Thursday 7th November 2013 - a massive Typhoon was scheduled to make landfall in the Philippines any time in the next 24 hours.
Friday 8th the extent of the damage started to emerge from media pics and first hand accounts – my heart bled a little…I was due to have a stand of artworks from both Haiti and Sri Lanka at the Home and Lifestyle show at Beau Sejour over that weekend.
I put a small sign up and a collecting box on the stand asking people to help raise enough money (£600) for one ShelterBox. ShelterBoxes were something I knew a little about having sourced them for Haiti and also knew of them in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami.
By the end of the first day, I had raised enough for 4 boxes and after the weekend the count was over 20!I was amazed - but it was nothing in comparision to what was about to happen.......Guernsey went mad and the money rolled in, after a news item aired about how much had been raised over the weekend.Business’s got involved - individuals got involved - schools got involved - as did playgroups - Church groups and WI’s too.
EVERYONE asked me if I was going to go out there - the answer? – a firm NO, I was just raising money for ShelterBox - that was all!
On Monday, Tess Mawson got in touch - she is a friend and a Flipino who was wanting to help me sort out the money and get awareness out there to raise more.
Channel TV called me to do a piece on raising the money and to get Tess’s number to get a view from a Filipino living in Guernsey with family out there. She also did an interview to camera with a friend. It aired that night....On Tuesday morning a group of Filipino girls came to my house to help sort out the piles of money that was pouring in - we had some bad news from one of them about someone in their family who had died in the Tyhoon. It was then it happened............I decided to go.........I had to - the pain of the girls was too much to bear.Bridge2Philippines was born.
I had a call from James Ferguson at Sueco, he wanted to do a Noodles sale from the kitchens - we quickly named it Cash4Noodles.It would happen on the Friday - just one week after the Typhoon - we made a page on FB, and very quickly realised that there was more demand that just the 75/100 boxes we thought we might sell.A team was assembled - delivery drivers/cakemakers/cashtakers/set up folks and general hands to serve.Beau Sejour offered the use of the concourse.
Thursday night we had 100’s of preorders and instead of 2 teams of delivery drivers we needed 5!Quite what hit us all on that Friday… I still havent processed!We served in excess of 930 boxes of noodles and raised £5,500 in just 49 minutes......it was staggering - the 88 kilos of noodles quickly ran out and the tables groaning with cakes were soon cleared too.
The staff at Sueco were exhausted - they had done a truly magnificent job and cleared out all suppliers of noodles!Our volunteers had pulled out all the stops and risen to the considerable challenge.I had a meeting with the Bailiff that afternoon and went to the meeting covered in Noodles!I needed to start a working fund as well as raising money for ShelterBox.....it wasnt long before people were donating generously for this, as well as continuing with ShelterBox money.
By now were were up to 65 ShelterBoxes in just a week.Collectively, everyone started to help raising money for us - it was a fabulous effort - everyone had ideas of what to do......cake and noodle sales were arranged amongst other things.There was a small team helping me and I put a sign on my front door: Bridge2Philippines HQ.
I called a meeting in St Peter Port School on the following Monday, to ask for more help - I needed admin help and general help with collections. It was well attended.Now we had a team I could reply on, to deal with the manic days at HQ. The team was busy the whole time, creating spreadsheets, paying in money, receiving medical goods we had requested on line, and logging/sorting them.
The phone rang off the hook - there were constantly people at my door, which spent most of its time open, with children donating teddies/toothfairy money, people with bags of coins/sweets.Lovely people bringing me food - worried I wasnt eating properly - I wasn't! and offering to do my ironing/cleaning.... it was CRAZY...I wasn't sleeping........if I went to bed there were too many emails to answer when I woke - it wasnt worth it - in the first week I had about 5 hours sleep....adrenaline was doing it for me!
I HAD to answer them all - there was money pouring into the bank account and within a short 3 weeks we had raised enough for 170 Boxes = £100,000 - a MASSIVE amount - especially remembering that the Bailiff’s fund was active too and money was also being raised for other Filipino’s doing their own thing for individual communites.
Plans being made - a team put together....The team I WANTED surprisingly…. all agreed to come!
Roger Allsopp – one time doggy paddle swimmer - great dependable friend.
Jean Rouget – used to play at being a nurse - great dependable friend.
Dave Matheson – pretends to know about steaks - great dependable friend
and ALL of them slightly crazy – essential…..
Flights booked - plans made with Tess’s relations - connections with ShelterBox on the ground made and we were ready for the off.
We ended up in a hotel that turned out to be a “knocking shop” of the very worst kind.
English men praying on innocent vulnerable women - we were ashamed to be British........we had to try and ignore it and get on with why we were there.There was shopping to be done - both food and tools and lots of it! Bagging rice and making up food parcels all had to be done before we could go North to find where we needed to be.
2 days of frenetic shopping and sorting - and then hiring of a truck and a van for us to travel in - we managed to find an amazing guide called Randy to accompany us.Driving North in convoy –and eventually saw the damage we anticipated – however it took a lot longer to see it than we had imagined.
The Typhoon had only damaged the top 1/3 of Cebu Island.We found 2 communities on our travels and each time when we stopped the truck and they gathered around – no pushing – no shoving just hot hungry thirsty grateful people waiting patiently in line for what we had to offer.
A 5 gallon water container each and 10kilos of rice with a home/food parcel.We emptied our truck and set of quite late in the day back to Cebu city.
A phone call from Bantayan Island from the ShelterBox team and we made a decision to go there 2 days later after we had stocked up once more.We needed rice/food stuff and more water carriers – we needed tools for the fishermen to mend their boats and we needed nylon wire – we found it all.
We met with the ShelterBox Ground Ops Director Alice Jefferson and one of the senior ShelterBox team David Hatcher.
The lorry was stashed with precious cargo once more and again we set off – this time to Hagnaya Port in the North to catch the ferry to Bantayan Island which had been badly hit.
We were met by the SB team and taken to their base in a Gym – on the way there we spotted the first tent already making a difference to one family, and could clearly see the terrible devastation.Also in the gym were the Samu Spanish Medical team, who were in need of medical supplies – we kept a little for ourselves in case we needed it and donated the rest to their clinic which was operating out of a ShelterBox tent in the Gym.
We stored our cargo of rice and other stuff in the gym.Andre the SB team leader offered to show us around and let us see what they had been doing – we were shocked at what we saw.
They then took us to the Mayor’s office and introduced us to a chap called Dale the Mayors aide, who would prove to be an enormous help to us – allowing us to access all areas and use his men and trucks to distribute our food.Over the next day we looked at what both Shelterbox and Samu were doing.
We were taken to see a lady called Jingky who had been given a SB and I did an interview with her about what the SB meant for her and the family – it moved us all.
We then went to visit some other remote families who had health issues. Over that day and evening we made some decisions and the next day would get back to Cebu to do another shop.
In the evening we were all at dinner discussing future plans with Andre and Chris from SB and the Samu team came back telling us they had discovered 2 cases of Meningitis – Roger flagged up that all the children in the community would needtreatment to ensure an epidemic did not happen. They took this very seriously and the next day the drug was flown up to the island and the relevant treatment distributed – thanks to Roger for his quick response.
In the City for just a day and night we were soon back on the ferry for the next part of our deliveries. While we had been away Jinky had arranged for us to distribute to the 600 families from her area and gathered them all at a public building.
Sir Dale allowed us to use his truck and came with us while we did the distribution. Food all out and then we held an impromtu mini health clinic for any people who needed any assistance – there were some sick babies and some older people who came forward – Jean and Roger tended to them in their usual efficient and cheerfulway. Everyone around helped us with unloading it was a real team effort.
Jingky told us of a lady who had a sick baby – it was a walk to get to her – so we set off into the boondocks to find her.Then as we had some more food we drove to another area and stopped the lorry did some more parcels and gave a great big group of children some of the toys we had been given too.
A call to see another little boy with a problem – the boy was in pain and couldn’t walk in the heat – Roger and Jean soon sorted him out!Next task was Rog and Jean in the clinic to look at a man’s leg – he had been told it would need amputation but it was his lucky day Roger gave him the good news – he could keep his leg.Meeting with the Mayor and more food parcels – this time in a community we hadn’t arranged.
The queue was very small to start with but soon it was winding back down the road and ended up being 300 or so hundred. Dale was with us and he was laughing and joking with the locals – obviously a popular man – he had all the older ladies all hooting with laughter.
Samaritians Purse had stored their emergency buckets in the gym and the night before, I had spoken with the man in charge when we were having dinner – he told me to have whatever we needed for the folk we were delivering to – whata result.
The Samu team had been to one of the Islands doing a clinic and were relaxing a little when we got back – so we decided to recreate the Christmas story using a ShelterBox as a cradle laughter rang out in the Gym as we all joined in this bit of fun -the ability to break the seriousness of what one is there to do – is essential – humor goes a long long way!Back to the issues in hand and the local doctor was being difficult and not releasing drugs she had stockpiled from NGO’s donating, to the Samu clinic to use – no one was going to her as she has a fiercesome reputation and it was never open.
The boss of the Samu team, although a bear of a man, seemed a little wary of her - I offered to go and see her – she didn’t frighten me! Apparently the day before a man had died because she had not released drugs they needed.
That was enough for me!Across the road I went, determined to tackle her – she wasn’t there so we were told to ring her – finally we got through to her. She was off the island.
We asked her for some things on the list and she agreed to give a little. She told us she wouldcall the clinic and let them know we were coming.We didn’t waste time and went straight there - Jean Roger and I loaded up with as much as we could. We heard afterwards that she wasn’t at all happy.
There were people dying because of her actions - not how Dr’s I know behave!Next it was off to deliver more food parcels – we realized as it was Sunday the boys who were volunteering would be off.
Ricky the interesting character in charge summoned them and they rushed to help us – we would make it worth their while – but they didn’t know that yet! So so helpful and when I asked to take 2/3 with us to help with the distribution they all clamoured to come – we took them all! Lovely teenage lads with big smiles on their faces.I was determined that we would give out as much as we possibly could today.
The first place we stopped only a few parcels were handed out but soon we reached a clearing near to the sea – it was shocking the trees were all damaged and houses all but gone. We stopped the truck and many people ran to join the queue – a little girl ran up to me and took my hand pulling me away – she ran ahead urging me to follow - to see her grandma who was lying on a terrible makeshift bed of leaves and twigs – we made sure she had supplies.
Jean, Roger, Randy and the boys gave out the parcels to all the women – to ensure it was fair we asked only the women queue up - that way we would ensure everyone got something – they soon told us if there were any orphans or families without a mum – it worked very well.
We pressed on with the truck and stopped a couple of miles further on again to find an enormous queue gathering – this is where the enormity of the disaster hit me.
The 40% sun was beating down and as I looked around us, with a queue winding into the distance, I leaned for a moment on the side of the lorry and really took in the sadness of what I was seeing – no surviving trees – no shade – it would be years before this eco disaster would mend its self.
People in these countries naturally build their houses where they can get shade – it was gone! So very sad….We emptied the truck and then Jingky wanted to take us to meet her children – she has 5 under 10 – they were so very sweet.She told us how when the typhoon came – little David who is 2dropped to his knees and called out ‘Lord enough please enough” she told us how it sounded so loud and they were all so very frightened.
Our last day, and there was a knock at our room, asking for Roger and Jean to come - there was a man is respiratory distress at the clinic, as the Samu team had to leave for the airport they were needed QUICK.Jean soon had him on oxygen and managed to raise his stats from a very worrying low back to where they should have been in the next hour or so.
Next came a 19 year old girl who had given birth during the Typhoon to her baby who she named Yolandi – she told us how frightened she was but there was nothing she could do.
Her husband had died in April of liver failure – the medical services on the island, as I have alluded to were and are dire.Others started to filter in and in the end they saw 10 or so patients before we had to set off to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
We set off for the airport and checked into a hotel nearby ready for our morning flight.What an amazing trip – we managed to do all I wanted and more and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.