Zija Miracle Foundation and Zija Philippines are among the thousands of private institutions to extend donations to the international disaster relief operations for victims of Typhoon Haiyan (local codename, Typhoon Yolanda) in Tacloban City, Leyte and surrounding areas. The second phase of Zija disaster relief efforts included Estancia, Iloilo in December 2013.
Primarily a fishing and agricultural municipality, Estancia is the hardest hit town by Typhoon Yolanda in the Northern coast of Iloilo Province in the Island of Panay, where thousands were rendered homeless, hundreds perished and dozens more missing.
Thousands of fisherfolks have lost their homes and fishing “banca” or fishing boat, disrupting lives. Meanwhile, farmers in the area sustained severe damage to crops and property as Category 5 winds battered the land.
The calamity left most victims with no other choice but to become wholly dependent on relief aid for food and evacuation centers for shelter for their families. Without proper intervention from the government, private sector and foreign aid, their struggle for recovery and rehabilitation from the tragedy is seen as a desperate battle against time.
On December 17, the land trip to Estancia, Iloilo started off at eight in the morning from Iloilo City. Our convoy for the 135-kilometer trip consisted of two vehicles: a van and a truck. We followed the truck loaded with tons of relief goods.
Everyone in the volunteer team was visibly anxious during the trip; we exchanged forlorn glances. Making the disaster area as your destination is no idea of fun or pleasure. We had concerns about security and order in ravaged areas due to acute food shortage. There have been reported instances when truckloads of relief goods were mobbed by hungry evacuees.
But we did bring adequate food and water for the journey. We were also told to buy face masks. For most in the team, it was the first time to volunteer in a disaster relief operation. We wanted very much to help the victims.
Signs of destruction by Typhoon Yolanda came into view as we sped past the 60th kilometer mark. For kilometers on end, we saw trees that are stripped of their leaves and fallen electric posts by the roadside. Twisted metal jut out from roofless and damaged homes and buildings that dotted the landscape, a testament to the storm’s destructive power.
In the aftermath of nature’s merciless onslaught, frantic calls for help for Estancia didn’t go unnoticed. International help finally came a week after the November 8 super typhoon. The Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was among the first responders in Estancia, bringing cargo aircraft with medical and relief supplies to the distraught calamity zone.
Reports say that satellite images showed unmistakable proof of devastation in catastrophic proportions in this Northern section of Panay Island, prompting foreign nations to shift humanitarian efforts to this badly stricken area in Western Visayas. The Canadians were soon followed by U.S., International Red Cross, United Nations agencies and NGOs.
Two hours and forty minutes later, we arrived at Estancia. Joining us at this point was Angel Briones, Consultant to the Vice Governor, who acted as our coordinator with the town’s barangay Captains or village chiefs.
With kind assistance from the Iloilo Provincial government through the Office of the Vice Governor, Zija channeled help to barangays that received less relief aid than others.
Giving where the need is great
From the main road we turned left to our first target recipient, Barangay San Roque. We entered a two-kilometer winding dirt road leading to the barrio’s open basketball court.
We were warmly welcomed by the village chief, Brgy. Capt. Edgardo Gonzales, Councilors and officers. Angel Briones announced that Zija Miracle Foundation and Zija Philippines will hand out relief goods in the form of noche buena packages for the family. The crowd cheered.
Hundreds of typhoon victims were already waiting for us under the sweltering heat of the sunny sky to receive their goods as their names were called out. In the midst of the desolation, the sight of gaunt and hungry children gazing back at us with blank stares was heartbreaking. It was a poignant scene, one that will forever stay in our memories.
As a surprise treat for children, Ramir Valenzuela Zija Marketing Director, announced he’s giving out apples. This cheered the children who by the hundreds emerged boisterously from the crowd and filed in on a line to claim their share of the goodies.
Relief goods recipients would say ‘thank you’ repeatedly, some with tears in their eyes.
We skipped break after a quick lunch on the roadside and proceeded right away to the second recipient, Barangay Tabu-an, situated along the main highway leading to Estancia town proper. We were met by Barangay Captain Eric Ramirez and village officials.
Again, hundreds of relief aid recipients thanked us profusely, saying they never expected to receive ‘blessing’ from us. Barangay officials treated us with soda to express their gratitude.
Our final recipient was Barangay Botongon. First, we surveyed the area where Power Barge No. 103 of NAPOCOR (National Power Corporation) was marooned, caused by typhoon wind blasts and high waves that pushed the behemoth power barge inland.
An apparent pierce on the barge’s hull was leaking out more than 200,000 liters of bunker fuel, forming a thick oil slick around it. Worse, the stinking oil slick lacked rapid containment and spreading pollution to fishing waters in nearby coastal towns, threatening mangroves and rich fishing grounds.
The stench prevented us from opening the van’s windows or venturing away from the vehicle, although Ramir Valenzuela went out briefly to take snapshots.
The remaining relief goods were unloaded and turned over to the relief aid committee of the tent city set up by UNHCR at the NIPSC campus in the presence of Barangay Captain Dexter Bacus.
We had a safe and smooth ride back to Iloilo City, arriving at around half past four in the afternoon.
We proceeded to the Provincial Capitol to make a courtesy call to the Vice Governor.
He was in an out-of-town conference with representatives of FAO, a U.N. agency, to discuss relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts in the province, his staff said.
A couple of hours later, Vice Governor Raul “Boboy” Tupas personally dropped in at Eon Centennial Hotel to meet us. The soft-spoken Vice Governor shook hands and thanked the members of the Zija volunteer team and donors of Zija Miracle Foundation for extending much needed help to his constituents in Estancia.
Our many thanks and appreciation to Hon. Raul “Boboy” C. Tupas, Vice Governor, Province of Iloilo, for providing us with transport for relief goods and for sending Consultant Angel Briones to guide us in Estancia.
We thank each and every volunteer of Zija Philippines team and Ramir Valenzuela.
Special thanks to Morvil Villarin.
Lemuel Roem J. Alarcon is a Licensed Insurance Consultant of MAPFRE Insular. He’s an SEO copywriter, blogger, marketing consultant and entrepreneur. He maintains a blog on copywriting at http://coffeemillcopy.wordpress.com. He’s also a co-founder of a marketing and media agency http://visualseocopy.com
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