It was a decent looking boat carrying us to Gigantes. I decided to sit at the forefront to enjoy solitude, while everyone else chitchats while sitting on the wooden bench in the middle. This was more than a two-hour ride on the waves of Panay.
The first hour was manageable and the scene was rewarding, until the first splash of giant waves hit so hard onto my face. We all started laughing, and there came the second, third, fourth, until I stopped counting.
The memories from two years ago came before my eyes in an instant. Two years ago, I braved this same frantic body of water in search of an interesting story of people slowly getting back on their feet a year after Typhoon Haiyan took away everything but their hopes for a better life.
I was traveling with a photographer we commissioned to capture these stories. From someone with zero skills on swimming, it was the most dangerous field work I had in this career. There were three of us including the man maneuvering the rubber boat against the angry waves of Gigantes. The rubber boat was just a small one, enough to carry the three of us and our respective bags filled with laptops and camera equipment and a gallon of diesel. I only had the rope which were tied on the side of the boat to hold onto, while my right hand grips the wooden plank we were seated on.
I was fighting the urge to fall asleep as the wind hit against my face while staring at the seemingly never ending view of the sea, when our boatman suddenly told us about this beautiful salt water lagoon located on the other side of the island. We had a very limited time so I never got to see its beauty then.
When we arrived in Barangay Asluman, we were greeted by a bunch of school children who instantly flocked their way, seemingly amused at our tiny boat. I interviewed some of the families and learned that life was already hard even before Haiyan came. They lost everything and aid didn’t arrive until almost a month later. Their means is barely enough to make ends meet. It was heartbreaking. I wished to have had more time to listen to their stories but we had to leave quickly because our boat wouldn’t withstand treacherous waves in the afternoon.
While it was death defying for me, my amazing colleagues in this part of the country do this every single day. These humanitarian heroes make sure the most vulnerable of our kababayan have access to proper sanitation and proper toilet. They make sure families living in hard to reach areas are provided with information and proper skills to prepare them in the event of another disaster.
Some of my colleagues even risk their lives, working in war-torn places where office windows need to be bullet-proof, or where your life is at risk by simply being a woman.
This sector just like any other industry definitely has its flaws. A lot has been said about the efficacy of international and local aid, the prejudices, expenditures and many others. But more than these issues, I couldn’t be any prouder that because of the work we do more children are able get better access to education, more families are better secured of their livelihood.
Working with dedicated colleagues and seeing children smile are more than enough consolation for frequently being away from family and friends and for always being in the frontline of disasters.
And now that La Niña is coming, the organization I work with continues to collaborate with these families in the Island barangays of Gigantes. We have repaired their houses and restored their water systems after Super Typhoon Yolanda, but I can only hope that those were enough, and that they are now well-equipped should there be another one.
I guess no one can really tell. But I’m sure all humanitarian heroes will make sure no one is left behind.
Every year on August 19, we celebrate World Humanitarian Day to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world. The United Nations General Assembly dedicates this day to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service and mobilizes people to advocate for humanitarian action. Events are being held around the world to celebrate the theme “One Humanity.”
About the Author:
Denvie Balidoy is the Media and Communications Officer for Visayas of International NGO Save the Children. She is currently based in Tacloban City, likes going to places with her mountain bike and enjoys chasing storms.