251 Antique Yolanda Relief Effort

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Written by core member, Gia Tambis

I was given the blessed opportunity to go to Antique and Capiz last Nov. 23 and 24 to distribute relief goods to towns that haven’t been reached out to. This opportunity came about when our group, U! Happy Events, initiated several relief efforts as soon as news about the colossal destruction brought about by Super Typhoon Yolanda came out. We had members collating volunteer opportunities daily and posting it on our page for the benefit of those who would like to help, and members who gathered and re-packed relief goods in several relief operation sites, and some even in their own homes.

One of our Board Members, Malou Galian, felt the need to do something bigger. It wasn’t enough that thousands of relief goods were collected, but she wanted to make sure that it reaches the people who need it the most. This yearning to help prompted her to arrange for a trip to areas where aid was supposedly limited, if at all reached out to. She posted her intent on Facebook, and when I saw it, I knew right away that it was the kind of service I wanted to give. In fact, my worry from Day 1 was that there wasn’t enough manpower to physically distribute the goods or organize a system that will ensure help will reach everyone who needs it. Malou’s post was very timely. Brave, and timely.

So I told her that if ever her plan pushes through, she could count me in. I had no idea what the set-up was gonna be like, or who we were going with. So when I got to the airport at 2am, I was pleased to find out that Malou was able to invite a few other friends to go with us. I was even surprised to see that we were joined by the celebrity power couple, Mr. Christopher De Leon and Ms. Sandy Andolong. It was humbling and unforgettable to be part of a group of able, like-minded individuals committed to reaching out.

We arrived in Iloilo at 6:30am and were welcomed by the kind staff of Antique’s Congressman Paolo Javier. Antique was a 3-hour drive from Iloilo. On the way, we decided to stop over at Miag-ao Church, a UNICEF World Heritage Site, to offer our prayers and ask for guidance and strength. It was very uplifting to be able to start our mission with some quiet time with the Lord.

When we arrived at the Office of the Congressman in Antique, we were greeted with a banquet of delicious food prepared for us for breakfast. Everyone was so warm and friendly. We stayed there for about a couple of hours while waiting for the bus of goods to arrive. This was the part where I was really amazed with how the entire trip was mapped out, and how God has blessed us with wonderful connections to pave way for this mission. Malou, through God’s providence and grace, found a way to transport the goods that our group has previously packed, directly to Antique. She was able to connect with one of her sister’s friends, Phoebe Cabagnot, who was a Board Member in Aklan and has political affiliations within the provinces of Panay Island in Western Visayas (Aklan, Iloilo, Antique and Capiz). Phoebe practically arranged everything for us the moment we landed in Iloilo. She took care of our transportation, accommodation, and even the security of our group. We were all prepared to go “camping” on this trip, but Phoebe made everything more convenient for all of us.

Soon after, the Dimple Star bus arrived. We were all thrilled and relieved at the same. It took some time to unload all the goods from the bus and transfer it to two separate trucks, one for Antique and the other for Capiz. But as soon as it was completed, we headed straight to the town of Barbaza, Antique, which was a 2-hour drive from the town of San Jose where the Congressman’s office was. When we got there, a multitude of people were assembled at the Mayor’s Office excited to welcome us (and get a glimpse of their “idol” of course). They served us merienda before we headed to the Barangays where we were to distribute the goods.

We were able to serve three Barangays in the town of Barbaza namely: Brgy. Bahuyan, Brgy. Cubay, and Brgy. Binangbang Centro. Clearly, devastation was rampant in these towns, as evidenced by wrecked houses, withered crops, fallen trees, and damaged structures. It was awful to see it in the news, even more heart breaking to see it in person. But what gave us the push to stay headstrong and determined was seeing the smiles of the people, and how, despite everything that has happened, there was no sign of despair or misery in their eyes. Of course it helped a lot that we were in a company of well-celebrated icons like Tito Boyet and Tita Sandy. They all cheered and clapped when they saw Tito Boyet carry a sack of goods on his shoulders, and were all-smiles while receiving the goods from the hands of their idol.

The local government of Antique has been collaborative and systematic, sending a team in advance to make sure that there was order before and during the relief operation. They assigned four policemen for crowd control and security. Mayor Gerry Necor of Barbaza was the one who identified which Barangays needed help the most, and was hands-on although out. I got the chance to have a brief chat with the Mayor and he shared with me the efforts they did to prepare for the typhoon. He said the moment he got the news about the upcoming typhoon, he immediately instructed the people to evacuate their areas and held them in a temporary, but more sturdy shelter near the Municipal hall. He recalled their terror when the compelling wind and water arrived, and how they kept praying and praying for everyone’s safety and protection. He said that there were no casualties in his area and was thankful that they were able to evacuate the people on time. And although their livelihoods have been compromised, they remain optimistic that they can move forward and rebuild their town one step at a time. He was very grateful for our effort to help his people, and he said it gave them even more hope that things will indeed get better.

 
 
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