SA team first to help in shattered region
Devastated villages battle to recover
IN THE morning he wakes up, picks up a 3.7 litre bottle and walks to the well to fill it up.
For every trip he makes, 10year-old Regie Laguna earns a single peso (about 22c).
The routine is nothing new for the young boy, but after the typhoon tore through his little village on the island of Leyte in the Philippines – flattening his home and devastating the local fishing industry – every peso has become vital to his family’s survival.
He is one of 1 500 people in the village of Duljugan whose simple lives have been rocked by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which has killed thousands of people and displaced countless more across the country.
The village, situated on the south coast of Leyte – among rolling hills of coconut trees – was in the eye of the storm.
Winds, blowing at 350km/h, turned wooden homes into piles of splintered timber as corrugated iron roofs were ripped off and flung into the ocean. The storm also drove fish away from the beach and flooded the nearby rice paddies – both industries are the lifeblood of the village.
Locals described the storm as going to work on their houses with a “hammer and screwdriver”.
Duljugan is one of 50 villages that make up the remote municipality of Palompon, which was left to fend for itself after the world turned its attention to the storm- ravaged Tacloban City, just 100km away.
Until this week, when the Gift of the Givers SA team of doctors, rescuers and paramedics landed on Leyte’s shores, not a single foreign relief team had visited the region.
Yesterday, the team set up a clinic in the principal’s office of the school in Duljugan.
Regie Laguna, clutching his bottle of water, took a break to watch the foreigners as they handed out medication. He, like his mother, works as a servant for the richer villagers.
It falls on his grandmother Florentina to look after his brother and sister. The 76-yearold woman is emaciated, and can only seek shelter in a cramped shed cobbled together from the remnants of the family’s old home. She cannot rest because everyone must work in Duljugan, otherwise the village will fall apart.
A local explains that if you are not out at sea catching fish, you are in the rice paddies or among the coconut, mango and banana plantations. Those left behind in the village must clean homes, sweep the streets and look after children.
Rice is handed out freely by farmers after every harvest, and the excess is sold in town.
But after the typhoon, this self- sustaining economy has been shattered.
About 80 percent of the fishing vessels and equipment were destroyed and there are no longer fish in the bay.
The typhoon’s winds have left the mangroves that line the coastline stripped of leaves, and the fish that usually reproduce and lay eggs in their shade will probably not return.
Local fisherman Regan Stente said he had not caught anything since the storm. The father- of- three spends a few minutes dragging his net through the shallow bay. It comes up empty again.
While the municipality delivers rations of food to the village every other day, without his daily haul of fish, Stente has no income.
“My life has become very hard… Every night we are hungry and with no home.”
This is a common story in the village. Around every corner is someone saying: “Come look, my house is gone”.
While Duljugan is broken and desperate, there is still a belief among its people that they can rebuild.
Just 5km away, in Buena Vista – the most remote village in the municipality – there is only poverty.
The village is on the southern-most tip of the region and is home to around 2 500 people. Standing on its shores, overlooking a great expanse of flat blue water under a dark sky of grey clouds, it feels like the edge of civilisation.
As the Gift of the Givers team begin to unload medical supplies from their van, the villagers crowd around.
Children cry as they clutch wounds on their hands and feet, while worried mothers move them towards the back of the van.
Buena Vista, which means “a beautiful view” in Spanish, is a name that contrasts sharply with a village filled with ruined homes and traumatised people.
South African team leader Malaka Mathusi, who works for EMRS in Joburg and has visited numerous other villages in the municipality, said the medical condition of the villagers was the worst he has seen.
The sombre mood lifts for a moment, when the villagers laugh as they introduce a woman who shares a name with the super storm – which Filipinos have named Yolanda.
In one cramped home, the team finds an old man who has been bed- ridden since the typhoon hit. The 74-year-old’s house collapsed on top of him during the storm, crushing and shattering his leg.
He was not taken to hospital because no one had the money to transport him to town. But the Gift of the Givers have arranged for an ambulance to pick him up today.
The team could not treat everyone yesterday. They need a full day, and even then they are not sure they will be finished. With the high number of untreated wounds and lack of sanitation – there is always the chance of disease. The village, like many others, cannot be left to fend for itself.
DESPAIR: In the most remote parts of the Philippines people such as 76-year-old Florentina Mosquite have been forgotten.
TO THE RESCUE: South African medics were the first people to reach the west of the Philippines island of Leyte where approximately 70 000 people live.
STORM-RAVAGED: Regie Laguna,10, stands under the toppled welcome sign of his village on the island of Leyte.