There Are Many Ways to Change a Life

posted in: Typhoon Haiyan | 0

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 🙂



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 🙂


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