Matthew Fehse Update
I arrived in Maasin on the island of Leyte where the Southwest Leyte conference had to relocate their office from Tacloban where it was swept away during the storm. We spent a couple days there packing rice and relief goods to distribute in Samar.
Sorry for being so delayed in this final update.
I arrived in Maasin on the island of Leyte where the Southwest Leyte conference had to relocate their office from Tacloban where it was swept away during the storm. We spent a couple days there packing rice and relief goods to distribute in Samar. I spoke with Conference Minister Dose Rose and asked her about the difficulties the conference had. She had said that prior to the storm, they had a program in the area they ran for disaster management, but the training was largely ignored during the storm and many church communities were unprepared. Church buildings were opened to provide shelter for those whose homes were simple structures and vulnerable to the storm’s strength.
Going forward, the conference aims to raise 9 million pesos (~$204,000) for a three part response over the next year which entails: 3 million for relief goods, 3 million delegated to local churches for their needs, and 3 million to purchase items (e.g. galvanized iron, nails, and tools) for rehabilitation of member’s homes and potentially extend beyond that if funds allow.
Difficulties the conference is having are largely concerning transportation. The church there has no vehicles, so they must loan them from the local government units where they pay the drivers an honorarium of 500 pesos a day and each truck of goods costs 10,000 pesos ($226) in fuel for a round trip.
Due to the transportation issues occurring all over the Visayas, the relief mission was to be delayed by a couple days as many of the goods were still stuck on Cebu island having trouble finding a freighter to bring them to Leyte. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to Tacloban to meet with the reverend and bishop there, so I went ahead of the relief team and took a van north. As we entered the outskirts of the city, thousands of tents bordered the highway where signs were being held by families begging for food and water. It was incredibly difficult to see as we flew passed them in an air-conditioned van with my backpack full of snacks and water.
When I arrived at UCCP’s hospital, Bethany Hospital, I met with Reverend Mylene and she toured me around the facility. Flooding from the storm surge reached the top of the second floor destroying most of the equipment there and toppling the emergency generator rendering the hospital mostly ineffective after the storm. They accepted walk-in patients for free medicine they could offer and consultations. Three days after the storm, just before the start of a worship service in front of the church, a woman successfully gave birth with the help of hospital staff in attendance. There were three other babies born that week.
Since then, the hospital has opened the premises up to Doctors Without Borders who will work there for the next 3 months as well as a French medical team from Medecins San Frontieres . They installed a water filtration system and offer free water to anyone and are able to do most of the services the hospital lacks. It’s also used as a gathering point for pastors from congregations around the area and for field coordination.
They frequently send out teams to surrounding communities to do trauma healing and stress debriefing. For children they play games, one in particular called “Balay (Home), Baguio (Storm), Bata (Children).” It’s a game similar to musical chairs where children run around screaming and giggling when someone calls out “Baguio!” They have to change homes which are made up of two other children facing each other holding hands as a roof. Afterwards, they have the children share how it feels about changing homes during the storm. For the adults they have them sing songs then break up into small groups with men and women segregated as they process each other’s feelings and hopes while talking about what to do with the immediate future.
To my surprise, three trucks packed with relief goods showed up at the hospital with a team of UCCP workers from Mindanao who spent 2 days traveling nearly 400 miles across islands and oceans. Plans abruptly changed and we left that evening for East Samar to bring the aid to a church there. In the cozy company of 12 others in the back of a truck, we traveled 7 hours through the night to the church, slept in the pews for 5 hours, then began distribution.
We started the day with a worship service and breakfast. After distributing the relief goods, we joined with the community in cleaning up the property and repairing the roof. Late that morning, we packed up and headed back to Tacloban witnessing the damage we missed. With a few bags full of water bottles, we tossed them to road construction crews working on clearing the highway and waved to people.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but God’s love is visible through the laughter heard while food was being distributed, while a coalition of people all over the world congregated on these small islands in the middle of the Philippines to help, and in the messages and help that continue to come pouring in. Please continue to pray and support efforts here, the hopes and dreams of the people around the Visayas can be achieved.