Project Bohol – The Attempted arrival

November 13th 2013

This post takes a break from the timeline of my traveling and talks specially about the volunteering in Bohol. The next few posts will be about this, before I go back to the travel timeline.

My first day flying into Philippines to be a volunteer was not exactly how I would have liked it to go but before I get into that, I want to take you through some of the situations that arose from me volunteering, some of which are amazing and heartwarming, some not so much. I will also give some observations on attitudes towards the disasters, some of which people will not like, but they are just observations that I have seen with the two eyes currently in my head. I was going to include screenshots of Facebook statuses etc, but then my websites photo-stream would be filled with these glorious examples of unpleasantness so I skipped them.  The main thing from this is still that the support in general has been absolutely phenomenal and heartwarming. This has been amazing to see. I am just providing the contrast of both extremes and all in between.

The first thing that I observed was while Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was devastating Samar, Leyte and other places. People in Manila were posting about Miss universe. Now, nobody could have imagined the level of devastation that resulted. However, it was common knowledge that the worlds largest storm was striking the country. It just struck me that this massive contrast existed.

The next think was that when people did see what had happened, they posted a token support status on Facebook but within minutes posted pictures posing with food(when it was common knowledge food and water was non-existent in the disaster zones), or talking about how they got paid early(with no talk of donations), how “cheap” a Playstation 4 is or how they absolutely “must” have a new pair of shoes. While the first issue mentioned could be excused due to not knowing the situation, this one made my blood boil. A token Facebook status to save face does not rebuild homes, put food in people’s mouths or make clean water available. While I absolutely know that most people cannot simply volunteer, some consideration and tact would have been welcome.

Next thing was the reaction of some individuals. One person I knew in Manila did not know that a storm had even hit because “these things make me sad” and only after I insisted they check, did she find her maid was from Tacloban and her mother was missing. She had spent the day telling her a list of things to do. Another, who I was supposed to meet when I arrived in Manila, complained that I was changing plans, even if the new plans was rushing to a disaster area. This same person openly complained about giving more time to the disaster zones than sticking to plans and complaining I was prioritising the volunteer work.  A very irritating, although minor thing, was  being told “have fun” when I said where I was going. It is striking, that at times, phrases we use have lost so much meaning that we default to them whatever the circumstance.

This was in direct contrast to the amazing people who contributed aid goods with very small notice for me to take with me. Sleeping bag, mats and torches(among other things) for me, as I did not have budget for this. Simply put, I would not have been able to get prepared and to the sites as quickly as I did if it wasn’t for their help. Others providing medicine, face masks and supplies donated for the project were absolutely vital donations in the end. Add to this the very generous donations from people all over the world directly to All Hands and my personal All hands page(nothing goes to me, just goes to the project I am on).

Then there was the Filipino people themselves who reached out and messaged me and offered places to stay, advice on how to get places, advice on getting supplies, give supplies themselves and so many others. It was great to see how much people cared about their fellow countrymen and woman. These people are the ones that those mentioned above should be learning from.

Back quickly to my first day of planned volunteering. Due to budget, I spent the night in Changi airport in Singapore for my early flight to Manila. This was spent mostly chatting using the wi-fi and eating Kaya toast(I love kaya toast). When I arrived in Manila I was collected from the airport by a friend of mine and brought to the domestic terminal for my flight. This is where things got less than productive. Anyone who has flown a domestic flight in Philippines will know that delays are pretty much constant. It is, organisation wise, ridiculous. So as expected, our flight was pushed back further and further until we were finally loaded onto the plan and told………we will be delayed further. Everything so far was common. Unfortunately, Tagbilaran airport in Bohol does not have landing lights due to not having electricity so once it started to get to a point where we would not arrive before it got dark, and therefore could not land, the flight was cancelled entirely.

This resulted, as you can imagine, in a lot of very angry people shouting at the Zest air(AIr asia Philippines) staff. I realised that getting into the mob would not really get me anywhere and I also really dislike queuing. So I grabbed a coffee and just chilled out until the crowd rebooked their flights and moved on. I walked up with my biggest smile and got my flight rebooked before asking, very casually, where I should charge the expenses of my hotel that night too. They looked at each other and I “very helpfully” said I would be happy to accept them choosing the hotel to put me in instead as I knew they would have a hotel they have an agreement with. Every airline does. They referred me to the manager and I was told I would get a room but I just have to wait for confirmation. This would result in another 2 hours of waiting, on top of the 4 hours I had already been in the airport. Sure enough, a Filipino family, a German couple, an old American sex tourist and myself stuck around long enough to get a hotel, in Resorts world of all places. This included transport to and from the terminal.

When we got to the hotel, they told me I would be sharing my room with the American. Now, this was a pleasant enough guy but a guy who had already told me his life story, his divorce, his favourite working girls in Malate, the size of his penis and his plan to get a girl that night. Also, he looked like he snored. So pleasant or not, I was not sharing a room with him. I said it is not acceptable to put me in a room with someone I had just met that day and was granted my own room.

So there I was, free hotel in one of the more expensive parts of Manila, with freedom to do what I wanted. The only thought I had in my head was, I am here to work, this is not what I am here for and every day I am delayed is instead of good work I could be doing.


4 thoughts on “Project Bohol – The Attempted arrival

  1. Finished reading! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story Brandon. You know I am from the Philippines so I know exactly all the discomforts you described in your post (the disorganisation etc..). I am sure you had a life-changing experience volunteering and helping my countrymen in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). I grew up exposed to charity/helping people (my father is a public servant and my mother a social worker) so I know what it’s like though likely not in same magnitude as what you were exposed to in this recent disaster.

    I feel happy that I met someone who is on a unique journey to experience the deeper meaning and essence of life — and documenting it. You inspire me on my own journey. Please keep writing and share your stories. Your thoughts are very inspiring buddy.

    • Now that was a really amazing comment to receive. I can see it came from the heart and my reaction to comments and messages like this is 2 things. 1 – I appreciate each word and 2 – it blows my mind and therefore humbles me. Thanks buddy 😉

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