“My phone rang. “Can you go to Northern Samar to join the ‘Go Team’?”
“As in now?” I asked. “Yes, the team is planning to leave in 20 minutes.”
After hearing this, thoughts started running through my mind. “But… we had planned to have our office Christmas party. A superhero themed one. I have a deadline to beat.”
I was caught off guard by the call from my colleague in Manila. I didn’t have the chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But after a minute, I caught myself running to my apartment from the office to get my clothes. I had 2 minutes to pack. I had enough clothes for 2 days in my backpack.
At that time, I didn’t know why we needed to go, what are were going to do, and when we would get there. I only knew that Samar province had been hit by Typhoon Melor.
On the Road
In the vehicle, I learned that I was one of the first responders to Typhoon Melor. It was only when my colleagues were talking about how we were going to get to the affected areas and when I saw 2 trucks full of relief supplies following our vehicles that this became real.
While on the road we could see the damage the typhoon had caused from the window. While listening to my colleagues talk about the disaster, I realized that I was travelling with superheroes. They do not need to wear costumes to be one.
They have special powers, just like the heroes we admire since childhood. Their special power is a commitment to helping people in need.
Aftermath of the Typhoon
While heading to Northern Samar, we could see the aftermath of Typhoon Melor. Trees were uprooted, coconuts were cut in half, and there were fallen electrical posts on the road. People were trying to salvage galvanized iron sheets and other debris from their houses that had blown away due to the strong winds and heavy downpour caused by the typhoon.
After completing our initial assessment, the team decided to spend a night in Catbalogan, almost 2 hours drive from Catarman, Northern Samar. We left Catbalogan before sunrise the next day.
As we arrived in Catarman, we immediately saw the devastation. People’s livelihoods had been affected. The schools were damaged. The entire province had lost power and their opportunities to communicate via phone and internet were still limited.
Families living in coastal villages with houses made of light materials have been left homeless. But all of them are trying to get back on their feet by making temporary houses from salvaged debris, trying to give a decent and comfortable sleep for themselves and especially for their children.
In the aftermath of Typhoon Melor, I am humbled to see the resiliency of the survivors.
To my surprise, we saw survivors – children, mothers, fathers, and even elderly having a good time as they celebrated their Christmas Party. I had goosebumps. But when I started hearing Christmas carols from homes with generator sets, my eyes started to get wet. I thought: “how can they celebrate Christmas when they are surrounded by the devastation brought about by the typhoon?”
No typhoon can stop the Filipinos from celebrating Christmas. We may not have enjoyed our Christmas party at the office and did not wear our superhero costumes, but the Christmas Party we joined in one of the affected villages was even more memorable.
This experience has made me feel fulfilled – I have been able to respond to people who are in need.
Karen Alcober is Plan International Philippines Communications Officer deployed for the Typhoon Melor Emergency Response. She is in Catarman, Northern Samar along with other Plan International staff distributing water, hygiene and shelter kits to affected families and children.