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Tabang Para Sa Isla: A Relief Operation and Medical Mission in Malapascua

Tabang Para sa Isla

No one can deny that the devastation brought about by Supertyphoon Yolanda was almost beyond contemplation. Just imagine: a Turkish rescue worker remarked that the damage is more than that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Another foreign aid worker also said that the damage is “unnatural.” And we could all confirm that devastation as images of the massive destruction are broadcasted in our TV screens or shown in the Web. We heard of heartbreaking stories of victims, rescuers, and ordinary people. Supertyphoon Yolanda even broke the government’s disaster-preparedness-and-response backbone and exposed its ineptness in dealing with natural disasters.

But Supertyphoon Yolanda’s wrath quickly met its match in the form of outpouring, endless support from both national and international aid. Foreign governments, humanitarian organizations, multinational corporations, and other entities all joined hand in hand to achieve a common goal: to save lives.

A significant part of this massive relief operation was done by groups of ordinary citizens. And we are proud to say that we are part of such groups. The Enthusiast of Cebu Outdoors, Visayan Trekkers Forum, freelance outdoorspeople, and volunteers wrote their own chapter in this momentous event. Giving it all we have, the team organized a relief operation and medical mission dubbed as Tabang Para sa Isla in Malapascua Island at the northernmost part of the Cebu province last November 23 and 24. Although no casualty was reported, the communities in Malapascua Island sustained severe damage. And because Malapascua is separated from mainland Cebu, relief operations came in trickles.

Thus, the team decided to go where help is needed most. And indeed, in each of our own small ways, we were able to save lives.

The team spent several nights repacking the donated goods.

Tabang Para sa Isla
(Photo by Chad Cordova Bacolod)

We were supposed to depart Cebu with the team at 4 AM. But since Sweetie goes home from work at 10 AM, we went to Malapascua on our own. On the way to North Cebu, we spotted a faraway raincloud. For us, it signaled a new beginning, a new life. Although scars will probably remain for a long time, the rain washes away the wounds of Typhoon Yolanda.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Here’s a picturesque crag up north. It may not be as high as the cliffs of Cantabaco, but it sure is a candidate for bouldering. The nice thing about this cliff is that it’s near the highway.

Tabang Para sa Isla

A Trail of Devastation

As we proceeded to Maya, the town where we’ll take a boat to Malapascua Island, we witnessed firsthand the destruction brought about by Typhoon Yolanda. And indeed it was terrible! Entire communities such as the one depicted in the photo below are virtually flattened.

Tabang Para sa Isla

In rural areas in the Philippines, many houses are made of light materials. Understandably, they weren’t able to weather the fury of the ferocious winds. Many are severely damaged or are totally flattened.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Sometimes, we see these eerie and grim images of what used to be living spaces inside damaged residences. We saw remnants of living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and dens, once covered with walls.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Mother Nature is not choosy when it comes to who are going to be the victims of her wrath. Even well-built, contemporary homes made of steel and concrete suffered considerable or, sometimes, irreparable damage.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Public facilities were not spared and were heavily damaged. For example, in the photo below, the gym at Ilihan was stripped off its roof. We also saw a church that was completely gutted. The Bogo bus terminal was in ruins although it remained operational. And we also saw schools and universities being damaged. Obviously, it would require lots of money, time, and effort to repair these structures.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Mother Nature went haywire on November 8, 2013. We guess Mayor Duterte of Davao City was right when he said, “God must have been somewhere else. He must have forgotten that there is a planet called Earth.” Mother Nature even stripped and peeled the leafy canopies of her own life-giving trees. It was a pretty ghostly sight—bald trees with skeletal branches still standing up.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Coconut trees, which are naturally resilient against strong winds, snapped off like toothpicks. And according to some residents we’ve talked to, the storm was so ferocious that the wind simply plucked off the crowns of palms.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Bamboo stalks, which are supposed to simply bend in strong winds, were simply snapped off. The lowly but strong and flexible bamboo is an inspiration to the design of the world-famous Taipei 101 in Taipei, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Taipei 101 is designed to withstand strong typhoons and violent earthquake tremors, common natural events in the Asia Pacific region.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Supertyphoon Yolanda shaved the light forest cover of this mountain in Northern Cebu. See that brown mountain? The brown color is actually the remains of trees whose leafy canopies were blown off.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Thankfully, not everything was flattened out. The sugarcane fields of Northern Cebu were spared from the typhoon’s wrath. Furthermore, the winds did not topple down the main power towers, which means power in the region could be back soon.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Standing Back Up

Despite the horrific devastation, massive losses, financial ruins, and psychological trauma that Supertyphoon Yolanda left in its wake, reassuring signs of shrugging the dirt off one’s shoulders and moving on with life are apparent. Indeed, Cebuanos are strong and super resilient people.

We saw young guys enjoying a game of basketball; it’s definitely more fun in the Philippines, even in the face of a tragedy. We saw men starting to rebuild their homes. And those whose homes have been completely destroyed have erected makeshift tents while waiting for the opportunity and cash for rebuilding.

Tabang Para sa Isla

These hardworking linemen from CEBECO are battling against time, oppressive heat, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion to restore electrical power to affected areas. Good job and huge salute to these guys! In fact, en route to Cebu on Sunday, power has been restored to many communities in Northern Cebu.

Tabang Para sa Isla

After a few hours, we reached the port of Maya where we took a large banca to Malapascua. Riding a banca and boarding a resort-owned boat are two ways to reach the tiny resort island at the northernmost part of Cebu.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Malapascua is isolated from mainland Cebu. Thus, Malapascua residents or businessmen often make trips to the mainland to purchase bulk supplies. The fact that supplies are starting to move denotes that one of Cebu’s best resort islands that boasts of some of the world’s best dive sites is becoming to recover. And take note of the photo below; these are not just essential food, water, or canned goods. These are simple luxuries such as soft drinks and junk food.

Tabang Para sa Isla

The vibrant tourism industry is still up, well, and alive in Northern Cebu. We witnessed these foreigners disembarking from a boat that obviously came from Malapascua. We also saw Japanese tourists boarding a boat to visit Malapascua. Yes, life goes on here.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Earlier, the team started to unload the all-important goods from the truck to the boat that will transport them to the Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua Island.

Tabang Para sa Isla
(Photo by Chad Cordova Bacolod)

A Journey in the Sunset

The boat’s engine sputtered to life after it was crammed with supplies. Goodbye, Maya port. We’ll see each other again on Sunday.

Tabang Para sa Isla

That peninsula is the northernmost tip of Cebu. Extremely exposed to natural elements, its tree cover was completely wiped out during Supertyphoon Yolanda’s onslaught. All that was left are skeletons of trees and bare rock.

But don’t worry, Mother Nature has her own way of healing herself. In a year or two, the cover would probably be regenerated.

Tabang Para sa Isla

That’s Chocolate Island between Malapascua and mainland Cebu. It was not spared by the wrath of the typhoon; strong winds ripped off the trees that covered it.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Travel time to Malapascua from Maya port is around an hour. Along the way, you can see spectacular vistas of the sea.

Tabang Para sa Isla

After witnessing scenes of horrible devastation, we felt a soothing balm as the sun said goodbye to the world, bathing the Visayas Sea with its gentle, orange rays.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Fire from the sea! This is one of the most spectacular sunset photos that we’ve ever taken. It also meant that despite the terrible tragedy, the Philippines still has lots of magnificent wonders that can leave you enthralled and breathless.

Tabang Para sa Isla

There was still some light when we reached Malapascua.  Supertyphoon Yolanda swept through the island like a scythe. No house, establishment, or structure was spared from damage.

Tabang Para sa Isla
(Photo by Sien Atnafla)

But storm or no storm, it was business as usual for this madame as well as other entrepreneurs in this island. You have to admire these folks’ determination to stand up amidst such a huge catastrophe.

Tabang Para sa Isla
(Photo by Sien Atnafla)

Members of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, headed by Sir Chad, were able to secure some rooms a few hundred yards across the Exotic Island Dive Resort, one of the sponsors for this relief operation. While some members of the team went around the island to distribute coupons (for better control in the distribution of relief goods, the team decided to give out coupons to families), the rest of us pitched tents, ate dinner, and prepared for the night.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Several members of the group went to the communities around the island to distribute coupons for tomorrow’s relief operation.

Tabang Para sa Isla
(Photo by Erin Elarcosa)

Sir Sien and the others prepared a sumptuous dinner for the other trekkers.

Tabang Para sa Isla

A New Day, A Lovely Sunrise, A New Hope

Sweetie and I woke up very early, around 4:30 AM, to witness the famed Malapascua sunrise. Indeed, except for a couple of 24-hour guards, we woke up even earlier than the staff in the resort!

Tabang Para sa Isla

We suddenly understood why Malapascua’s sunrises are so magical. As the sun rose higher, the colors changed. One minute we were staring at a gentle glow; the next, we were looking at a fiery sky. Simply spectacular!

Tabang Para sa Isla

“The rain does not always fall
Fingers of gray clouds unclasp after sometime
A mother weeps for her dead child
A man curses for his ruined dwelling

But every day, the sun rises, an unstoppable event
Showering the land with golden light
So does life; its brilliance will always come
A new hope, a new morning, a new life”

Tabang Para sa Isla

Early risers! As the sun rose higher, we saw these little kids frolicking in the water with their parents watching over them while enjoying the sunrise.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Life goes on, and business as usual in this part of Malapascua. A staff member of Exotic Island Dive Resort went about his chores amidst the rising sun.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Staff members started to clean the beachfront in anticipation for guests.

Tabang Para sa Isla

While many of the verdant palms were stripped off their crowns, Exotic Island Dive Resort suffered relatively minimal damage. Most of the structures are still standing and bore signs of wind damage. But these “mishaps” don’t stop local and foreign tourists to visit the resort and book their adventure dives there.

Tabang Para sa Isla

One by one, our teammates started to exit their tents to watch the beautiful sunrise and to welcome the day.

Tabang Para sa Isla

After rinsing ourselves from a refreshing early morning swim, we went back to our tent. The photo below clearly shows the extent of damage that Yolanda brought to the resorts, businesses, and homes here.

Tabang Para sa Isla

We cooked a big breakfast. We know we were going to have a long, exhausting day, so we needed all the energy we can get.

Tabang Para sa Isla

After an hour, breakfast was done. Everybody, dig in! Yes, you too, doggie. Oh, speaking of the resident dog, the fellow insisted that he’d take his place right beside us. Most stray dogs would usually scamper away when shooed away. This little guy simply moved his butt slightly to give way so I can have my breakfast space!

Tabang Para sa Isla

Back on Their Feet and Getting Ready for Tourists

What we really like about Visayans, particularly Cebuanos, is that they don’t wait for assistance to get back on their feet. Make no mistake; we appreciate a helping hand. However, if no help arrives, Visayans simply exclaim, “To hell with it!” then start to begin their lives anew. That principle in life was shown evidently in Malapascua.

After breakfast, Sweetie and I had time to go around the beachfront before the relief-goods distribution starts. We found resort employees clearing the beachfront of tendrils of dead roots of coconut trees. Those roots were exposed as strong typhoon winds blew away the sand. Sweetie lent a hand in pulling out the roots.

Tabang Para sa Isla

The adjacent resort, Evolution, sustained heavy damage. Roofs of the cabins were ripped off, and there’s even a structure that completely collapsed. The original bar was wiped out, but resourceful employees got a piece of canvas tarp and set up an open-air bar that faces the sea.

Tabang Para sa Isla

We admire these people’s resilience and initiative to do something about the situation rather than sit and wait for something to happen. Resort employees started applying anti-rust primer to brand-new GI sheets while others helped in constructing a carpenter’s shed.

Tabang Para sa Isla

The exceptionally strong winds of Supertyphoon Yolanda also generated massive waves and underwater currents that damaged Malapascua’s delicate and prized reefs that attract divers all over the world. To repair the damage, they install artificial reefs in the seabed.

This type of artificial reef comprises of bamboo and dried palm stalks. When finished, this will be taken to the deep sea where it will be sunk. In time, corals will grow on the frame. Also, its design allows the natural sea current to flow through the reef.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Relief Operation

When we got to the relief station, there were already many locals lining up. At 9 AM, the sun was already burning the beach, but the locals persisted. What great strength!

Tabang Para sa Isla

The team prepared the relief goods, materials for the distribution, and medicines for the medical mission. Last-minute briefings were conducted.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Sir Chad gave last-minute instructions to the security personnel of Exotic Island Dive Resort to ensure a smooth, peaceful operation.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Of course, we couldn’t forget thanking the sponsors that made this event very successful.

Tabang Para sa Isla

At 9:15 AM, the distribution of relief goods started. Families got several kilos of rice, canned goods, matches, candles, and water. Check out the smile on that madame’s face. It’s a great feeling knowing that you have made someone happy.

The team’s objective was to provide relief packs for the 1,200 families that reside in Malapascua Island.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Some families who were severely affected by the typhoon (i.e. lost everything) were given priority coupons. Those who got the priority coupons received tarps and used clothes in addition to the donated foodstuff.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Bags of rice, canned goods, and other household items will be enough to sustain a family for a couple of days.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Sweetie prepared bottles of water while the other ladies did their own assigned tasks for efficient distribution.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Some of the ladies segregated and bundled used clothes so they can be properly distributed. Some of us quipped that we had enough used clothes to start an ukay-ukay business. Hehehe!

Tabang Para sa Isla

Children were not forgotten. They were given loot bags containing candies, lollipops, biscuits, and other goodies.

Tabang Para sa Isla

The little ones were definitely happy. Candies and biscuits may offer little or no physical nourishment. But they provide mental and spiritual sustenance through the thought that someone cares for them.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Wow! It looked like there’s a town fiesta in Exotic Island Dive Resort. It looked like the entire populace of Malapascua was here!

Tabang Para sa Isla

Look at that really long line! It extended to around three beaches away! It was very hot, but people persevered against the oppressive sun to get the much-needed relief goods. It actually turned out that we had more relief goods than needed.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Sir Barry and a few of our guys stationed at regular intervals ensured a smooth flow and an orderly line of people. They maintained the line and made sure that no one cuts through.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Sir Chad and security personnel of the resort ensured the safety of the operation.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Locals who received their packs couldn’t resist showing their happiness and relief. The feeling of knowing that you’ve helped someone is indescribably wonderful.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Medical Mission

There was a separate line of people who needed medical attention. Among them were children, pregnant women, elderly people and men who incurred injuries.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Dr. Guenter Braun, a German physician, went straight from Germany to the Philippines to participate in a medical mission. Through his contact in our team, he joined us and offered his services and medicines free of charge.

Together with his assistants, they treated infants and children who were sick or who incurred wounds.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Dr. Braun tirelessly treated senior citizens who complained discomfort and pain. He gave the patients practical recommendations and appropriate medication. To facilitate better communication between the doctor and his patient, two lady assistants acted as his interpreters.

Tabang Para sa Isla

This lady complained of headaches and body pain. Upon diagnosis, it turned out that this lady was suffering from high blood pressure. She couldn’t suppress a giggle when Dr. Braun recommended that she should do some light exercises. Her idea of exercise was something to the lines of aerobics, and there’s no aerobics class being held in this secluded island. The lady was a jokester too; she remarked that Dr. Braun is handsome, and she’d like to have a date with him. Hehehe!

Tabang Para sa Isla

This young man needed to have his wound cleaned and to have an anti-tetanus shot. He got injured when he stepped on a rusty nail.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Pregnant women also came to Dr. Braun for consultation to ensure good health for both mothers and the little treasures in their womb.

Tabang Para sa Isla

This guy was in a whole lot of pain. Dr. Braun checked him out and recommended that he get an X-ray as soon as possible.

Tabang Para sa Isla

The guy also had a few sores and infected wounds on his legs. Dr. Braun treated and dressed his wounds.

Tabang Para sa Isla

A Job Well Done, A Fresh Start for Malapascua

The relief operation and medical mission ended at around 2 PM. It was time for a bit of well-deserved relaxation. Some members of the team went to the beach to enjoy the clear, cool waters before packing up and heading home.

Tabang Para sa Isla

As a gesture of goodwill and appreciation, the resort provided us a free boat ride back to Maya port.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Look at that crystal clear water! After the first few days of the storm, the water was murky due to the sand and silt that was violently stirred up by the strong wind and current. When we went there, the sand and silt have already subsided; Mother Nature’s healing process has begun.

Tabang Para sa Isla

This is the sun-kissed, spectacular beauty of Malapascua that irrevocably draws divers and vacationers from all over the world. A few weeks after the supertyphoon, the island has started to recover from the disaster. Even in the face of terrible devastation, Malapascua exhibits resilience and grandeur, both reflected in the strength of its citizens and in the splendor of its natural surroundings.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Goodbye, Malapascua. You and your people are truly magnificent. You surely deserve to be named as one of the best dive sites and vacation spots in the world. When you recover from this ordeal in a few months, we will surely come back to discover your coral reefs, thresher sharks, and other wonders.

Tabang Para sa Isla

Congratulations to the members of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, Visayan Trekkers Forum, as well as the volunteers who unselfishly devoted their time, money, and effort in making this endeavor of love and caring successful!

Tabang Para sa Isla

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About Adrenaline Romance

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

16 comments on “Tabang Para Sa Isla: A Relief Operation and Medical Mission in Malapascua

  1. Bravo…bravo…good job guys!

    • Thank you, sir. A few months from now, we are planning to go back to Malapascua to check out and promote tourism there. Malapascua is a world-renowned diver’s haven, and we’re sure it will become even better after it recovers from Supertyphoon Yolanda.

  2. WOW !!!
    FANTASTIC ! Congrats guys.
    So blessed and happy i was part of the event.:-). .

  3. hala no………job well done mga guys…

  4. I salute people who spend time helping others by doing this kind of mission.

  5. Very good of you guys to volunteer, very nice pictures as well.
    Thank you for the good works you do.

  6. you guys are awesome! thank you for your love and kind thought for the people of Malapascua Island. I was praying for all this to happen, and God answers prayer…keep up the good work! God in heaven will reward you for everything you do…

    • Hi Macmac,

      Thank you, but we were just a small part of the endeavor. This was a team effort by ECO, VTF, freelance outdoorspeople, nurses, and a doctor. We decided to hold our relief operations in Malapascua since it’s isolated from the mainland, which means that they have less than what is distributed in the northern part of mainland Cebu.

      • Hello Adrenaline Romance

        I agree with you. Transportation was really the big part of the problem. I just hope and pray for the best, and for the people that lives on that Island. Anyhow, salute to all volunteers who take their journey to help the Island.. (; “)

  7. Well done, guys. Certainly looks as if you packed your days full to get that stuff out there!

    • Hi Bronwyn Joy,

      Oh, yes. The entire team spent several nights repacking the stuff and arranging for transportation to send all the donations to Malapascua Island.

      The nice thing is that almost everyone we approached cooperated with the endeavor. For instance, Exotic Dive Resort sponsored our stay and sent a boat (free of charge) to pick up the participants and the donations from the mainland. When the relief drive was done, they took us back to the mainland, free of charge. 🙂

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