I moved to Malapascua 10 years ago and have been torn apart by what has happened this week. As the owners of Thresher Shark Divers, Trevor and I have put our everything into TSD and the island over the years and it has been devastating to see the unimaginable happen.
Since the typhoon that destroyed this beautiful island, I have been kept very busy focusing on several things: keeping the outside world informed about the people on Malapascua (as most communications were down and people were very worried), organising relief work and raising donations. This meant I had not yet been able to go to the island, as I was most effective staying in Cebu City. But I was desperate to see everyone and to see the island for myself and finally managed to go on the 17th November. This blog is a little delayed in being posted due to everything else happening and things have already moved on a little from the time of writing, but I thought you may find it interesting anyway….
On the boat over to the island, from a distance the island looked serene. As I got closer, I could see the some signs of the typhoon, but it really didn’t look too bad and having seen many photographs I was well prepared. The resort damage is mostly limited to missing roofs which are already being replaced. The beach is still beautiful, many of the fringing palms remain, and the sea is still an aqua blue. The resorts will soon rebuild, the beach will be cleared of debris and new leaves are already sprouting on the bare trees.
Malapascua’s Bounty Beach, still beautiful!
We landed on the beach, and first to meet me was our DM, Tata. He is our longest standing member of staff, in fact has worked with me since before we opened, and I am godmother to his son, Andrean It was very good to see him. Although he had lost his house, he was his usual cheery self.
I slowly worked my way though all the staff, all of them greeting me with a big smile and a joke. I asked them their stories, and most have lost their houses. I could certainly sympathise as I had lost my own home too. But morale was high and everyone seemed happy. I had brought everyone Dunkin’ Donuts as I figured they might be a bit tired of rice and sardines. They disappeared so fast I think they were inhaled!
Donuts! Now you see them, now you don’t!
We have lost our rooftop bar and restaurant and sustained some damage to other buildings. But I knew about this, had seen photos and so was not surprised. What did surprise me was how good it looked! It had been cleaned up, the dive center was open, the beach bar was ready to serve, tunes were playing on the stereo and everyone was healthy, smiling and best of all… alive.
The first customers at the Wilde Bar!
We had even taken our first tentative dive a couple of days before! James, Clive and Peter, the interns that have been with us for quite some time now, have been amazing, working as hard if not harder than everyone to clean up the dive center and surrounding area. So they definitely deserved to be the first to go diving! Everyone was glad to get back in the water and to get the boys back on track on their DM course.
The rest of the island was busy, busy, busy! The businesses are re-building quickly and the locals have already started to patch together their homes. However, the houses will mostly be far from satisfactory. Many people are living under tarpaulins some of which are full of holes and useless in the rain, or sleeping in their kitchens or neighbours’ houses.
Living under a tarpaulin
Almost all of our staff (and presumably the rest of the island) need materials to repair their houses. But thanks to the incredible generosity of so many people, we have managed to collect a huge amount in donations. We are confident we can make the basic repairs needed for all of their homes, and have plenty left over to help with other houses and/or with other projects:
- The school building has some serious damage and may need to be partially rebuilt or replaced. Fundraising has already started for this and we hope to contribute. For the meantime we will be helping by providing tarps to cover the roofs of the rooms that are still structurally sound, and also tarps to string between trees and provide shade for a makeshift classroom. Aquaventure Whitetip, a local dive gear supplier, have also provided tarps as well as a lot of other much needed aid. School classes start on Monday and we are will be buying supplies like books, pencils and crayons as these were all lost.
- Most of the locals were living in wooden shacks on someone else’s land, and they were basically long term squatters. Whilst they will likely rebuild in the same place, with the advent of the typhoon, this is a perfect time think about re-zoning and perhaps making a better arrangement.
- There has also been talk for many years about providing communal toilet facilities for the estimated 90% of the island that does not have their own toilet and this is the perfect time to build them.
- Sewage treatment plants and water treatment facilities have also been discussed.
- There are other plans to make Malapascua a much better island; as one of our facebook fans posted, we could be “A phoenix rising from the ashes!” I like that so much I might make it our new motto
Our instructors and DM trainees have worked tirelessly throughout the last 10 days to clear the debris from TSD and to do everything needed to get it going again. They have been eating basic communal meals in the makeshift soup kitchen we set up in our shared house. So I thought it was about time they had a change from rice and took them all out for dinner at the new Mediterranean restaurant at Tepanee. We had dinner on the beach under the palm trees. It was a fab evening, with lots of laughter and joking, and great food by Vittorio. Our crew has been through so much together and I felt honoured to be part of it tonight. Eating there on the beach under a full moon by the water’s edge, you would never have guessed what had happened only 9 days before!
As my house was also destroyed, Tepanee Resort kindly provided me a room for the night. I could hardly tell that the resort had been touched – the only sign was the damage to the plants, and they will quickly regrow. My room was immaculate.
Tepanee Resort – 100% operational
The sounds of the waves lapping on the beach lulled me to sleep and the view in the morning was superb.
The view from Tepanee Resort this week
A cappuccino on the beach completed it and seeing Angela’s chihuahua puppies next door was an added bonus; I could barely drag myself away to get to the work of the day!
Next up, I needed to do the task I had been dreading most – to finally check my own house. The roof was gone, it had been completely flooded and after so many days, very little in it was salvageable. But these things are only “stuff” and can be replaced. I am continually thankful – and astonished – that there was no loss of life.
The last thing I had to do was to meet with all the staff. When they found out they were not going to lose out financially even though we were closed, there were big smiles all around, and when they heard about having their homes rebuilt due to the generosity of friends and strangers alike, they were overwhelmed. Thanks to everyone who had donated money, there were a lot of happy people on the island today
The repairs on homes will be more complicated and take longer than we originally anticipated. It will not be immediate, as we must make sure it is done fairly and properly and that we make the best use of funds and get good prices on materials. But it will happen. We will keep you updated on our progress over the upcoming weeks and months.
The TSD staff – big smiles all round!
I left the island feeling incredibly upbeat and positive about the future. Trevor and I have always known that we have an amazing team behind us, and times do not get any more trying than this, but in the face of this incredible adversity, they have left me in awe. Some of the other businesses on Malapascua are also running similar initiatives, we will work together as much as possible and I am convinced that between us, we will rebuild TSD and Malapascua in no time