From the Philippines – Dispatch 7

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.

Isla Moto - New Washington, Aklan
Isla Moto – New Washington, Aklan

Thanks so much to those who offered to wire money! I feel so empowered by the support you all have given and have conveyed that to the folks of Aklan.

Over the next few days, I dug deeper, continuing to explore and get further off the beaten path. One day I rode up into the mountains south of Numancia. These regions are harder to reach and have lacked the substantial assistance they need. The one road is mostly unpaved – winding, gravelly and deeply rutted. Coming back down on the motorbike I wiped out. Villagers nearby ran over to assist, lifting the bike off of my leg. I was unhurt and fortunately my new camera came through it okay. The bike needed a bit of repair.

The next morning I met Kim at the TFT office and he toured me around the shanty area of Kalibo. These are the urban poor, squatting by the side of the river. In 2008 they were flooded out by Typhoon Frank. Following that, what was left of their houses was razed to make way for the construction of a flood wall. The people rebuilt further down river, where there is no wall and thus they are subject to getting wiped out by floods again. The feared flooding after the recent typhoon didn’t materialize but many houses were destroyed by the high winds.

TFT does ongoing assistance in this neighborhood. But Kim isn’t just a do-gooder venturing into a sketchy hood to help – he’s lived there is entire life. His mother is a long-time activist working on behalf of the poor and Kim and his siblings have followed in her footsteps.

That afternoon, I met Rowena in New Washington. Along the way I came across a relief distribution event at a decrepit basketball court right at the edge of the sea. CARE was giving out rations of rice, sardines, and instant noodles. Everyone was all smiles as I milled about and took photos.

I found Rowena at a bamboo distribution center. Business was booming. She introduced me to others who would join us on a small bangka (pumpboat) to take us to the island of Isla Moto. Just 30 families live on Isla Moto, which the locals also refer to as Island Nowhere because it isn’t shown on maps.

Once on the island, I was welcomed warmly by the villagers who toured me around. All but one of the houses here were heavily damaged or completely destroyed. The entire population had holed up in the one cement house while the storm raged.

Rowena is highly respected here but also appears to be humbly close with the island inhabitants. Everyone gathered around as she discussed their situation and took questions. Due to TFT’s efforts, the island had received aid from Caritas, an international organization that works through the Catholic church. A couple days hence, Caritas representatives were scheduled to visit in order to assess progress.

The main point of discussion was, given the assistance, why had so little work on rebuilding been done? The answer was that while the villagers had received the main building components – GI sheets for roofing and bamboo – they couldn’t afford nails and other essentials.

Back at the house in Numancia that night we had the oysters I had been gifted from the people I’d met at Isla Moto that afternoon. After dinner, Rowena and Kim arrived to join me at a neighbor’s house for a last night of socializing. The next morning I’d be leaving for Manila and my flight home.

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