Pristine white-sand beaches, clear blue-green waters, fresh air, friendly ambiance — all these spell the beautiful island of Bantayan, a paradise found in the northern part of the Cebu province in the Philippines. Seeing photos of friends who have spent their vacation in this wonderful part of our archipelago, I have long yearned to visit this place and also take my spot under the sun.
Bantayan Island’s beaches are still attractive even after the typhoon. A message is posted here inspiring the people of Bantayan that they will rise again. Photo by Claire Algarme.
I never imagined that I would be going there under a different circumstance. Two weeks ago, Yolanda (international name Haiyan), one of the strongest — if not THE strongest — typhoon hit our 7,107-island country. What was heavily damaged was the central part of the Philippines, stretching from Samar and Leyte in the East to Cebu, Negros and Panay at the center to Mindoro and Palawan in the West.
Homes were destroyed, livelihoods were swept away, and lives were lost. The whole country and the rest of the world scampered to do its part in helping the survivors recover and slowly bring back normalcy into their lives. Having been schooled in institutions that honed my partiality to social development and having spent my life working with charitable foundations, I couldn’t help but join my friends in an impulsive decision to fly to one of the devastated areas.
We picked Cebu as flights were more frequent and available (plus Tacloban was not yet equipped to receive independent volunteers). Since we could not stay away from work for more than a day, we booked round-trip tickets that gave us only 24 hours to be in Cebu.
But first we had to pick an organization where we could render service even for a day. When I learned that former colleagues from Habitat for Humanity Philippines were on the ground already, I immediately called one of them, Dabs Liban, to see how we could help them as volunteers.
It was one of the longest 24 hours I’ve ever spent in my life. Arriving at the airport before dawn, the Habitat team picked us up and we immediately went on our way to San Remigio port in northern Cebu. We were three hours on the road and as much as I wanted to get some sleep, my mind was reeling with so many thoughts that kept me awake.
We arrived at San Remigio at past 8:00 am and missed the ferry that would take us to Santa Fe, Bantayan Island. The next one was 9:30, so we waited at the battered departure area of the port where the violence of Yolanda was evident through the worn-out roofs and the topsy-turvy signages.
I bought food from a local vendor to ease my hunger and to somehow contribute to the local economy. I asked her how long before electricity would be restored, and she sadly replied that it would be by January. I kept silent and imagined a dark Christmas and New Year for them.
Finally, we boarded the ferry that would take us to our destination — Bantayan Island. It is composed of three towns – Santa Fe, Madrilejos, and Bantayan. The last one also includes smaller islands in the southwest tail end of Bantayan Island.
The hour-long ferry ride gave us a glimpse of what we would find at Bantayan through the destroyed fish cages and damaged coastlines that we saw along the way. As we neared the Santa Fe port, the white sand and the clear waters looked inviting despite the destruction that was seen at the backdrop. Fallen trees and branches without leaves were everywhere, including houses without walls and roofs, and household items scattered all around.
The scene that welcomed us in Santa Fe – destroyed buildings and establishments. Photo by Claire Algarme.
We boarded a jeep that took us to Daan Bantayan, as how they called the Bantayan town. Though there was a bustle of activities in the town, the picture that Yolanda did left a bitter taste on our mouths. From there, we took a small boat, or what we call bangka, to the neighboring Botong Island.
A sad road. Photo by Claire Algarme.
Botong, a tiny islet about 10 minutes away from Bantayan, was one of the areas where the typhoon created havoc. There are 113 families living in the island. All of them, except for five men who opted to stay behind, were evacuated to Bantayan’s gymnasium the day before the typhoon struck.
Anita Paciño narrated how her three-year old granddaughter cried hard at the height of the typhoon. Strong winds were trying to knock the roofs of the gym out and the frightened child begged her mother and grandmother that they go home because she was scared of the wind.
The children were happy to have visitors in their island. Photo by Claire Algarme.
Yet, home was not safe as well because when the families went back to their small village-island, not a house was standing in sight. Only the cracked paved floors remained from their abodes.
Victor’s house that he rebuilt after the storm. He used the shelter kit as roof. Photo by Claire Algarme.
Victor Giducos had to gather GI sheets and wood that he could find so he could reconstruct a new house for him and his family. But what he found were not enough. For three nights, they had to withstand the intermittent rain, and sleep was rare. They also had to feed themselves on coconut water because there was no safe drinking water.
Good thing that the team from Habitat for Humanity Philippines arrived a few days after the typhoon subsided and brought them emergency shelter kits through the help of UK Aid and Habitat for Humanity Great Britain.
Makeshift houses using the materials from the emergency shelter kits. Photo by Claire Algarme.
We saw that the families installed their kits, utilizing the materials as roofs and walls to their makeshift houses. Victor said that, finally, they were able to sleep since they have protection from the night’s mist and from the day’s scorching heat.
Felix’s home is now a good place to rest and sleep. Photo by Claire Algarme.
His neighbor, Felix Nipangge, was equally pleased to receive the shelter kit. He and his family could now work indoors to cultivate the meager sea weeds they salvaged after the storm. He hopes to have a good harvest a month after so he can earn something. But for now, he has to think of ways to feed his family.
Since majority of them live on fishing and their boats were destroyed, they are hoping to get more help so they can bring back their livelihood. In the meantime, they have to go to Bantayan Island and line up for relief goods so that they will have food to put on their table day by day.
As we made our way back to Santa Fe to catch the barge, rain started to pour down. Good thing that the families in Botong Island have emergency shelter kits. But how about those living in the other islands far from Bantayan? The Habitat team I was with said that they are going back to distribute shelter repair kits and solar light bulbs.
When we drove back to Cebu City on a pitch dark highway, I thought that they will indeed need those light bulbs in San Remigio, Santa Fe, Madrilejos, Bantayan and in the tiny islets.
And may hope continue to shine in their hearts.
Homeless at Bantayan Island in Yolanda’s Aftermath – GMA News Online
Bantayan victims receive emergency shelter kits – CNN iReport