a small peninsula at the bottom of Eastern Samar Province. The Plan team was preparing and pre-positioning safe drinking water kits and supporting the community leaders to evacuate the community to higher ground.

We get so many typhoons every year here in the Philippines, it can be hard to convince people to evacuate every time. One of the Barangay [Philippines local municipalities] leaders said that people can be hard-headed when being told to evacuate and often leave it right until the moment the water rises. Others felt that the evacuation point wasn’t safe – or chose not to leave because they had elderly relatives or family members who were sick.

We spent the day documenting the preparations and then travelled back to Borongan – a few hours drive from Salcedo. We had planned to depart the next morning, but the storm was coming too quickly so we decided to stay there and ride it out.

Typhoon and tsunami combined

Llorente Technical Institute evacuation centre

Llorente Technical Institute supported by Plan has been turned into an evacuation centre

On Friday, the storm hit – Borongan did not feel its impact as badly as other places, but it was still unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Plan has an office in Borongan that is less than 1km from the ocean and I ventured out briefly towards the end of the storm to see what was going on – the water there rose up to 7m around the office and surrounding areas. It was as though a  typhoon and tsunami had combined forces.

As soon as the storm had ended, the Plan team tried to return to Salcedo to check on communities. We only got a short way before having to turn back as it got dark and trees, power lines and debris blocked the way, an ominous sign. It was a long night wondering about what lay ahead of us the next day.

On Saturday, early in the morning, we set out again to try and reach the communities affected by the storms – the team needed to assess the situation and understand what help they would need. My job was to document it and share their stories with the world.

Washed out to sea

This time we used 2 motorbikes,2 people on each. It was the hardest ride of my life – we left at 9am and didn’t reach Salcedo until 6pm – at several points we had to lift our bikes over trees and other debris blocking the roads. My colleague and I even fell off our bike at one point as a power line got caught in the wheels. Luckily we were going slowly and injuries were minor.

On the way to Salcedo we passed through several towns – all affected to varying degrees by the power of the typhoon. The worst was Hernani - most houses had been washed out to sea or destroyed. The ashphalt had risen up together like mountain ranges combining – the force required to do that is incredible.

The Hernani cemetery had also been damaged and cadavers were strewn across the sand. Old and new bodies combined. Only a few were wrapped in cloth by that point – the sound of wailing cut the
air.

Devastation

When we finally reached Salcedo it was almost unrecognisable from the beachside town we had been in less than 2 days earlier. Relief goods were being prepared, but seemed insignificant compared to the scale of the need. The mayor told me that people were just expecting hard rain but not water from the sea – again, like a tsunami and typhoon all in one.

We stayed in Salcedo that night in the destroyed municipalhall. Rain was pouring through holes in the ceiling but I felt lucky to have any sort of roof at all – and to feel safe. I slept on 3 chairs, others slept on tables or whatever they could find in the swamped hall. Plan’s office was also damaged and uninhabitable. They had a generator but didn’t use it as gasoline was already starting to become scarce, something that’s only worsened as time’s gone on. It’s strange to sleep in a town where many people have died.

On Sunday, we visited more towns and talked to people to understand their situation – but I knew the footage I had needed to be shared with the rest of the world. Planes weren’t available so I decided on Monday to return to Manila by road – it took 24 hours by bus and ferry but I made it. It wasn’t until I finally got phone reception again that I realised the Plan team had been really worried about me – I hadn’t been able to contact them since the storm hit!

I am working on editing the footage that I took and it’s hard to look at – there is so much loss and suffering and people urgently need help. I’m incredibly tired after this week, but I am focused on sharing these stories with the world – we need all the help we can get.

Support Plan’s emergency response to Typhoon Haiyan – donate to the appeal

Nov 14, 2013 11:15 AM