Feeding Disaster Victims in Tacloban

TACLOBAN, LEYTE, PHILIPPINES.

Last week I bought a one-way ticket from Manila to Tacloban, hoping to find a nonprofit organization that could use my help.

I’d finished my volunteer project with Habitat for Humanity International, and was looking for a useful way to spend two weeks while waiting for my family to arrive from the US.

Tacloban, the capital city of the province of Leyte, was one of the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Yolanda. Although no longer taking up air space on CNN, I knew things were far from normal.

Upon arrival I found the city has comparatively little infrastructure and online information relative to what we have in the States. As such, there’s no centralized ‘volunteer board’ for people coming to town. Although almost every NGO has a presence here, they work autonomously and sometimes duplicate efforts.

Fortunately, Tacloban’s citizens seem to embrace people who are willing to help. Since my arrival I’ve befriended several kind souls who were willing to ask around for me and find the right placement. A couple of them are even assisting with transportation, one of the biggest headaches (and expenses) for foreigners.

I’m now volunteering with the Manila-based nonprofit, Kids International Ministries (KIM).
 
KIM members came to Tacloban four days after the November 8, 2013 storm and have been here ever since. They are a special breed of storm chasers, looking for homeless children in the wake of a natural disaster. These situations can leave children at greater risk of pedophiles and enslavement in human trafficking.

KIM helps to locate lost or homeless children during food distribution activities, and either reconnects them with family or refers them to an orphanage. They also identify medical and housing needs.

During a KIM food distribution activity this small boy was given topical antibiotics to treat the skin rash on his scalp

During a KIM food distribution activity this small boy was given topical antibiotics to treat the skin rash on his scalp

Lugaw, a Filipino porridge

Lugaw, a Filipino porridge. The ingredients of rice, lentils, and pasta are donated on a regular basis from sponsoring churches in the U.S.

 
On the first day I joined a group of American teenagers attending international school in Taiwan. They were donating part of their summer break to volunteer with KIM.

We drove with Pastor Jake to a church to load up steaming containers of lugaw, or rice porridge.
 
KIM provides food to various barangays (neighborhoods) twice a day for six days per week. For the morning feeding we went to a barangay in the municipality of Santa Fe. It was a small village built along a single street.

Most of the homes were adorned with blue Samaritan Purse tarps which served as makeshift walls or roofs.

Pastor Jake tooted the horn, parked the van, and then yelled, “Lugaw!” several times.

People began emerging from homes with cups, bowls, and plastic pitchers.

Coming for Lugaw

Coming for Lugaw

 

THE PROCESS: 1. Toot horn, 2. Park van, 3. Call out “Lugaw”, 4. Fill bowls until people stop coming, 5. Jump back in the van, 6. Towel off sweat, 7. Drink water (if you have any left), 8. Drive a bit further down the road, 9. Repeat.

The process is simple but the heat almost unbearable, especially when standing next to steaming bins of lugaw. I experimented with different methods for scooping up Lugaw without dripping sweat into the food. It is that hot here.

You know it's hot when even the caribou are sweating!

You know it’s hot when even the caribou are sweating!

 

As we proceeded down the road I saw a small boy ahead in the distance, jumping up and down in excitement, his plastic bowl held high overhead in his thin arms.

Me holding James, a medical beneficiary of Kids International Ministries, with such joy and spirit he could light up a village with his smile

Me holding James, a medical beneficiary of Kids International Ministries. James has so much joy he could light up a village with his smile

Pastor Jake explained that 7-year old James used to have a tumor in the center of his forehead until a few months ago.

KIM arranged for the tumor removal and cosmetic surgery. I’m not sure if the tumor was able to diminish his beaming smile, but with it gone I could easily see the joy in this exuberant little boy’s face.

Jake let James pretend to drive as we made our way through the town. James would run in and out of his neighbors’ homes, excitedly yelling “Lugaw!”

Temporary shelter provided by Kids International Ministries

Temporary shelter provided by Kids International Ministries

KIM has constructed 30 temporary homes made of lightweight plywood for Yolanda victims identified by their partner churches. KIM’s construction manager, Chris, took me to one of their recently built homes, a simple single room structure elevated 2 feet above the ground. This was to provide a shelter for a woman and her three kids.

On the way out of the village he pointed to a small shed made of slapped together sheets of wood where the woman and her family were living. He said they were sharing this space with several others who needed shelter.

Shelter for a mother, three children, and several others from the vilage

Shelter for a mother, three children, and several others from the vilage

I often need to remind myself that these people have been living like this for over six months. I struggle to imagine everything they have been through: the terror of the record-breaking typhoon winds and black waters of the storm surge, the loss of family and friends, the witnessing of dead bodies and mass graves. Losing everything, and then living in these substandard conditions for months on end under intense heat. I still cannot fathom it all.

Yet, there’s one thing I’ve seen time and again in people living on the margin. They, more often than their wealthy counterparts, seem to have reached the conclusion that happiness is a choice.

During the afternoon feeding we traveled into the lush, green hillsides near the Salvacion barangay, away from the noisy, congested downtown area of Tacloban. We stopped along the highway, where villagers were clearing the brush as part of the city’s cash-for-work program.

They quickly formed an orderly line behind the van. Some of the women standing in line began singing and dancing to music played by KIM staff Benhard, who’d brought along his guitar.

Two of the village men sheepishly asked me to take their photograph. They were grinning and giggling like a couple of teenagers throughout the entire process.

Two gentlemen clearing the brush from the roadway outside their village, pausing for a Lugaw break and some horsing around

Two gentlemen clearing the brush from the roadway outside their village, pausing for a Lugaw break and some horsing around

Categories: Travel, Volunteer

8 Comments

  • Dave says:

    Ruth,
    Thanks for keeping us informed about the Philippines and their people , as you know many of us have grown an affinity for the people and their struggles. Take care of the kids, then enjoy your vacation, you earned it

  • Deborah says:

    Ruth,
    You are truly a rare and amazing person in that you demonstrate consistently and repeatedly your highest priority value for helping make this world a better place. Thank you for sharing your journeys and reminding us to be grateful for all that we have.

    • Ruth says:

      Deborah, thank you for helping me to clarify what was important, and to figure out the path on how to start living it. Otherwise, I might still be wasting away in a cubicle somewhere!

  • Georgina says:

    Ruth,
    You are amazing and an inspiration.

    • Ruth says:

      Thanks, Georgie! I really enjoyed being of service with you, building homes in Madagascar. I’m certain you’ve inspired your little nieces and nephews to help others as you have 🙂

  • Kevin Kemp says:

    Awesome work you are doing. Makes some of our issues here in the States seem trivial by comparison.

    • Ruth says:

      Thanks, Kevin. Yes, things like this do tend to help me with perspective on what is truly important. There are folks in the US who also need help. Imagine if people diverted a fraction of their time and resources on those trivial matters to address poverty, homelessness, and education.

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