Published: May 28th 2008February 18th 2007
I don't have a single clue as to how I am going to write this next blast. I aim to keep it short but knowing how much work has been getting accomplished and all the things I have done in the past 5 or 6 weeks since I have been here (7? I don't know, I have lost track...first week of January, anyway!), it will be nearly impossible to even START to explain everything that is going on here. I can't stress enough how important it is to go to the website ( www.hodr.org) and read the reports, review the FLICKR site with all the photos of us working (I can't access it here on these slow computers so I have absolutely no idea what kinds of shots are on there!) and if you are able, please donate to keep this project going. We are going to be here in San Isidro until the last day of March, when the Philippines Typhoon Relief Project will officially end. It is not going to be an easy time for any of us, especailly for we long termers, who have created a bond with a number of the locals, many of whom I hold so dear to my heart.
Everybody who has spent any time at all doing volunteer work, especially with Hands On, can attest to the folowing: It is as if we are living in a time warp here. Things are constantly happening all around us; projects are getting started, they are finishing up, people are coming and going, the locals are clinging to us, calling our names from their homes, working along side of us on the jobsite. I feel sometimes so much time has gone by when in reality it has only been a day or two, or sometimes litterally a few hours! I can't remember what I did yesterday, let alone LAST WEEK! They days are just completely jumbling together. There is very little downtime and very little "me time" to be had, hence the relatively little response you all have had from me in regards to emails. I appreciate every one of them from you all, but can't always respond. I have only been getting into the "big city" of Legazpi for internet about one time a week, usually Sundays, our days off.
Tarping roofs, shoveling lahar... these are daily projects that could go on for weeks and months and probably years. We are assessing the needs of the locals on a daily basis and making good, steady progress in terms of getting the job done in a timely manner. For those of you unfamiliar with the way the organization Hands On operates, well, it's really quite simple. We just do. We don't sit around and bitch and moan (ok, well, some of us do... :-) ) and figure out all the ways to do things. We just go out and fix the need. We just do it. We volunteers often (ehem, most of the time) haven't a clue what we are doing, and many of us are totally inept when it comes to figuring things out (it really poses quite a challenge when in a third world country, too!), but utilizing the materials we have at our disposal (which isn't much other than bamboo and coco lumber!), and asking locals for their help or advise (it helps there are a surprising number of locals that speak English here -- and quite well, I might add), seems to really work! Anyway, the organization may be disorganized at times, but we get the job done, we are appreciated by the locals and the media is starting to figure out who we are. It helps we have volunteers from all over the world who will leave and spread the word on the work we do and the locals we help. All that and more. We know how to have FUN while working, we are always smiling and always joking with the locals, espeically with all the cute little kids running around, many of them quite helpful and eager to learn what we are doing. HI-fives are quite popular in our neighborhood! :-)
The past 9 days I have been working on a project in a small little Barungay called Alimsog. It is a 5-10 minute boat ride from Buhatan, another small fishing village about a half an hour's drive from San Isidro. I understand most of you haven't a clue where all these places are (hmmm, let alone the Philippines!!). It'll be hard to google search, but maybe it is on a map somewhere out there in cyberspace. I'd be curious to know.....
Alimsog has maybe 100 homes, mostly with thatched anahow roofs, and many dotting the seashore or up on the hillsides. Sadly, the abundance of coconut palms dotting the beautiful hillsides were all wiped out in the storm. There are no cars, no motor bikes, no motorized anything. No electricity and as far as I know, there are only two houses with a generator that of course is only on 3-4 hours a night. One of the houses is the house I have been staying in (the girls' house) and the other is a neighbor of the house where the guys have been staying. They have jerry-rigged something up so they can run one lightbulb in the house at night. It's rather effective, I must add. :-)
The GI (Galvinized Iron) roofs of the elementary/high school buildings were all blown off in the storm, and replacing them has been a project a number of us have been working on the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow we go back to continue, hopefully finishing up by midweek, at least a week or two earlier than originally expected! Six of us at a time stay in the home of a local (two homes, actually) and head to work every morning down the little pathway to the school. The kids of this little village have taken to us quite quickly and are always waiting for us, calling out to us by name, palms up, ready for their high-fives! It's the little things in life that keep these folks alive. I think each and every one of the families, and definitley all the kids, have enjoyed our presence there the past two weeks. We may be finished with the project this week, but by midweek, I head to an even SMALLER Barungay called Siti Belete to work on building a day care center, esentially from scratch. It was completely blown away during the storm, with nothing but the four posts (ehm, tree stumps) remaining. It is an hour's walk up and over the hill (and up and over three more times!) from Alimsog. Alimsog seems like the BIG CITY after being over in the little village of 42 houses, a seashore, some rice paddy fields and one caribou, which is the Philippine water buffalo. There are a number of kids that "commute" up and over the three hills to Alimsog every single day to school. One either treks up and over the three hills or if the tide is low or out, you can walk along the water's edge. That still means hugging the rocky cliffs and getting sprayed with ocean water from below. Neither way is ideal, but when there is no boat heading that way, this is the way to go. I have taken the "ocean way" as well as the "hillside way."
I'll be working on the Alimsog-Belete project for at least a week, and not heading back to our Hands On "base" house in San Isidro until most likely next Saturday evening, the 25th, I believe. Hopefully, but the time I get to internet next Sunday, I'll have some feedback on what you think of this. I realize this was a jumbly email but that's sometimes the way it goes in these parts, especially when I don't get a chance to write out my email blast ahead of time. I'll do my best to send along some photos, but it may be a week or so before I'll have a chance. Please check out the photos on the website in the meantime, at www.hodr.org
We continue to experience hot and humid weather here, with the occassional rain shower to cool things off for about 2 minutes. Hope all is well with you all, and, wherever you are, I do hope spring is heading your way soon!