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A bucket full of rice and sardines

A bucket full of rice and sardines

As aid starts to pour in to Tacloban and Leyte, the areas worst-hit by Typhoon Haiyan, it’s also crucial to start responding to the other badly affected areas which were “neglected” in the initial relief efforts.

I couldn’t get over how patiently these people were waiting to receive relief goods

GOAL has joined forces with Signpost International Inc, a NGO based in Iloilo City, for that very reason.

Last Friday, exactly one week after Typhoon Haiyan stormed through the country, Signpost International Inc, in partnership with GOAL, coordinated the distribution of 2,600 much-needed relief packs to some of the affected families on the island of Panay, where Typhoon Haiyan made its third landfall.

Each pack consisted of a bucket filled with 2.25kg of rice, 4 packets of noodles, 4 tins of sardines, biscuits, a blanket, a bar of soap, some paracetamol and bottles of drinking water. Whilst this may not seem like much to us (or sound particularly appealing!), for the people who have lost everything and who have been struggling to survive on fresh coconuts since the typhoon struck, these relief packs make a great difference.

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In the days leading up to the distribution, it was an all hands on deck effort. The packing centre in Iloilo City was busy around the clock with volunteers ranging from 4 to 70 years old. As the final pack was loaded into the lorry around midnight, we all headed home to get a few hours of sleep before departing for some of the worst hit areas within Iloilo province early the following morning.

My team was looking after for the first distribution in Nueva Invencion, a small and remote barangay (village) in Barotac Viejo. Once we reached the main town, we unloaded 200 packs into a smaller vehicle which could drive the 8km down the ungravelled road to Nueva Invencion. After unloading the initial packs, the lorry continued its journey north.

Approaching Nueva Invencion, it was hard not to be blinded by the beauty of the surrounding landscape – blue sky, bright green paddy fields, tall coconut trees, water buffaloes resting on the road. But you just need to look down to the next layer to see the pure devastation that Typhoon Haiyan left behind as it tore through the country – fallen coconut trees, power lines hovering a few metres above the ground, houses with no roofs, or worse still, completely flattened, and debris scattered on the side of the road.

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On arriving, I couldn’t get over how patiently these people were waiting to receive relief goods. On the scale of things, this village was lucky – they suffered no casualties. However, 92% of the houses have been damaged, power lines have been cut off (and may stay that way for up to 5 months), and there are severe shortages of food and drinking water. Nevertheless, the people formed orderly queues whilst waiting to collect their packs, and in true Filipino nature, they were mostly in good spirits.

This was my first time being present at a distribution of relief goods and it was unbelievably moving to see how grateful each recipient was. So many of them came up to me to say thank you – they held my hands, blessed me and thanked me in broken English or Hiligaynon (the local dialect). I didn’t feel worthy of their thanks – after all, it was the generous donations of Signpost International UK and GOAL supporters that made this possible. Not to mention the amazing Filipinos who worked through the night putting the packs together.

During the distribution, a lady approached me with tears in her eyes and spoke to me in Hiligaynon for some time. Whilst not being able to understand what she was saying, I could sense the sorrow and found it hard not to well up myself as she told me her story. Later I learned that she and her family had lost everything in the typhoon.

Leaving Nueva Invencion, I was filled with a great sadness and the overpowering thought that this is just the beginning. Seeing the extent of the damage first-hand, really brought it home how much these people have lost and how much work needs to be done to help them get on their feet again.

The distribution of relief goods will keep a family from going hungry for a day or two, however Signpost and GOAL are currently working together to develop longer term solutions which will help these communities rebuild their lives.

Madelaine Zajdler, Signpost International Inc

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