I wrapped up the month in Tacloban, the city hardest hit by Typhoon Yolanda. I don’t even really know where to begin. I wrote an article today for work about my time there that took me forever to get out. Simply because I don’t know how to put all of the facts and emotions I felt into a 2 page write-up. Here I’ve decided to share the highlights that made me smile.
I was there in one of the communities on our first day of relief. I’m ‘the photographer’ so was walking around taking pictures of the destruction around me. A family saw me and invited me into their small house. I sat down with them. They were so incredibly friendly with big smiles on their faces. The Filipino hospitably I’ve grown to know and love was still present although they had just been through tragedy. In a mixture of Bisaya, Warri, and English, I was able to understand their story. They gave me a first hand account of how their family survived. This family, living of off relief goods, even offered me lunch. They practically insisted, but of course I refused and thanked them for being so gracious. I have included a picture of us up there ^^^.
I then met a young girl who was very fascinated by me. She struck up conversation immediately and stood by my side for the whole day. Apparently her mother had gotten sick because of the storm, I’m not sure if she was injured or what. She asked me in a shaky voice if she could claim the relief goods for her family because her mother wasn’t able to do so. I wasn’t in charge, and I really had no idea, but in the end she was able to claim the goods. As we were leaving she gave me a hug and ran off. She came right back and presented me a key chain and asked me not to forget her or my time in Leyte. I was obviously tearing up at this point. A picture of her, two of her friends and myself is also there above ^^^.
To have gone through what they have just gone through, I saw hope in the people. They were smiling and laughing. They even stopped their clean up and rebuilding efforts to watch the Pacquiao fight. I saw signs hanging from damaged houses congratulating the ‘peoples champ.’ If that isn’t spirit then I don’t know what is. So although it was a tough trip physically and emotionally, It also brought a smile to my face.
The month of November has easily been the most busy, challenging, and heart-wrenching month of my mission here in the Philippines.
I left November 3 for Zamboanga, a city that has been torn apart by war. A literal war, or ‘standoff’ as the media outlets have dubbed it, between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The Moro or Muslim people have been calling for the rights to their ancestral land for quite awhile with little response from the government. This war was a coming to a head of that argument between the two.
I got to visit ground zero. Or the place where this war started. There are now only remnants of houses. The AFP allegedly bombed the small town. Many were killed instantly, others died slowly—probably due to their wounds, and over a hundred thousand are living in a massive evacuation center. Civilians were caught in the crossfire of the horrible scene. What stuck out to me while visiting were the bullet holes visible in the gates, walls, and the plastic shelling littered all over the ground from what had to have been serious ammunition.