From the Philippines – Dispatch 2

Following the devastating typhoon in the Philippines in November, ET staff member, Gregg Butensky, initiated a fundraising effort to bring assistance to the people of Aklan on the island of Panay. Gregg has strong connections in Aklan having established a public lending library there over 15 years ago.

Earlier this month Gregg travelled to the region to ensure that the $10,000 raised is used in the most effective way possible. He’s providing the following dispatches for his donors, republished here for ET readers.

Ati-Atihan Festival - Kalibo
Ati-Atihan Festival – Kalibo

To those who sent replies to my last message, thanks! Your words of encouragement are most appreciated.

A point of clarification. Because the strategy is to help people get back to where they were before the storm, the cost of helping the Gomez family with a new house is relatively low. Helping them doesn’t preclude setting up other measures of significant assistance. The story continues…

One of the contacts I made via Facebook before leaving home was a woman named Rowena. Rowena is one of six full-time volunteers for a local disaster-preparedness and relief organization – Task Force Tabang (Help), Aklan. Following the typhoon, Task Force Tabang quickly emerged as the most effective non-governmental assistance group working at the provincial level. Just the kind of group I was looking for.

After visiting a couple homes on the morning of my second day – one of which was the home that was completely destroyed as described in my previous message – we headed out for Kalibo. Three of us in a tricycle – the main form of transport here. Tricycles are small motorbikes with a welded on side-car. The side-cars can hold a surprising number of people and the vehicles are overwhelmingly operated as group taxis.

At times, they’re also used as private transport. There are several tricycle drivers in the extended family here and they often serve to drive family members around as needed. That doesn’t mean they won’t pick up a paying customer who’s going in the right direction.

We hadn’t gone a kilometer when we picked up a passenger bound as we were for Kalibo. I greeted the young woman as she slid onto the seat next to me. And after a short while we started to chat. Pointing to her bag of folders and papers I asked if she was going to work – a bit surprising because it’s the annual fiesta here now and all offices and schools are closed. It doesn’t look like your going into town for the fiesta, I said. She replied that she didn’t think it was a good time for celebrating, given that people are suffering from the impacts of the typhoon.

Oh, you’re doing relief work? I’m supposed to meet with an organization later today, which group do you work with? She turned to look at me – “Are you Mr. Gregg!?” How did you know? “I’m Rowena!”

Rowena lives in Kalibo but had spent the night at the Numancia town coordinator’s house, We had been exchanging text messages all morning but I had no idea she was in Numancia. It’s not that small a town – but sometimes it sure does feel like it!

We set a lunch date for later that day and dropped her off. We were en route to the hospital – Mrs. G. my host here had been admitted a few days before my arrival but was to be released today. Along the way we suddenly saw groups of people running down the road. Turning around I saw great plumes of billowing gray smoke. Several homes near the mosque were burning. Disembarking from the tricycle, I scurried up a small hill for a better vantage point – and stepped right in a red ant hill. Before I knew what was happening stinging bites covered my foot. Never a dull moment.

Rowena and I met later over lunch, joined by Kim-sin – another of the full-time volunteers. They had drafted a preliminary project proposal which we discussed but mostly this was an introductory meeting. I would review the proposal in detail that night and we would meet again in the morning.

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