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Diary of a Relief Worker

This post is from Winnie Romeril, a Red Cross volunteer deployed to the Philippines.

Impressions at 4 a.m. Entering Day Two

I can’t sleep. My mind is filled with vivid images from yesterday.

We drive through miles of lush green rice paddies punctuated by graceful white herons. Occasionally we see people working the fields, cows finding shade under storm-felled coconut trees, the brightly-colored Philippine flag twisting in the hot, humid breeze. It looks deceptively refreshing. It is not. The heat here is impressive. We stand in the sun for hours with the Philippine Red Cross volunteers organizing and carrying out the relief distributions. I sweat off my sunscreen in minutes. Reapplying it is futile. I feel very far away indeed from my snowy home 13 time zones away.

The smiling chorus of “Thank you, mam’! Thank you for helping us!” evaporates my petty discomfort.

The full relief package is too much for one person to carry, especially for the elderly and pregnant women. So village men join the Red Cross volunteers ushering their neighbors through the line with their arms full of mats, mosquito nets, tarps, boxes and bags of food, and other relief supplies. When everyone has received their goods, the men get their turn.

Relief distributions need lots of space— for people to assemble, trucks to line up, and for survivors to gather up their supplies. Every barangay (town) has one perfect space for this. THE singular most important outdoor meeting space in every village is… (drum roll, please)… the basketball court. I had no idea Philippinos love basketball so much!

Last November’s Typhoon Haiyan, known here in the Philippines as Yolanda, was the strongest storm in history to make landfall. The basketball courts, being flat and made of cement, weathered the torrential rains and devastating winds better than any other structure.

Many inland villages were 70-95% destroyed by the typhoon. Survivors tell stories of their houses being swept away by raging rivers or blown away by the gale-force winds. The more highly populated costal cities were served first. It’s disaster triage. Care for the highest number of survivors in the quickest way possible.

Locals are making notable progress nearly three months on. Here and there alongside the rice paddies we see newly framed out structures of freshly milled coconut wood- not normally a common construction material since the wood is soft. However with 33 million coconut trees damaged or destroyed, people are using what they have available. It will take years to fully recover, but today they got a boost to help them along the way.

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