SA team first to help in shat­tered re­gion

Dev­as­tated vil­lages bat­tle to re­cover

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - KIERAN LEGG

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.

kieran.legg@inl.co.za

DE­SPAIR: In the most re­mote parts of the Philip­pines peo­ple such as 76-year-old Florentina Mosquite have been for­got­ten.

PIC­TURES: HENK KRUGER

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.

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