After Tacloban, we flew to Mactan, Cebu. Once we got settled in our hotel, we had a simple meet-and-greet with people from the local media. At 4AM on Day 2, we headed to Malapascua Island.
Searching for sustainability in Malapascua Island
This was the most personal leg of the trip for me because I’ve been working on a project there since 2012. I went to Malapascua a few days after Yolanda to help with relief and rebuild efforts, and I was in awe of how a place so familiar suddenly felt unrecognizable.
If Tacloban presented a story on what it felt like to take clothes and other goods, Malapascua offered a story from the other end: what it felt like to be taken from.
Ate Lindy Daño, a sari-sari storeowner, recounted how everything from her store was stolen, including 12 cases of beer. “I even saw my neighbor [steal from me],” she shared.
Ate Lindy, my suki, lost her husband to cancer a decade ago and is the breadwinner of her family of two children and one grandchild. She moved to Malapascua after her husband died to find peace, but now she says she doubts her decision. She started rebuilding her sari-sari store using donations. To this day, Ate Lindy is still recovering financially and emotionally.
The secret to survival of Suyac Island
From Cebu, we headed to Suyac Island in Negros Occidental. The island, located 2 hours away from Bacolod City, is known for its century-old mangroves. When Yolanda roared through the island, the mangroves shielded the community from the wind and storm surge, leaving zero casualties.
Noli Borlad of the Suyac Island Eco Tourism Association told us that as a thank you to the mangroves, they are prioritizing the restoration of the beach-forest and its damaged walkways. The survival of the residents and the mangroves shows that when we take care of the environment, it takes care of us.
The spirit of bayahihan in Coron
Two flights from the Bacolod-Silay International Airport (which involved the ordeal of repacking clothes, toiletries, and equipment to fit the 10 kg/person baggage limit of flights to Busuanga in the Mactan Airport at 6AM) brought us to Coron, Palawan. Local tour guide extraordinaire Gary introduced us to the Linsangan family. Al and Melanie Linsangan run a photography shop and tour operations.
Al said that the tourism industry was severely affected by typhoon Yolanda. Corals were crushed, roads were blocked, and boats were damaged. They guided us around Barangay Lajala, an island commuity, where they’re working with over 160 families to providing employment opportunities through tourism.
The value of a family picture
During our interviews, we asked the families what they were most thankful for. Each family answered in Filipino, “We are all alive and complete.”
For city dwellers, being made up and photographed may not seem like a big deal. For many of the families we met, it was a milestone. Whenever we revealed the makeshift exhibit of the families’ pictures and headshots, everybody lit up. Others started crying. For many of the families, it was their first family photo ever. For some, it replaced those lost or damaged by the typhoon. In any case, the framed family pictures now hang in their new or repaired houses to serve as a reminder that the Earth faces climate change, disasters, and calamities, but it also faces hope, strength, and resilience.
Much work to be done
I went back to Manila feeling inspired, hopeful, and sad all at the same time. The trip highlighted how much work needed to be done, not just in terms of disaster preparedness and management, but also the Philippines as a whole. We met with families who had more children than they could provide for, unemployed parents, badly built public schools, crappy roads… The list goes on.
The situation is overwhelming and sometimes discouraging. I asked (and continue to ask) myself if the little we do even matters. But I am always the first to tell people that every little thing
she does is magic matters, so I constantly remind myself to take a page out of my own book.
So everyday, I choose to be overwhelmed by number of solutions out there. By the greatness of the Filipino spirit. By the inspiring people I work with. I choose to “keep on keeping on.”
I hope you do too.
Part 2/2 of #EarthFaces Diaries. Part 1 here.
Earth Faces will be launched on April 24, 2014.
One of biggest problems of climate change (aside from, you know, the rising global temperature and extreme weather events) is that there’s no human face to it. Unlike other developmental issues, like human trafficking or HIV, climate change is still associated with complicated scientific concepts and not the citizens, communities, and countries affected by its impacts. This creates a major communication gap and poses a challenge in convincing public officials and the general public alike to do something about it.
The unlikely partnership of Facial Care Centre (FCC), a business that specializes in skincare treatments, and the Headshot Clinic (HSC), a digital platform that merges headshots with advocacies, found an answer to help narrow that gap: Earth Faces, a climate change campaign that showcases 100 stories of Filipinos through portraits. It weaves together stories of those who lived through Super Typhoon Yolanda and those who did their best to help them. The subjects are a mix of advocates, celebrities, media personalities, and survivors shot on location.
To capture survivors on location, FCC-HSC put together a lean team of six: NJ Torres, PR Manager of FCC; Dwight Bayona and Niccolo Cosme, photographers from HSC; Anton Dimaguila Jr., videographer; Kay Arias, makeup artist; and yours truly, writer by profession and marine conservationist by passion. When we got to Tacloban, our first stop, I honestly had no idea how we would survive the coming week without killing each other.
Team Earth Faces in Coron with fellow Greeneration ambassadors Pie and Bianca
Squeezing in 22 families in four island provinces in seven days was a logistical nightmare that required six flights (often before the sun rose), long road trips, and boat transfers. But it became bearable because we had the chance to see just how beautiful the Philippines still is, and more importantly, how great the Filipinos’ spirits are.
The lack of time forced us into a routine that complemented each other: Kay would put the no-makeup makeup look on selected family members; Niccolo would take their family pictures and headshot of a representative; Dwight was in charge of behind-the-scenes (BTS) images; and Anton and I would interview 1-2 members about their Yolanda experience. NJ was our overall manager, regularly announcing time checks and handling the logistics. We would print the photos with our heavy-duty reliable Cannon printer, put the family picture in the frame, and whip up a small exhibit of their BTS photos and headshots. We called this part The Reveal.
Rebuilding lives in Tacloban
Our first stop was Tacloban, ground zero. As of March 2014, it was still struggling. A number of businesses remain closed and electricity still wasn’t on 24/7. When interviewed, the families burst into tears as they recalled their experience. As the interviewer, it took so much of my will not to cry with them.
The Gonzales family, the fifth and last one we met before we left for Cebu, lived in a tent because their house was washed away by the storm surge. Daddy Jeson recalled carrying dead bodies from the road. Mommy Marlyn said the most painful part was being called robbers.
“We didn’t have anything to eat for two days. We were wearing the same wet clothes for three days because it kept raining. We didn’t have a choice,” she explained in Waray while wiping away her tears.
She was 9 months pregnant with her fifth child when the storm hit, and was able to fly to Manila two weeks after with the help of DSWD. She gave birth in Fabella Memorial Hospital. The first three children are back in school and are determined to continue their education.
Their story served as a blistering reminder to be more empathetic. It was so easy to judge and call them “looters” when we were just watching and reading the news. But if we were in their place, we would probably do the same.
Tomorrow: #EarthFaces Diaries (2/2) on Malapascua, Cebu; Suyac, Negros Occidental; and Coron, Palawan. All photos courtesy of Team #EarthFaces.
A seatizen’s ultimate must-have: @humanheartnature’s Safeblock! Not-so-fun fact: most of the commercially available sunblocks have ingredients that cause bleaching of corals. This world-class Filipino product took YEARS to make because the team made sure ALL ingredients were biodegradable, natural, and best of all, reef-friendly! 🐠