I arrived in Manila this past Thursday and travelled straight through to Numancia on the island of Panay. This is the first of what I hope to be regular dispatches during my two week stay.
Many buildings in these parts have a half-finished appearance. Even at the best of times, construction happens as per available funds and there isn’t always enough to complete the work. Upon arrival it was thus difficult for me to recognize the effects of the typhoon.
In sharp contrast with harder hit areas to the east, the province of Aklan was spared widespread destruction. Upon arriving in the provincial capital of Kalibo and then traveling the main road to the adjacent town of Numancia one sees mainly concrete buildings – buildings that could withstand the storm.
While I did see a lot of shiny new corrugated metal roofs, my first day here I saw little evidence of the typhoon’s wraith.
I’m staying in a concrete house deep in the barrio – the Gomez residence. Until recently there were no paved roads and most of the houses were simple nipa huts. The grand openness of the rice fields is nearby but you’d never know it from here where it’s dense with tropical fauna.
In the twenty years that I’ve been coming here there are more and more concrete homes. For many families, however, such homes are still out of reach. It’s these poorest of the poor who lost their homes in the typhoon.
On my second morning I was invited to see the home of relatives of my host. I knew that this family had lost their home because some of the family members are staying here at the Gomez residence.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional impact that this visit would have on me. It’s one thing to read about people losing their homes – people who are strangers and who live faraway – and quite another when you know the people, see their living conditions firsthand, and realize how difficult it is for them to recover from such a blow.
The very people with the least to begin with lose the most.
My goal was and is to use the money in the most effective way possible. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I told myself I shouldn’t show favoritism. When you’re an American visiting friends here with ties to America, those friends tend to be relatively well-off. But I’ve been coming here a long time and I know many in the extended family. The trickle down only goes so far. I wasn’t prepared for this to hit quite so close to home.
On the site of the leveled house, there is no an improvised structure hobbled together from salvaged materials. This family is living on borrowed land and has no means to rebuild. While some of the family members are staying here where I’m staying, others are making do in the improvised structure.
Staying in the improvised structure are Sheila Mae, her husband, their three young children, and Sheila’s mother.
Most of you know that I started a library here some time back. Sheila Mae was one of my librarians. This is personal. I have to help them.