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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At Villamore Airbase...relief efforts (Nov 17, 2013 and beyond)

A very very late posting...but still an important post. Read on my friends...

I have been busy with a lot of things but among all that I've done and I think this will count as a life-changing and notable factor in my mind. It's so engrained even as I write this...it will be noted as sign that what I am doing is all in a Higher Being's will.

Oh my…I'm getting ahead of myself...I think the best thing is to do a timeline instead.

November 06, 2013
By November 6, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) assigned the storm the local name Yolanda as it approached their area of responsibility.

[NOTE: Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, was an exceptionally powerful tropical cyclone that devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,069 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the fourth strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed.]

November 07, 2013
Typhoon Hailan (Yolanda) made landfall to Eastern Samar. Devastation started.

November 08, 2013
A weakened Haiyan, with its core disrupted by interaction with the Philippines, emerged over the South China Sea late on November 8 and left the Philippines.

November 11, 2013
The provinces of Aklan, Capiz, Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte, Palawan, and Samar, were placed under a state of national calamity, allowing the government to use state funds for relief and rehabilitation and to control prices of basic goods. Manila weather was still decently favorable with some showers but definitely not a typhoon compared to what our Visayas area was experiencing.

November 12, 2013
I left for Hong Kong for a short trip. Little did I know that I would be working offshore as part of the Breast Feeding Pinay’s relief efforts.

November 14, 2013
A correspondent from the BBC reported Tacloban to be a "war zone," with tanks and armed military personnel entering the city. To ensure the safety of the citizens of Tacloban, families are being flown from affected areas to Villamor Airbase (VAB).  The first batch of these came that evening and a lot were asking for milk formula.

Doc Lei Alfonso came up with a system on how to process the situation because we have to protect these babies and formula is never the solution and especially in calamities. She got in touch with Mrs. Ona, head of the generals’ wives, who wanted to know how to feed the infants. This is where help was provided.  Volunteers from Breastfeeding Pinays (BFP) and Latch Philippines were immediately immobilized upon the confirmation that VAB will be the hub of arrival of Tacloban survivors via C130 cargo places.  Both groups, BFP and LATCH, joined forces to set up an area for mothers and babies/toddler (0-2 years old) that can be a place of refuge.  The volunteer moms of both groups would help survivor moms and babies on breastfeeding, health checks, nutrition, etc. There will be a trained expert on hand; in case, there is a need for intervention like teaching how to cup feed, latch, etc.

November 15, 2013
While I was still in HKG, I was coordinating that afternoon for diaper deliveries via a diaper agent/contact of ours. From ordering sizes and number of pieces to maximize the contribution budget to finding transporting to ensure the fastest delivery date/time we could do. I was on edge all afternoon and I remember “biting my nails” in ensuring that we can get the whole thing set-up ASAP. I was thankful that things did worked out in the end like contacts were able to get the orders done, delivery arranged by another BFP friend, CW, with the proper schedule, long distance connections worked out well and all done before my next appointment in Hong Kong. It was exhausting but definitely felt the urgency of the moment and all the other mother volunteers were ready to step-up-the-plate to lend support, logistics and knowledge.

Aside from the diaper donation, I sent a heads-up to my whole family that I hope they would support me with regards to anything that would be needed later for relief efforts. Later requests were as random as tarpaulins, hot pots, rechargeable lamps, water dispensers, mosquito repellants, beddings, pillows…you name it, we welcomed it with open arms!

November 17-23, 2013
The Nanay Bayanihan was formed as a place of refuge for mothers and babies 0-2 years old with the assistance of LATCH, BFP, DOH, Villamore General Wives' Association, while waiting for the survivor's family members to pick them up, contact their relatives in Manila before pick-up or transit to another location. It provided food, shelter and relief goods to these families who have lost everything.
The below are some of the scenes between the 17th to the 23rd night shifts (10pm to about 3am to 4am) that I’ve done. I still can see some of the faces of those mothers and babies that just pinched my heart as I see how resilient they were and took everything in strides. Most of them were so shy that I had to be the ones to pull them over or I would go directly to the grandstands of Villamore Air Base.

We (BFP and Latch volunteers) instructed the habit that when the C130 planes landed, we would go directly to the grandstands, instead of having DSWD workers refer mothers/toddlers to us, directly ask them to come to the relief shelter/area. It was an effort but it was also a good thing because there were so many mothers who need to change their babies, get away from the crowds to rest, breastfeed in private, re-lactation, etc.

I have to say, I was in awe with the sheer volume of people but also of the huge cargo planes and the relief goods, people around the area.  Individual/Single, couple/families. Young and Old. Male and Female.  Poor / Middle Class, etc …disasters does not choose any type.

It was exciting most of the time but of course, there were nights where I was so tired from my day chores and ready to give up…but I would step back and think about what those arriving moms and babies went through was nothing to anything my day could have been...this helped motivate me to go up to the grandstands area for weary moms and babies that just needed a place of refuge for a few minutes, hours or days. I sought the help of the runners, DSWD marshals, announcers, etc to keep on telling everyone that there is a Nanay Bayanihan tent who offer mothers with babies 0-2 years old to rest and change their babies/toddlers.
Each group of people helping came and set-up their own tents like mushrooms! I wasn't able to take a photo of the 1st Nanay Bayanihan tent.
There were a few survivor moms who would reluctantly come and ask for formula, cloths, food and diapers.
Little is really advertised that UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) strongly urged all who are involved in funding, planning and implementing the emergency response in the Philippines to avoid unnecessary illness and death by promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Community leaders are called on to monitor and report any donations that may undermine breastfeeding.  This is targeted at infant formula distribution. Any formula milk or milk substitute donations are to be coursed through the Department of Health (DOH).  To add also, UN Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) also noted that Non-breastfed infants are more likely to need hospital treatment and more likely to die from infectious disease post-flooding.


One of those running restless nights, I was able to bump into a ex-colleague also MikeyB that totally caught me off-guard since I know he had a really tough day job (banker) and still he was able to help out with so much gusto that I couldn’t give being tired as a Stay-At-Home-Mom as an excuse not to give the same energy to the weary survivors. It really woke me up and re-direction to my purpose there.
I was fortunate to experience a few wet nursing opportunities and re-lactating assistance since the moms have one or another are not available, either mom was asleep, had gave up on breastfeeding and resorted to giving the bottle (re-lactating was being done at our tent), and those who were left orphaned.  I was having flashbacks on the Dr Newman seminars and the book club that BFP (including my past experiences) as I help re-lactate and assist in feeding these mother’s babies. Though I am sure I would forget their names, the faces I surely won’t.


The transfer back from Aguinaldo to VAB had quite a few glitches and laced with controversies and stress but somehow, God had His Plan all lined up for all of us. Things worked out well in the end with the help of Sen. PC who assisted us while our tents were being transported for the next day.
 

When God plans...He plans BIG! From a mere 3 connecting tent, to a huge "mansion"! Nanay Bayanihan continues on...

 
I will surely miss
(1) nightly updates between shifts and what happened during the day, etc;
(2) the home-cooked food offered to volunteers by chefs in “truck style” operations;
 
(3) the families (mom and babies) that I met who shared stories one way or another;
(4) the cute foreigner volunteers from all over;
(5) the repacking of customized lootbags/relief goods per recipients – it was shopping on a per baby/toddler that came in. We really got some awesome donors with great fashion and practical sense.  Generosity was so evident.
All in all, the whole experience:-
1.)    Strengthen my faith to God, fellowmen – all in the goodness of the group of people around me and my family. There was never anything that wasn’t provided at His own time.
2.)    Reaffirmed my conviction in Breastfeeding and Babywearing. It is all for the betterment of future society and the ones that will be with my children.
3.)    Reinforced my knowledge with passing on Breastfeeding, Relactating, Baby Care information to mothers that need it most.
4.)    Enabled me to experience being a wet nurse and compare bottle-fed versus direct feeding babies.
5.)    Gave me the opportunity to meet, mingle and forge friendships/connections with some awesome wonderful people (doctors, wet nurses, fellow mothers, etc) in Arugaan, BFP and Latch Philippines!

These are friends for life!

2 comments:

cris said...

This is amazing!!! YOU are amazing! Thank God for people like you.

~currant7 said...

Thank you, Cris!!!