There Are Many Ways to Change a Life

Another guest blog post from a volunteer on Malapascua, this time from Phillip Heidt. Phillip did a wonderful job fundraising and helping out on the island.  Read on….

Phillip volunteering on Malapascua

There are many ways to change a life

I have never really considered becoming a volunteer abroad until I saw the damage left by Yolanda. It wasn’t the first time that I had seen massive amounts of destruction, however it was the first time that it really hit home for me. I think that it was seeing the place I had visited 3-4 weeks prior, completely destroyed.

Malapascua was in ruins.

My first instinct – like many other people – was to get in contact with a major relief organization. I contacted numerous NGO’s and ultimately came back empty-handed. Most places required that volunteers be certified in some sort of way or have extensive experience with disaster relief. I was in a difficult position for a few days; researching via internet blogs, reading and just feeling overwhelmed.

When I mentioned some of these feelings to co-worker, she simply told me that she would throw me an event. Luckily for me, she had been an event planner at one point in her life, so this type of thing was a piece of cake for her. We organized a silent auction / benefit to sponsor me on my trip and to donate money to help with relief. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun!

The next step was to figure what I was going to do with the money. I was pretty unsure about just sending a substantial amount of money to some random person or organization because you never really know how many hands the money goes through. My best advice for donating money, given you are actually going to the disaster area, is to bring it with you. While it can be very dangerous to carry such a large amount of cash, I found that it was the best way to ensure the money goes where it should.

Anyway, when I arrived on the island (I was there for just over three weeks), I spent the first few days walking around and observing. I walked the entire island and spoke with old friends from before and met some new friends. I never mentioned that I had money to donate; I just told people that I wanted to help out however I could. So after walking around I managed to find the right people to give me some direction for my efforts.

This is where Candice comes in. Let me just stop for a second and give this wonderful person the credit she deserves — Candice is incredible. I find her to be one of those unsung heroes we never hear about. One of those truly unique people that make a huge difference in lives of so many (including mine). She works full time at Thresher Shark Divers, and they had put many of her dive shop duties on hold so she could manage TSD’s typhoon relief projects. These included the rebuilding of the elementary school on the island that were being paid for by donations collected by TSD. Candice was at the school every morning, without fail, to keep the workers in check and ensure that all of YOUR donations were being put to good use.

Sheesh! Sorry, that was a little off topic but come on, these people need recognition too!

Moving forward….She took Cassidy and I (Cassidy is another volunteer, who I’m sure you have read about because our write ups are on the same blog haha!) and showed us what they were doing, how the progress was going and most importantly – what needed to be done next. The progress had been stopped because there were issues getting cash to the island (this is a very small island the nearest ATM is about three hours away). Also there was an unusually long spell of bad weather which affected transportation and availability of supplies. I was able to give a huge portion of the money to her (thanks to all of your generous donations) and the rebuilding process started up again. Over the course of the trip I was able to keep tabs on the progress and see some wonderful results!

That was just a portion of the money – I reserved the rest for helping the locals that I knew. I ended up buying some relief goods and distributing that to a part of the island that hadn’t received much help — but it wasn’t as simple as that. I started by taking a “day” trip to Bogo city on the mainland. Myself and two of the locals spent the majority of the day walking around and gathering food to bring back to the island. I purchased rice, coffee, noodles and candy. The candy was for the children. I had to pay an exorbitant amount of money to transport all the food back to the port of Maya (which was a hour away by Jeepney). After all the travelling we got stuck in Maya for the night! Yikes! I had no idea what to do, so I went into the city and was lucky enough to find a room to stay in for the night. Early the next morning – and I mean EARLY – we left for the island. Thankfully we had good weather that morning so the boat ride wasn’t too dangerous! We got all the food back to store in one of the local’s homes and I headed back to catch some Z’s.

Later that day, I walked back to the storage house and they helped me pack up all the relief goods. We put 2kg of rice, three instant coffee packets and two packs of pancit canton noodles into each bag. We decided to distribute tickets to people so that only those who receive them will show up for goods and one of the local’s fathers took charge of this. There are far too many people who need help so by distributing tickets, we are able to control the amount of people that show up. The last thing we wanted was too many people and not enough goods. As for who gets a ticket, it was left up to chance. As sad as it was, there was no good way to make it fair. Some people would get goods, some wouldn’t. If I only had more money….

Fast forward to the next day. It was crazy! I had the locals go to the beach (which was absolutely trashed) and pick up garbage. When they returned with a bag of garbage, I would trade it for relief goods. The process went very well and we cleaned up a good area on the beach. I must say that was one of the highlights of my trip so far. It was pretty incredible to see all the smiling faces and happy people! Everyone was very thankful and happy.

For the remaining funds, I went to the people that I already knew. One man (his name is Leo) had just had a baby. He was losing his home (or what was left of it, thanks Yolanda) and had to find a new place. I (or should I say: WE) helped him pay for supplies to rebuild his new home. Another girl, Janice, was living in her father’s home with nine other people. There was barely even a roof over their heads at night. We helped them pay for supplies to help kick start her rebuilding process. Another woman, Joy, had the supplies she needed (thanks to donations from elsewhere) but could not afford the carpenter. We paid for the entire cost of the carpenter and she now has a new roof over her kitchen. Her family was overjoyed when we donated the funds.

I suppose I could talk about this trip forever, but I’m going to cut it off soon. This was, by far, the most rewarding trip of my life. The lessons I have learned on this trip will resonate through me for the rest of my life. I urge you, the reader, to go out and to volunteer. Get outside of your comfort zone. Help someone who is less fortunate then you. You don’t have to wait for another Yolanda, because people all over the world need help now.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. This was my first blog entry. Hopefully there are many more to come :)

Cheers.

-Phillip

P.S. – I must include another person. His name is Jonas. He was a stranger when I arrived on the island, and a good friend when I left. He reached out to me and lent a helping hand during my stay on Malapascua. I believe that he deserves some recognition. Thank you Jonas R. I’ll see you in Seattle soon :)

 

Posted in Typhoon Haiyan. No Comments »

How can I help?

 

Thank you to guest blogger Cassidy Jackson-Carroll for this entry. Cassidy is an Australian lass with bags of energy and an infectious laugh who came to Malapascua insistent on helping the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. She has had some great adventures like the time she was dressed as a boxing kangaroo at the Olympics….

 

Cassidy at the Olympics!

Cassidy at the Olympics!

 

How can I help?

Whenever a massive natural disaster occurs in the world, the humanity in all of us appears.  Although many of us may not be able to empathise with the enormity of the event, we can certainly sympathise for our fellow brothers and sisters in the affected area. We want to help.

En route home from travel, I decided to stop off in the Philippines. Aware of Typhoon Yolanda having hit much of central Philippines in late November, I thought of combining a small diving trip with some volunteer work. Malapascua Island – the perfect combination for both.

Upon arriving to Malapascua, I instantly saw how badly hit this island had been.  Houses had been flattened, boats upturned (some hanging in trees), trees fallen, everything windblown; yet fortunately enough, no lives had been lost.

Although the proximity of the tiny gem of an island to mainland Cebu is only 8km, due to it being so small (motorbikes and bicycles are the main form of transport on the dirt roads) and surrounded by coral reefs, it makes the transportation of materials to the island rather difficult.  Therefore reconstruction is a challenging task.

School rebuilding on Malapascua Island

Candice from Thresher Shark Divers was instantly very helpful and enthusiastic about my desire to help out wherever needed.  Thresher Shark Divers were managing donations they had collected and directing a lot of their attention to the local primary school, Logon Elementary and Candice was overseeing this project. Being a teacher, I know the importance of creating and rebuilding a community centre where students felt safe and happy to attend.  Along with another young volunteer, Phillip, I attended the school every morning with Candice.  She introduced us to some of the teaching staff and the local construction workers.  Half days had been created for all grades, as many of the classrooms had been damaged and were unusable as a learning environment.  Often students shyly smiled at us and greeted us politely. We were treated every morning to students proudly singing the national anthem as they lined up on the playground.

typhoon-on-malapascua-kids-2

Phillip and I helped Candice in the ordering of materials, from the mainland, so new roofing could be installed and classrooms could be rebuilt.  The playground was a construction site, however this never dampened the spirits of the students or the staff.  A lot of classroom equipment, such as wooden chairs and desks, was sitting in the middle of the playground under a tarpaulin. This had been the case for a couple of weeks.   Phillip and I rearranged space in an unused classroom, (that had been housing the school’s computers) and moved all the ‘outside furniture’ inside.  Through a game of ‘real life tetris’ and with the help of some staff and a few students, we managed to create more space on the playground and a storage room for currently unused furniture.

Mentioning I had a physical education background to the Grade 6 teacher, she had her 60 students line up in front of me in a matter of seconds!  For an hour, I had the students involved in kinaesthetic movement through simple yet engaging games. They relished the different form of learning, some starting to tire after an hour!

School rebuilding on Malapascua Island

 

One of the staff, who also acted as the swimming coach, invited me to watch the swim team train one afternoon. In front of the cemetery, in the open sea the youngsters swam lap after lap.  They were training for an upcoming state meet in Cebu – a meet they have previously claimed the winner’s trophy for!  The open water swimming training was enough to even make an Olympic swimmer dig further for inspiration.

The school swim team on Malapascua Island

My contribution to volunteering did not last as long as I had initially anticipated, and I know and felt I could have done a lot more for the community.  As short as the experience may have been, I, myself, learnt a great deal, mainly how resilient and genuinely lovely the Filipinos are!  Even the stray dogs were friendly!  Phillip mentioned that Filipinos, worldwide, have a charismatic spirit – an extremely accurate statement.  It is spirit like no other I have come across in my many worldly travels.  A spirit you are charmed by, and a spirit you want to adopt for your own ambience.

Thank you Malapascua – tiny in topography, but huge in heart.

 

A vistor’s perspective….

 

Today’s blog is a guest entry by recent TSD diver, Chris-Fick van Niekerk. Chris came to Malapascua for nearly 3 weeks to learn to dive and to do some volunteer work at the school where among other things he knocked down a wall for us….

PADI Dive Course Certification on Malapascua

Celebrating finishing their courses. Back (L-R): Instructors Angus and Chris; Front: Nikki (DMT), Charity, Amanda, Jade, Ben, Chris (the author) and Nick (DMT)

The thresher sharks would come later.

Looking back on the material of aficionados, whom I am happy were there for the initiations, for support and cheer that comes with the trembling when entering into a new world, I zip up and dive once more.

Cop-Bob’s video featuring the threshers is great. Their extended tail fins enhance their motion with a flourish that is pleasing and calming to the watcher.

I felt welcome at Thresher Shark Divers and happy. I never went hungry and the food was delicious- especially the Sisek and Steak & the Philadelphia cream cheese baguette. After virgin submergence one is hungry and thirsty.

It was like swimming in “Finding Nemo”. You hover in neutral buoyancy where you see things, wrecks, coral with neon-blue points, clown-fish, moray eels, bright slugs.

Amenone Fish Malapascua Island

Family of Nemos :-)

The new sensation of breathing underwater and practicing new skills. Your instructors are knowledgeable with patience and a sense of humour. Jokes go around as hugs go in the company of old friends. Then you swim down there feeling the slow pull of the open water. You hear the bubbles and this beautiful solitude you have only encountered in a box in a “living” room but is now very real and you are very real in it.

Moray Eel Malapascua Island

Moray Eel

This is life. This is living. You surface smiling, anticipating the next dive.

Being there now, post-typhoon, you help out as humanitarian or just human, perhaps at the island school with a lesson or with construction work. You may see a cock-fight, dance at the disco, talk science-fiction and Bertrand Russell with Steve and be quiet and learn something joyous about the Annapurna circuit. You will hear a song you didn’t expect to hear at Oscar’s.

Oscar's Restaurant Malapascua

Chatting with new friends at Oscar’s Beach Restaurant

What brought you to Malapascua – to Thresher Shark Divers – could have been the need for a trip somewhere unspoilt or the numerous good Tripadvisor reviews. Above or under water – what keeps you here are their smiles, manners, warmth and the happy hours spent sharing memories and making new ones.

You arrive more or less unexperienced, more-or-less intact. You leave an initiated diver who has lost his heart.

 

 

Our new PADI Course Director

 

Great news at TSD today! Our head PADI Technical Instructor, Jason Orage, has been accepted on the prestigious PADI Course Director Training Course in March to become a fully fledged PADI Course Director, the elite of PADI teaching professionals!!!

When he returns to Malapascua Island in April after the two week course in Malaysia, Jason will be joining our Dive Careers team of Course Directors as our in-house CD. As well as participating in our regularly scheduled IDCs, Jason will be the only full-time Course Director on Malapascua Island and will be available year round for one-on-one PADI IDCsInstructor Specialty Ratings, private PADI IDC Staff Instructor Courses and also, a first for TSD, we are excited to announce, PADI TecRec Technical Instructor courses!!!

Jason teaches PADI TecRec Instructor Courses

It takes many years of hard work and dedication to become a Course Director and only a handful of PADI Instructors are accepted on the course worldwide. Jason has consistently strived towards this goal over the years, and constantly shows extraordinary commitment to his students and to his job.

This has not gone unnoticed by PADI. Every month, PADI awards one PADI Dive Shop and one PADI Instructor worldwide with a very special award. Thresher Shark Divers was very proud to receive PADI’s “Customer Service Center” award a year ago, and then even more pleased when just a few months later Jason received the “Education Leader” Instructor award. This award is particularly prestigious given there are over 100,000 PADI Pros worldwide. Read more about this and TSD’s other numerous awards here.

Jason still loves teaching at all levels and will continue to each everything from Open Water through to Technical as well as PADI Instructor Training.

We are very much looking forward to having him join our Instructor Trainer team and to be able to offer you Technical Instructor training! So now you can come to TSD for your complete Instructor package!

Huge congratulations to Jason. It’ll be a big party tonight at the Wilde Bar :-)

 

PADI Go Pro Instructor Training

 

 

Rebuilding the School – repairing damaged buildings

 

During December we focused on ensuring every member of our staff had the materials needed to rebuild their homes. All materials are now bought and delivered and more than 50 homes are fully or on their way to being rebuilt :-) So January means full steam ahead at the Elementary School on Malapascua. Funded of course by your donations!

The school badly needs classrooms. Until the Christmas break, the children were only able to attend for half a day each, as there were simply not enough classrooms for everyone. But new ones take time (and money) to build, so we needed a temporary solution as fast as possible.

In addition, we are bringing in a lot of building materials that need to be secured and so a storeroom is vital. One of the good classrooms was being used for this. We felt this was a waste of a good room! So we took some of the old lumber and other materials salvaged from the typhoon and have instead adapted one of the more unstable classrooms that we did not want to use for children. So that easily freed up a first new classroom!

Another block had six classrooms in it. One room was okay, but the other five were missing roofs. As well as the basic roofing, the sodden or missing ceilings also needed replacing….

IMG_4761

…and the outside overhangs also need repairs.

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Rebuilding on Malapascua

Building the framing for the roofs

Our team got straight to work after Christmas! Three classrooms are already finished and the other two should be finished by the end of the week :-)

Rebuild Malapascua

Malapascua Island Relief Work at the School   Malapascua Island Relief Work at the School

Malapascua Island Relief Work at the School

Malapascua Island Relief Work at the School

 

Our original plan was to build a temporary structure to house some additional classrooms, but instead, we are planning to repair another damaged building. This will create three more permanent classrooms and will take about the same time as the previously proposed interim structures. We had at first thought this building would have to be rebuilt, but with some repairs it will be okay.

 

Malapascua rebuilding

Before: a damaged building that needs a wall knocking down

Rebuild Malapascua

After: the wall has been knocked down. Now we need to rebuild it and put a roof on it.

 

Globe Telecom has also promised to donate some tents that we can use as temporary classrooms and these are expected to arrive in two weeks.

So once these are all in place we should have enough classrooms to house all the students, at least for now!

We are still working on a long-term plan and are in careful phase and budget planning mode right now; this project has many variables and we aim to continue to use your donations in the best way possible. At the moment, the preferred plan is to build a completely new permanent concrete structure with three classrooms. Each will have a concrete roof and will double up as a typhoon shelter.

We are also looking into using eco-friendly techniques that are new and educational for the construction teams here in Malapascua. In order to make a cement ceiling lighter yet remain robust many buildings use special Styrofoam as a “filler”. We are researching the feasibility of using the same concept for an initiative where we pay the local community a small fee to collect plastic waste for our cement ceiling. If possible, this would serve many purposes: to save donated funds for other things; to remove dependency on non-sustainable Styrofoam; to reduce community waste; to provide a wage and bring money into the community; and to educate locals on how to reuse plastics effectively and save money in their own constructions.

In addition we plan to eventually create a garden roof on top of the flat cement building to both beautify and cool the building and to provide an allotment space that can be used as a reward for good pupils or for gardening lessons. We hope to incorporate creative resourcing techniques into our various project implementations to optimise value for your donations as we go.

As of now though, the main issue is the budget, as we do not currently have enough to fund this ourselves given we are also rebuilding more homes. So currently we would need to build this classroom by classroom to ensure we don’t run out of funds before we finish the 3 rooms. But we are working on that and any and all donations are still very much welcome!

Thanks again to everyone for providing the money so we can even be thinking about this. We are all very excited about this project and about bringing it to fruition!

 

Posted in Typhoon Haiyan. No Comments »

Before and after houses!!!

 

As you may know, Typhoon Haiyan destroyed many of our staff’s houses and we set up a fundraiser to help them rebuild. So that you can see our progress and so we can have proper documentation ourselves, we have done our best to keep photographic records of before and after. Take a look at some of these photos and see the tremendous help that your donations have been!

These do not show the full extent of the initial damage, as the “before” photos were taken at least 3 weeks after the typhoon when some rebuilding work and temporary patching had already started. People made makeshift shelters from all sorts of things: debris salvaged from their own or other destroyed buildings, materials from the dive shop that we had in stock or came from our damaged buildings, and also tarpaulin that we bought from donations that was much needed to protect not only from the rain but from the relentless sun that was beating down before the palm tree fronds had had the chance to regrow.

Madeline Before

Madeline has worked for us in Oscars since it opened, 6 years ago. Her house was completely gone – there was absolutely nothing left.  This simple lumber frame was what her husband had managed to put together so far.

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Madeline After

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Maricris before

Maricris is a waitress at Oscar’s and has worked for us for a few years. She has a newborn baby so we are especially happy that she was one of the first to get her home repaired :-)

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Maricris After

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Dodi before

Dodi is our man around the equipment room and you have probably met him if you have ever checked out equipment from us. There is even a picture of him in a dress at work lurking around on facebook :-)

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Dodi’s walls were made of tarpaulin

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief   Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Dodi after

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief   Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief   Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

We did find Dodi taking shelter at the dive shop one night when he had a lovely new home to go to. But I guess as it was raining quite heavily at the time, we’ll forgive him ;-)

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Hilbert before

Hilbert is a great example of someone who’s home had to be rebuilt from scratch using the materials you provided.

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Hilbert after

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Dodong before

Dodong has worked for us for 8 years and is the Boat Captain of Amy.

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

The roof is missing…

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Dodong after

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Ondo before

Ondo has worked for us for 8 years and is one of our senior boat crew.

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Ondo after

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

Malapascua Island Typhoon Relief

All of our staff now has enough materials to complete their houses. Some are still building and more homes are being finished every day. Over $20,000 has so far been spent on rebuilding homes, and we will now be targeting those most in need of housing on the island.

Special thanks to Matt Bjerregaard for some of the “Before” shots and Stephen Tapply for the “After” shots.  More to come as they get finished!

 

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Rebuilding the School

 

We are really pleased to be involved in some really exciting, innovative work that is underway for Logon Elementary School on Malapascua.

 

Logon Elementary School Malapascua

 

The school was badly damaged in the typhoon, but everyone felt it was important to get the school up and running as quickly as possible to restore the kids to some feeling of normality, and also to get them out of their parents’ hair so they could focus on putting their lives back together! So a few weeks ago, TSD decided to “adopt” the elementary school and its 1,100 children for one of its restoration projects, funded of course by all your generous donations :-)

 

Logon Elementary school

The school buildings have damaged roofs and structures

 

Temporary roofing

First off was to get some kind of temporary roofing in place. In the weeks following the typhoon, we scoured Cebu City for tarpaulin and at every store we went to, much like many other emergency supplies, it was flying off the shelves as quickly as it arrived.  But we managed to get rolls here and there and it all added up. The first of this went to our staff members, some of whom no longer had a roof to sleep under. We luckily found more than we needed, so this was donated to the school so they could repair roofs in some of the classrooms to get them useable again.

 

Malapascua Island School Rebuilding

 

Malapascua Island tarps in school

 

School materials

So classes were ready to start, but the children had lost most of their materials. So that week, we bought much needed supplies for every child: pens, pencils, crayons, notebooks etc. This was a mammoth task as each of the seven years from Kindergarten to Grade 6 has different requirements amounting to over 10,000 individual items! Once we worked out how many children were in each year, we managed to source a main supplier in Cebu who could deal with that level of order.  They did a great job and managed to pack nearly 70 heavy boxes brimming with materials.

 

_TSD0107

 

Aquaventure Whitetip, one of our dive suppliers, kindly donated their van (as they have donated many other items) to transport the materials.  We spent a very hot, sticky afternoon sorting and giving out the items to endless lines of grateful children! More pictures on facebook.

 

Malapascua Island School Materials

School Christmas party

The next week, the school had its Christmas presentation which we were lucky enough to attend. The kids put on performances and they were absolutely brilliant. There were many that we really loved, but our favourite was the little girl dancing to the theme to Hawaii 5-0! It loses a lot in translation so you must watch the video!

Volunteering

Many of our customers have wanted to volunteer while they are here diving and a few have been teaching and working at the school including Julie who has been teaching the kids French and having a great time and Vic, a teacher from the US, who played some fun and games with the kids!

 

Malapascua Island Volunteer Teaching

One of our divers, Julie, volunteered at the school for 3 days to teach French :-)

 

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, both above and below water, so please contact us if you are interested in pursuing volunteer opportunities on Malapascua.

And here is a short snippet from an impromptu football match started by one of our younger customers Khi from the US (in the blue football kit) with his Dad as referee. Apologies for the chainsaw in the background – but that’s Junior, a local, who is one of the few people on the island who knows how to work a chainsaw properly. Jun has worked tirelessly for free since the typhoon, cutting down debris and helping folks around the island and now us at the school.

 

Malapascua Island

Junior – the Chainsaw Man!

 

Patching up and temporary structures

We quickly found that rebuilding a school is not as easy as clicking our fingers, throwing money at the problem and then it’s done. There was much “will” there, but not so much of a “way”; while the school knew what they need done, they didn’t know how to go about it. So we stepped in and put a core team into place with all the vital elements: strategy/politics director, project manager, architect, construction manager and a good, reliable local construction team.  Time to get started!

Our initial idea was to rebuild and repair the school as it was. However, because some of the old school building is  now structurally unsound, in poor condition and uses outdated building materials and methods, we have decided upon a longer-term strategy.

We want the kids to lose as little time as possible getting back to the normal school routine; they are currently only coming in for a half day each as there are not enough useable classrooms. So we started just after Christmas on the task of patching up existing structures as quickly as possible to free up a couple more rooms.

 

Malapascua Island

 

As there are no storm resistant buildings here and everyone wants to prevent the same destruction we saw with Typhoon Haiyan, Xesus, TSD’s instructor-come-architect, has planned some stormproof concrete classrooms, complete with roof garden for gardening classes.

We anticipate the building will take at least a few months to complete if there are no major impediments and we hope to be able to fund the project entirely using your donations although that may not be possible and we may need to look for additional funding.

We’ll also need a name for your building so maybe you can make some suggestions for us?

In parallel, another organisation is arranging the donation of some truly amazing cutting-edge tech, pre-fabricated bamboo two storey classrooms, so that in the event of a storm warning these classrooms can be dismantled in advance and stored in the concrete storm shelter/classroom that we plan to build. We are waiting on information such as dimensions and dismantling time to ensure everything is feasible within typhoon warning timings and also that the new classrooms are build big enough, but in the meantime pushing forward with our buildings as much as possible.

All the team agrees that these projects are the most interesting, rewarding and challenging we have worked on before, so thank you from us all – we believe we are doing your donations justice and we sincerely hope you do too.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us here at TSD :-)

 

Malapascua Island Christmas

The TSD house building team on Christmas Day – Jasmine, Gerard and Candice

 

Posted in Typhoon Haiyan. No Comments »

Rebuilding homes: Phase 2

 

Our last blog entry about TSD’s relief efforts discussed the destruction of most of the houses on Malapascua and our plans to rebuild the homes of our staff members using the very generous donations we have received since the typhoon. TSD staff, in particular, Candice, Xesus, Jasmine and Gerard, have been working very hard to bring this project to fruition. No mean feat when you consider we are trying to rebuild 50 homes all at once!

 

Rebuilding Malapascua

The remains of Joy’s destroyed house

The islanders use predominantly the same building materials for their structures: plywood, coconut lumber, tin roofs and on the rare occasion, cement.  But every house is different and the damage to each house is different. Our aim is to rebuild each home as closely as possible to how it was before. Therefore, each person had the required materials tailored specifically. Each building was carefully evaluated and also categorised on a “Needs Scale” of 1 (no building or no roof) to 5 (minor damage), with about 65% of our staff fell in the “1” category. This made for a very complicated evaluation process and then a nightmare of a shopping list, including 12 different sizes of lumber, 5 different sizes of roofing and in excess of 300 kilos of assorted sizes of nails!

Candice, a project manager by profession, has been incredible at overseeing this unexpected project.  She has made numerous involved spreadsheets, including working out costs down to the peso so as to maximise use of donation money and make it go as far as possible.  It has also been quite a job to calculate priorities for receiving materials and produce a complex delivery schedule.  With 50 homes to repair, it was impossible to bring in all the materials in one shipment, and we decided to break it down into around 12 deliveries.  Homes are scattered around the island so each delivery was a complicated matter of maximising urgency of need with location.

So far we have had 10 of these deliveries. They are incredibly intense daily deliveries on various beaches around the island, made more difficult to manage due to sheer volume and differences in dimensions of lumber, nails, roofing etc. All the materials have to be correctly assigned and carried inland. It is a long and tedious day’s work. As everything has to be delivered manually – with no cranes or vehicles for transportation –  it is also backbreaking labour under a relentless sun.

Malapascua Tyhoon rebuilding

Loading materials onto the beach – backbreaking work

Candice says,

“Jasmine and Gerard have been godsends to me in this project. Jasmine has done all the ordering – and reordering depending on (frequent!) new requirements from staff members and Gerard has done all the wheeling and dealing and sourcing of materials and boats and an unbelievable amount of schlepping for such a small guy. During the first delivery he swam 30 pieces of 4x4x10 lumber between the port and the boat – at night! I am hoping this project doesn’t kill him but he is like an unstoppable machine and just wants to keep going and get his workmates into liveable homes :-)  

“Of all the project teams I have worked with over the years this is one of the most resourceful.  Both of their roles are invaluable and your donations could not have been spent effectively without them. Thanks Jas & Gerry!

“This Christmas our donors managed to give over 50 people their homes back. From this end just being lucky enough to experience that firsthand is pure magic.”

Materials for around 4 or 5 people are brought in each delivery, in order of urgency, and Jasmine and Gerard have managed to get our deliveries coming in every day despite constant difficulties such as sourcing materials (everyone in the area is rebuilding!) and finding boats willing to pick up the materials from the mainland. But our aim has always been to get it finished a few days before Christmas and we are (amazingly!) on target!

Each delivery has been met with huge smiles and appreciation – we don’t know how to say thank you to you, our donors, except for to try and get as many photos as possible of developments as we go. Unfortunately we cannot post so many photos right now due to the speed of the internet on the island. But we will get those to you soon.

Rebuilding homes on Malapascua

Dodi’s new home

Equipment room manager, Dodi, was one of the many whose home was completely destroyed by the typhoon, but lucky Dodi was part of the first delivery.  His house is now completely rebuilt, just in time for Christmas!!!

Rebuilding homes in Malapascua after Typhoon Haiyan

Merry Christmas from Dodi’s family :-)

 

The name “Malapascua” actually means “Bad Christmas,” named by the Spanish who first arrived here in a bad storm in the 1500′s. And although 2013 has not been a good year for Malapascua, it will certainly not be a bad Christmas for the 50 families who now have new homes!

We are still accepting donations and you can keep up with more regular updates on our facebook page.

 A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us here at TSD!!!

Telling Tails on Malapascua: The Thresher Sharks of Monad Shoal

 

Just to remind you what we are all about on Malapascua, here is a blog all about — what else? — our thresher sharks! The thresher sharks are still around on Monad Shoal in similar numbers as before. The storm does not seem to have bothered them, and so nothing has changed :-)

Thanks to Rachel Horsfield for the article.  Rachel recently completed her PADI IDC with us and has stayed on an additional few weeks to get further training, get some photos and to write some articles about our dive sites!  This is her first article on our dive sites about Monad Shoal….

Thresher Shark Malapascua

Thresher Shark by Brandon Cole

 

It’s already warm. All thoughts of having woken at 0430 are dispelled as the moon hangs in a sky of midnight blue. Somewhere along the horizon the sun begins to lift the night away and the dawn creeps in. The sea seems purple against the sunrise. You forget that it’s 0500 as the day begins to show its colours, and your thoughts are someway beneath the waves already. You share a knowing grin with your buddy.

The boat slows and you make your final preparations to begin the adventure. As you jump into the ocean the thrill of what is to come builds. You waste no time descending. Upon reaching the shallower part of the shoal you ignore the otherwise attention seeking anemonefish and follow your guide on down, skirting by the triggerfish and leaving the garden eels for dust and sand. With every glance into the deep blue you imagine a fin, a tail, that large eye.

As you kneel on the sandy slope just short of the cleaning station, your eyes adjust to the blue-grey water before you. The level of anticipation quickens your pulse. Your senses are primed to the sharpest degree. Sit. Watch. Wait. Imagine. Soon all you hear are your bubbles as your only thoughts are on seeing the famous denizens of Malapascua. Your eyes pick out a fleck of silver and a shadow moves in the blue. You inhale as your eyes widen and you strain to see more.

Thresher Shark Malapascua

Thresher Shark by Rachel Horsfield

The sleek, strong and elegant outline of a thresher shark emerges before you. Keep still. The slightest jerk will send these skittish creatures back into the blue yonder and down away from your sight. The shark comes closer and then you see a second and even a third or fourth join the group. They begin to circle over the cleaning station, allowing the cleaner wrasse to perform their morning ablutions. Their circles continue and they come ever closer.

Now you can really see their sweeping, tapering, elongated tails that make these creatures so famous. Flick, flick, flick, swish, swish, swish. The sharks continue swimming, performing figures of eight. They swim around your head and over your shoulder with their large eyes fixed on you. The pointed face seems to be forever anxious and inquisitive. Squeals of delight peel from divers all around – but take care – the sharks can disappear as quickly as they emerged before you.

Thresher Sharks Malapascua Island

Thresher Shark by Brandon Cole

It has been known for up to ten individuals to make an appearance simultaneously. Where would you look as this silver and blue fantasy played out before you?! Tempting as it is to focus on what is in front of you, take care to look over your shoulder as sometimes the sharks come barreling in over the top of the shoal, down the sandy slope and right past unsuspecting divers looking in the other direction. Be prepared for a surprise! The sharks can appear at shallower levels too. Imagine jumping in, your bubbles clear, and as you descend to 15 metres, just below you is the zig and the zag of that beautiful body. At Monad Shoal you can have it all; sharks above you, sharks below you, sharks sweeping in over your shoulder and over your head!

Monad Shoal is accessible to all Advanced Open Water divers and shark dives are offered daily. Nitrox is recommended due to the depth and if you are not certified you can easily do the course here.

Thresher Shark Malapascua

Thresher Shark by Uwe Jacobs

Thresher Shark Divers have a permanent buoy line at the southern end of the shoal, which makes for an easy descent to around 17 metres to reach the top of the plateau. Monad Shoal is a submerged island (roughly the same size as Malapascua itself) that rises from the Marakina Trench, a deep stretch of water running between Cebu and Leyte in the central Philippines.

Thresher sharks enjoy the darkness (one reason they have very large eyes!) and so are generally feeding too deep for recreational divers to be able to enjoy. However, we all like to get clean of a morning and thresher sharks are no different, so every dawn, once the sharks have enjoyed their fishy meals they come to get ‘washed’! Monad Shoal is a collection of ‘cleaning stations’. Cleaner Wrasse including the Moon Wrasse and the Blue-streaked Wrasse make their homes on various rocky outcroppings jutting off the plateau. A sandy slope leads from the plateau down to the various cleaning stations. Most of the action takes place at around 32 metres. Here divers can sit and witness the sharks circling as the wrasse do their work. Other stations exist at between 30 and 18 metres. It is not unusual for divers to only make it to the first cleaning station and no further, since the shark sightings here can be prolonged and scintillating experiences.

Thresher Shark Malapascua

Thresher Shark by Rachel Horsfield

The sharks seen at Monad Shoal are Pelagic Thresher Sharks. These differ from the Common Thresher Shark and the Big-eye Thresher Shark as they have a greater gap between the pectoral and dorsal fins. Common Thresher Sharks have a more obvious white stomach and tend to be somewhat stockier. Those who dive with Thresher Shark Divers can take the unique PADI Thresher Shark Diver Distinctive Specialty Course, written by TSD in conjunction with PADI, to learn all about the Thresher Sharks of Monad Shoal as well as the history of the shark encounters in this region. The course also takes in two dives to tour the cleaning stations, encouraging divers to observe the cleaner wrasse and the behaviour patterns of the sharks, as well as to determine the sex of the individuals.

Thresher Shark Divers also take divers to a second site where two cleaning stations attract Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays! Shark Point and Manta Point lie very close to one another and lucky divers can enjoy double helpings of these beautiful creatures in one dive!

There has never been a better to come to Malapascua Island to see the sharks as diver numbers are down after the typhoon, but shark numbers are still high. But it won’t last for long, as the tourists will soon return, so come now for an opportunity to dive it like it was 10 years ago!!!

Thresher Shark Malapascua

Thresher Shark by Uwe Jacobs

 

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Start of the rebuilding

 

When the typhoon first hit, I knew that many of our staff would need money to have their homes rebuilt. So I immediately started our typhoon relief fund, hoping to help with the worst of the destruction.  I honestly thought that, if we were lucky, we would maybe raise a few thousand dollars and be able to help the worst hit, but the amount quickly spiraled and everyone has been astounded by the incredible generosity of our donors. I am now sure that we have enough to rebuild every staff member’s home to at least the standard it was before, and we should have plenty left to help with other homes and community projects.

Once I had the money, I was left with another problem.  Simply saying that I want to rebuild “everyone’s homes” in the aftermath of the typhoon is one thing, but suddenly having the money to build 50+ houses is a completely different matter! I am a dive shop owner, not a builder or relief worker! And as the days went by, it became apparent that there were many considerations including making sure funds are fairly distributed, ensuring nothing is misappropriated, finding the best prices and making our money go as far as possible. But I have encountered many challenges since moving to the Philippines 10 years ago, and so I knew it was do-able!

Malapascua Island

The roof is full of holes, so Enting’s family have set up a tarp covering at a lower level.

Everyone is in a different situation and has different needs.  We decided it would be a waste of your donations to take the easy route and simply to give away a fixed amount of materials to each person. So we will assign materials based on need. We spent some time looking into options and have now completed Phase 1 of our Rebuilding Malapascua Plan of Action!

Initial Evaluation

Candice (from the UK) and Xesus (from Spain) arrived on Malapascua only 2 weeks before the typhoon to take up their new positions at TSD as Assistant Manager and PADI Instructor respectively.  They certainly weren’t expecting to walk straight into a typhoon relief operation but they have definitely taken it in their stride!

Malapascua Island

Nothing left – a new framework going up

The timing of Xesus’ arrival was perfect, as he is, by trade, an architect. So we put him to work on what we hoped would be an interesting project. Along with other volunteers (including Matt Bjerregaard, from the UK, who used to live here and knows the local community well) they have spent the last few days evaluating staff houses to find out exactly what each person needs to rebuild. It was certainly a daunting task, but once the roads were clear, and the weather had improved, they set off around the island.  It was made a lot harder given there are no roads, cars, street names or house numbers and that they didn’t yet know the island or many of the people. Also, the temperature was a minimum 36°C, and most of the island’s shade was destroyed in the typhoon; it is so hot right now that the island almost seems to be absorbing and radiating heat outwards.

Nevertheless, they went around to everyone single staff member’s house and carefully checked what was needed. Now we can make sure people get the correct amount of building materials, not too much and not too little, and your donations will be best spent.

It was a real experience for Candice and Xesus, both so new to the island, but at every home they were met with smiles and the hospitality that is so typical of the people of Malapascua. Everyone was very excited and most grateful. And what better way to get to know all the staff?

Malapascua Island

Again – nothing left for our compressor man, Andy and his wife, star breakfast chef Maricel

We had been told that all our staff were now okay for housing, but “okay” to them apparently means something different than “okay” to us. As our team started making the rounds, it became apparent that some people were still in dire need of a better form of emergency shelter. Those that were most affected have set up very basic, temporary homes using salvaged materials including those taken from all the destruction at TSD. But it is often not nearly enough, even for a short amount of time. Some have only small pieces of tarp or coverings full of holes that leak in the rain. One had a piece of 2m x 2m tarp to shelter 5 people.  Others have moved in with relatives – including one living in a room with 21 other people. There simply isn’t anywhere undamaged and there is nowhere on the island that can accommodate the volume of displaced people.

So first thing to do as a “quick fix” was to bring in many rolls of tarpaulin as possible so we could at least provide cover. Store shelves are emptying as quickly as they are stocked in, so this has not been easy.  We generally just find one or two rolls here and there, and the price is going up week by week.  But we managed to get enough for all the most needy staff and so at least they have something as an interim measure to protect against the rain and sun.

 

Malapascua Island

Measuring up tarp for each staff member based on need

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The tarp is carefully measured, named and assigned

 

As for proper rebuilding, everyone’s needs vary vastly; some only require a piece of metal roofing and a few nails, but many desperately need their entire home replaced.

 

DSC06463

 

But, finally (hooray!), we have been to every single house and have a rather scary shopping list for all their materials to get their homes back to the way they were before the typhoon. Amongst many other things this includes around 1000 pieces of lumber (10 various sizes), 350 pieces of metal roofing (5 different sizes), and 150kg nails (5 different sizes).

Now we need source and cost these materials as quickly as we can which is a no mean feat when you consider how much reconstruction is taking place right now across the whole of the Philippines.

 Malapascua Island

 

The next concern will be the logistics of transport. Transport costs to the Maya pier could really add up. And once it arrives on Malapascua, all our deliveries unload straight on the beach. There is no pier and there are no cars or trucks, everything needs to be hand carried, so moving these heavy, bulky items to each building site, particularly the ones over the hills, will be our next challenge.

 Malapascua Island

So lots to think about and plan for.

Sadly the process isn’t as quick as we had hoped for – we wish more than anything we could place 50 combined online orders at Amazon.com and specify a next day, door-to-door delivery but sadly that is impossible :-)

If you can bear with us we will keep you updated with progress as much as our limited time and very patchy Wi-Fi will allow! But we hope very soon to start showing you photos of the building progress!

And if you haven’t already, please consider donating to our fund!




Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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