Monday, 24 March 2014

Andy and Yolanda

Andy and Yolanda
By Andrew Lear

On November the 8th, 2013, a record-breaking typhoon lashed parts of the Philippines causing tremendous damage, not to mention the suffering of the people in her path who lost loved ones and possessions. As luck would have it one of our whanau happened to be working in the Philippines, right where Yolanda decided to let her fury loose.

When she had dispensed her punishment and moved on, Andy came out to find a landscape torn apart and the people in dire straits. For days he waited and saw no response from the Philippine authorities. When he realised that help was still a long time coming he decided to do something himself and began collecting what meagre aid he could to give to the people he knew from work who had lost their homes. Then, from this small gesture something incredible happened; others got behind him and within days a major aid mission exploded into action. He had unwittingly started what was to become a human miracle as the good things in peoples' souls came to the fore as Filipinnos and foreigners alike joined together and instigated a relief campaign that was nothing short of wonderful. Andy spearheaded this drive, not afraid to ask family, friends, and the companies he worked for to contribute. And the contributions poured in.

One contributor was our own Emi Esteves who took his plea to her school which got wholeheartedly behind it, raising a significant amount of money. Andy wrote a lengthy report to the Rukuhia school about what their contribution did for the people hit by the storm.

We should all be pretty proud of Andy. He did a great thing for his fellow beings. As the proverb states: 'When you are in the service of your fellow beings you are in the service of your God'.
Yolanda gave him an opportunity to show his real stuff and an adventure to tell his grandchildren.

The letter he wrote to the children at Rukuhia school graphically tells that story.

Andrew C. Lear


Hi Rukuhia School,
My name is Andy Lear. I'm a cousin of the Esteves kids and I've been working here in the Philippines for nearly a year now, getting to know the place and the people. I’ve been all over the Visayas. I have seen whale sharks in Oslob, white sand beaches in Bohol, mountains in Negros and cave shrines in the Comotes Islands. But I think the best bit has been making some really great new friends. These people are some of the nicest you will ever meet. If you get a chance, it’s a place well worth visiting. I’m an engineer for an Australian company called Outotec, and we are upgrading a copper mine for a Filipino company called Carmen Copper. I work in the mine in Lutopan, near Toledo City, in the mountains in the middle of the island of Cebu. There are half a dozen of us here from New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
As you know, the Philippines were hit by Typhoon Yolanda on Friday 8th of November. Yolanda was the strongest storm in the last 30 years. It has hit the Philippines very hard, possibly killing as many as 10,000 people.

                              A satellite view of Typhoon Yolanda approaching the Philippines

Where we are in Toledo was not too badly affected, we had a few trees down and a few houses flattened, but we escaped with little injury and no deaths. My friends and I hunkered down in our house with a huge pile of food and water and a bottle of rum. We had axes and crowbars handy as well, in case the roof came down and we had to dig ourselves out. Our neighbours were very lucky, two huge trees fell down, both landing within 2 feet of their house, but no one was injured thank goodness. It was very scary to see the trees coming down over our friend’s house. We ran out through the storm to check they were OK, I was so glad to see they were not hurt! The winds were just wild, and there was branches and stuff flying everywhere. Every minute or two you would hear the CRACK of a tree coming down. I’d hate to think what it was like closer to the eye of the typhoon, or on the coast when the storm surge came rushing up and swamped whole towns.

Typhoon winds in Toledo
The storm surge in Tacloban
                                                A tree narrowly missing our neighbour's house
In the North of Cebu, towns like Daanbantayan, Bogo, Medellin, Tabogon, San Remigio and islands like Malapascua and Bantayan have been terribly affected by the storm.  Many people were killed; many are still buried in the rubble of their houses. Some towns lost up to 90% of their houses; people lost all their crops, their seed stock for next year, their workplaces, their animals. In some areas the ground has been salted by storm surges and it will need 6 months of rain to wash the salt away before the fields can be used again. Banana and coconut trees take years to grow big enough to fruit, so these folks will be a long time without food or income.

Many of the folks outside of the cities here live in Nipa huts. These are small huts; maybe 4m x 3m and they are made of a bamboo or wood frame with Nipa leaf walls and thatched or steel roofs. They don’t stand up to super typhoon!

A typical nipa hut

The Philippines government is not like the government in New Zealand. Their response to the storm was very slow. When we sent out our first relief convoy, nearly a week after the storm, it was the first relief those towns had had! Nothing had come from the government at all, and the capital of the island is only 3 hours south. The big charities (Red Cross, Unicef etc) were working hard to set up their distribution lines but were too stretched working in Samar and Leyte to attend to Cebu right away.
The Central Visayas, which bore the brunt of the storm
 Cebu - We work near Toledo City on the west coast.

When the storm hit on Friday, all our power, phones and TV were cut off, so we had no idea what was happening in the rest of the country. By Sunday evening the TV had come back, and we were starting to realise just how bad the storm was.
We asked the local councillors if they needed help with relief, but they said that they weren’t doing any. We knew that things had to be bad up north of Cebu, it was right in the centre of the typhoon, where the winds are up to 300km/h! If you think about how hard the wind is when you stick your head out the window at 100km/h, then 300km/h is pretty bad!

The First run:
Jayson and I started by calling the Red Cross, to see if they needed help, but they had no one on the ground in Cebu. After trying a few more charities with no luck, we finally got in touch with GMA who had a man in Tagoban that could receive and distribute supplies. On Tuesday Jayson, Diane and I collected money from our crew on site, borrowed a truck from Carmen Copper and went to the Toledo Market to buy food and water. Diane is from Toledo so she knows where to get everything we need for a good price, a big help since otherwise I would get charged a fortune because I’m foreign! While there we met up with some of the folks from Carmen Copper who were doing the same thing, they suggested we pack our goods in their trucks, which was a good thing as we had no idea how we were going to get our goods north, we were flying by the seat of our pants as usual!

The market in Toledo is a huge building filled will all sorts, toys, clothes, rice, veggies, but the most interesting part is the 200m long stretch of dried fish shops. They love dried fish here and I had to walk through 200m of shops, I don’t think I will ever be able to get the fish smell off!

Buying rice from Diane’s cousins, Bambi & Co in Toledo
These kids work in the market, they hurl 15kg boxes of sardines around like basketballs!

The truck we borrowed from Carmen Copper, filling up with supplies.
We buy the supplies in bulk from the market, and then we have to spend a few hours repacking them into family sized bags. Each bag should last a family for 1 day. We do this so that we can distribute the goods fairly. If we give out a whole 50kg sack of rice, then it gets taken by the strongest folks and the weakest get nothing. If we give out one bag to each family, they all get enough to survive the day. It’s sad but that’s how things are. When people are desperate and starving the weakest will always miss out. We even have to take armed guards on the convoys because they get robbed otherwise.

 For 1 day, each family gets:

2kg of uncooked rice

2 cans of beef loaf (Horrible Spam-like stuff, but hey its cheap protein. Personally I wouldn’t feed it to the dog)

2 cans of sardines

3 packets of instant noodles

1 packet of biscuits

1 litre of filtered water

When we have some spare cash we throw in some lollies for the kid

                                                                                              A family pack
On that first run our site team brought 170 families worth of supplies which we had packed up in our house. Carmen Copper had taken over the badminton courts so we helped them pack all their supplies also. Its hard work doing a 12 hour shift in a mine, packing goods half the night, then getting up and doing it all again! We were all exhausted after a couple of weeks of this! But it was good that something was finally happening to get help to the folks who needed it.

   Packing the first run of goods in our guesthouse
Dianne hauling rice
          Our site crew – Mitch, Allan, Conrado, Dax, Jayson, Gilbert, Diane, Darren and myself.
                                    Derek and myself hauling supplies. Each of those sacks weigh
                            about 35 kg and we each must have carried at least 100 each a night!
Packing supplies in the badminton courts, it’s a big job
Our first convoy headed north on Thursday, 6 days after the storm, for Daanbantayan, San Remigio, Medellin and Bogo. They distributed 3500 family packs as well as basic medical supplies. Carmen Copper supplied armed guards (and in the Philippines, that means armed to the teeth, these blokes have guns bigger than them!) because there were reports of looting and bandit attacks, as people were getting desperate for food. Luckily however the handing out was very orderly. They had no problems with the people who came to receive food, no bandits on the roads, and rebels didn’t bother us (there is an ongoing Maoist rebellion here but they have declared a ceasefire for the typhoon, and in any case, if you pay your revolutionary tax they don’t bother you).

The line up for food in Daanbantayan.

Distribution in San Remigio

Carmen Copper was going to continue running convoys as long as they had donations, so that’s when I put out the call on Facebook for donations from home, and you guys have answered!

At the same time, my other friends here had been busy:

Mark and Nelly:
My friend Mark is an Australian who has been living in the Philippines for a long time now, and his girlfriend Nelly is from Leyte, one of the islands to the east of Cebu. Her island was very hard hit by the storm, so Mark and Nelly left on Monday night with a tricycle full of supplies to try and find her family. They were on the first boat over since the storm. The boat companies doubled the ticket prices and charged them an extra ticket for their food, not cool eh. There was no phone signal, she couldn’t contact them to find out if they were alive or not. They arrived on Leyte Tuesday morning at Ormoc. The devastation was terrible. Leaving the ferry port they were climbing over power lines and broken glass, downed trees and sheets of roofing iron.  Getting to her village was even worse, what was normally a 20min drive took 3 hours. They had to carry the trike over fallen power poles and trees. Eventually they had to switch to a scooter as they couldn’t get the trike any further. They walked the last 3km carrying their supplies as even the scooter couldn’t get through.

Normally in this section of road there are Nipa huts on both sides of the road until just before her village. Not one was left standing. The road was strewn with men, women and children.
Her village is called Green Valley and it has a population of around 400, all of whom survived without injury. Unfortunately all of these people have lost their crops, incomes, power, water, food supplies and 50-60% of their homes have been damaged or destroyed.

                                                                 Storm damage on Leyte
More storm damage
With the food Mark and Nelly brought, her family and friends sat at the family home and packed food bags to provide to the locals. They gave out over 400 bags.

Nelly and her family packing boxes

Nelly handing out goods
A happy kid
Mark and Nelly made a second trip back to Leyte, they have brought a diesel generator so that the village can have power. They have phone signal back but won’t get power for some months, and a lot of folks there still haven’t been able to tell their family on other islands that they are OK. They also took back a bunch of food that was donated by you guys, and also some cash that we gave them to help buy the generator, big help to the folks over there!
Nelly and her whanau

Fixing a nipa hut

The kids, they are super cute
                                                                      Lechon baboy
Mark and Nelly recently returned to Green Valley, and 2 months after Yolanda life in the village is getting back to normal. Everyone has enough to eat now, most folks have fixed their houses, but they still don’t have power and are relying on the generator you helped buy.
With some more of your donations they brought schoolbooks for the local school, their roof had blown off and all their things were ruined. The Red Cross sent a couple of guys to fix the roof. They also brought a big bag of lollies for the kiddies, which they were stoked to see.

With their own cash they brought 3 pigs for the adults, for their saint’s fiesta. They love pork here!   The Philippinos are very religious and celebrate many fiestas for the local saints and always they have a pig and make lechon baboy or roast pork. Then they have Karaoke which they also love, it was actually invented by a Filipino. They all gather around and sing sad love songs.  As well as the 400 folks in their village, over 300 more came down from the surrounding area to share their lechon and their joy in such a hard time. No matter how bad things are Filippinos are always ready to laugh and chat and sing, they are great people to be around.

Mobile phones being charged at the generator. They LOVE
                                  facebook here

Lunch for the school being cooked. Many folks here have an
                                    oven but electricity and gas are expensive so most times they
                                    still cook over a fire.

Lunchtime lineup at the canteen.

The school, all fixed up and new gear and roof. Pretty basic
                                      compared to what we are used to but it does the job

Serge is a Russian metallurgist that has been living here for years. His friend, Rhoda, is from Leyte. She is the only one from her family with work (it can be very hard to find a job here, and the work is often long, difficult and dangerous. If you don’t have a good education here life can be tough). She has pawned or sold all her possessions and borrowed money to help her family. Her immediate family lost 4 members, happily 14 survived. Their dead family were just thrown into a communal grave, which was heart wrenching because they could not say goodbye properly. Even if they were given a chance to do this they just couldn’t, they don’t have the means. It was essential to get bodies buried quickly to prevent disease, but it is very sad. They couldn’t even give them a service as their priest had died.

So Serge put out the call for donations to help this family and their village. We gave him 50 family bags from your donations to take with him. He also took cooking materials, a generator and second hand clothes. His driver volunteered his time and they used Serge's jeepny to transport the goods.
                             FYI...These are jeepneys, a sort of small bus, lots of these here.
           The drivers are hugely proud of their rides and decorate them beautifully.
Filippinos are masters of stacking stuff on scooters and  jeepneys.
The relief run went very well, and in the end helped over 100 families in their village. Serge said that they either laughed or cried from joy, they thanked him continuously, and asked him to thank you all on their behalf.

Rhoda and Ricky

 Rhoda's village of Isabella

The kids keep playing away, no worries

Boys from Isabella

Lining up for food at Isabella

                                                                              Happy faces

Rhoda's sisters

Rhodas village of Isabella, it’s a small village centred around the port.

They had a lot of damage here.


Shimo is an electrical engineer from Leyte, his young wife and 2 children were caught in the typhoon, he went home on Tuesday to search for them. It took him 2 days before he found them, alive and well! He returned to work on Friday and went back to Leyte on Saturday so we gave him 50 family bags to take with him, which will keep his family going for a while.

 This is Shimo, he rocks supercool cowboy boots on site
Allan and Conrado:

Allan and Conrado are two brothers from Manila, their friend Rommel had his wife and 1 month old son in Bogo in northern Cebu. The town was almost wiped out by the typhoon, and the phones were out so he could not get in touch with anyone to find out if they were OK. Luckily Allan and Conrado were working with us in Toledo, they were helping pack supplies so they got a place on the first convoy up north. They stayed overnight in Bogo, and managed to find Rommel’s wife and child alive and well. They left them with some supplies and made their way back to Toledo to phone Rommel to give him the good news. They are riding the convoys when they can to deliver her more supplies.

Allan in the white shirt, Conrado in the red, helping us pack supplies.
Meanwhile, run 2:
While all this was going on, we were still collecting cash from home. I had been facebooking and emailing like mad and so my Aussie friends gave us a bunch of money. By Friday we had enough cash to borrow another truck and go shopping again! This time we managed to get over 300 families worth of supplies!

The CCC supplies, we added ours and helped bag them up again. So many people pulled together to get this done, it’s amazing. Even the prisoners in the jail voted to skip their lunches so that the food could go to typhoon victims.
It’s not all hard work, myself and one of the pretty Carmen
Copper ladies bagging supplies.
It’s not always pretty either... Mitch, Darren and Mark packing in the
badminton courts. The Philippines is very hot!

Those supplies (5000 families worth in total!) went on two Carmen Copper trucks to Bantayan Island, off the northern tip of Cebu. My colleague Rene is from there, he was running the convoy to get some relief to the two main towns on the island, and also to his home village. Bantayan island was right in the eye of the storm and was really hammered. The boats started to run again Friday so we were focused on getting supplies in ASAP.

                                 Above: a big nipa hut torn apart on Bantayan Island and below,
                                           concrete houses fare better but still a lot of damage.
Fixing someone's nipa house
Home sweet home for now

These poor folk don't even have a roof and it's the season for another two months!

 Handing out supplies

This was the first aid these folks had seen since the
storm 8 days ago. they were really suffering.

Hungry Island kids
A final run:
I work 4 week shifts, and my time on this shift was drawing to a close, and I was set to return to Australia for a break. But, I still had time for one more truck load of food. This was where the Rukuhia School community really came through, as with the money that you and my NZ family and friends donated we managed to buy over 370 families’ worth of goods! This was our biggest shopping trip so far! We even had some change to give to my friends Mark and Nelly to help their village in Leyte. Big thanks to the Esteves family for all their help, and also to the Rukuhia school children who came up with fundraising ideas like the cake stall, toy sale, mufti day, and of course everyone who offered support and donated so generously to people who you’ve never met. I heard that Emi sold a chicken on Trademe and donated the money, and other children donated their pocket money…you guys have been so great.

All your cash!

Jayson hauling rice. Each sack is 50kgs

Thank you so much! Your contributions helped a of of people
 Chief rice-scooper Darren

Emma, Jayson and Pedra packing your goods

 Job done! Myself, Gilbert, Darren, Dianne, Ema, Pedra and Jayson

We packed all your goods up in our guesthouse, and then took them down to the Badminton courts to be loaded onto the Carmen Copper trucks.

                                                       The badminton courts in full swing

The Carmen Copper truck loaded with supplies; yours included.

The run went great; they visited the northern Cebuano towns again and had no problems, everyone was so happy to see another convoy!
Later, some good news from Australia:

My boss asked me to write a report on the relief work we had been doing, so that he could talk to the company director about helping and because of the generosity of my workmates, friends, family, and the Rukuhia School community, my company Outotec has matched all the donations that you have made, plus the donations folks in our company have made.  All up they gave $30,000, or about 5800 families worth of food. This is really great and has allowed us to help even more folks!


So now I have almost finished my job here, I will soon be leaving for good. Its two months after Yolanda, and things are starting to look better. The big charities are well established in the area, aid from other countries and the Philippine government is now getting through. The roads are mostly cleared and life is getting better. Carmen Copper ran several more convoys sending family packs of rope, nails, cooking equipment, clothes and footwear so that people can start rebuilding their homes and their lives. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in town halls and school gyms. Large parts of the country still have no power and no running water. There is still a long way to go! But the worst is over and things are looking up.

All up, my friends, family, the site crew and the Rukuhia School community have raised enough cash to feed nearly 2000 families! With your donations combined with Carmen Copper we have sent out 5 convoys of emergency food to various parts of the local area, with 12,000 family packs of food! Carmen Copper also sent out more convoys of building supplies in the following weeks. Outotec has given 5800 families a good meal. We’ve rebuilt and restocked the school in Nelly’s village, helped buy them a generator, and put some smiles on the kids faces. We’ve fed the families of Shimo and Rhoda.
What you guys have done has been an immense help to the people here, it’s hard to describe how much you’ve done. You’ve kept thousands of folks from starvation and disease in one of the worst disasters the world has ever seen. When the storm hit, and there was no food or water or support from the government, when these folks were at their most desperate, you guys stepped up and kept them going. You came through when they really needed it. Thank you all from myself and all my friends here, and also from all the folks you’ll never meet but who you have helped so much.




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