By Jon Woozley, Co-Founder/Director of ACTION Humanitarian
As an officer with ACTION Humanitarian we have coordinated numerous relief efforts in the affected areas since the typhoon made landfall in November 2013. I lead our initial response team of medical professionals and reconstruction specialists one week after the typhoon. We focused on medical care and initial demolition of fallen debris and trees from homes, businesses and churches. We have since contributed to projects that have included medical supplies, water, sanitation, electricity, reconstruction, shelter and lately focusing on livelihood and youth projects.
The current conditions have improved dramatically from the first week. Electricity has returned to most areas, traditional water sources are available, roads are getting much better as debris are cleared. The remaining challenges are improved housing and sustainable livelihood. This is one of the poorest areas in the Philippines, the economy is minimal so a blow like this is magnified in this population.
Gregorio Cuevas is and has been a good friend for a long time. I was assigned to his town as I served an LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) mission from 93’ to 95’. I had heard about this guy that walked from a distant village every Sunday to attend church services. I had to meet him. My companion and I rode some beat up old bikes for miles until we arrived at Barangay (village) Amanluran. We taught he and his wife who had recently returned from Manila following treatment for what would be a terminal cancer diagnosis. We became close but the cancer quickly overtook her and she passed away. Soon thereafter I was transferred and eventually finished my mission and headed back to the states, but I continued to think about the Cuevas family very regularly.
After the arrival of Typhoon Haiyan last November, I was concerned for all my friends in the Philippines. I had a hard time thinking of some of the greatest people I have ever known facing so much suffering. On our second trip to the area after Haiyan I pondered on potential shelter needs as we established a growing relationship with Goal Zero and Barebones.
We toured Amanluran and distributed many survival items to the residents. The village had grown in the last 20 years. I asked around for my friend Gregorio and was directed to an area of curious organization. There were pens for ducks and turkeys, fish ponds on both sides of the road and a pile of rubble with a sleeping mat beneath the low roof line. I found my friend tending to his fishing ponds.
I learned that he had had suffered a stroke and now had mobility issues making me all the more impressed with his diligence and industrious nature. He really cared for his land. We had a Barebones tent in the car that day and before long it was erected on Gregorio's site. We ordered sand to keep the tent off the ground and built a suitable bridge to allow him to safely cross his canals and manage his land with his mobility challenges.
We were able to visit again on our last trip and found the tent in excellent condition. Gregorio was enjoying the shelter that had been gifted to him and was in the process of building a more permanent structure. The glow on his face is unforgettable. That was his gift to us.