A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

This post is continued from part 1. By 1pm, lunch is finished and we pile our dirt-crusted selves back into the jeepney and drive to an elementary school across town. Many of the classrooms are flooded and torn apart, but school is still held in the remaining usable spaces. Every day the kids play around rubble, rusted nails, and barely standing walls. We move desks, bag broken glass, and break-down timber  to clear out the school yard, while kids sing our names and giggle in groups around us.   One of the teachers brings out a bag of tuna salad sandwiches and insists we take a break. I happily consume three. A young boy shyly carries over a tray of mismatched glass cups and pours us all warm soda. I take a few quick gulps and watch the kids play while I uselessly wipe the beading sweat from my face and arms. The constant smiles and warmth from everyone make it easy to forget I’m in a disaster zone. People have come to us crying with relief and thanking us for our help. But, I have yet to encounter someone who was angry, despite being the victims of a disaster that has robbed them of their homes, jobs, and stability. Their single goal seems to be to rebuild their lives and remain unflappably positive while doing it. An hour before we are supposed to finish for the day, we head to the street outside the school building. Smoke is rising from several trash burn piles as children play on the half-roofed basketball court nearby. The remaining wind-torn tin clings in...
A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

I wake up without an alarm. Unpeeling my sweaty shirt from my skin, I sit up on my mat. My sleeping space is directly in the middle of the giant hotel ballroom I call home with 40 other volunteers. This makes me the least likely target for the mosquitos that attack from the windows every evening, but the furthest from the fans. Seeing the itchy, red welts on the others, I decide sleeping in sweat is definitely the lesser of of two evils. It is my fourth day as a disaster relief volunteer in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the country three weeks earlier, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving half a million displaced. Shortly after, I canceled my plans to travel through Cambodia and signed up to volunteer instead. I applied with All Hands, an organization that does deconstruction work in disaster zones – cleaning up debris, pulling down wrecked houses, and salvaging materials for rebuilding.  Their project was based in the city of Ormoc, in the hardest hit region of the country. As I have the upper body strength of a six-year-old, no experience using tools outside of hanging pictures, and define manual labor as taking the time to read all the instructions, I have no idea what made me think I was suited to do this. But I bought a sleeping bag, boots, and a flight to to the Philippines and set out utterly terrified. I’d never been to a disaster zone, and I’d definitely never wielded a sledgehammer, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what the next two weeks would be like. But...