It’s my last morning so have come into the office early to say my goodbyes as everyone else is heading to the waterfalls for an excursion, there were a few tears shed! I’ve spent the morning planning the next stage of my trip, and have finally booked a hotel in Singapore for this evening, it cost me the same as I’ve spent in almost two weeks in the Philippines, as much as it’s expensive to get here, I’ve hardly spent anything since I arrived. I also saw a pig being taken to slaughter, it was squealing it’s head off and when I came back out 30 minutes later it was already being spit roasted over an open fire outside the office!
Karen and I were flying at similar times out of Tacloban so Nanay and Tatay drove us to the airport with four of the volunteer coordinators, I really struggled to hold back the tears (again!), I’m very sad to leave! My flight was delayed so Philippine Airlines bumped me onto Karen’s flight at 3pm, but it was delayed due to a backlog in Manilla with Pope Francis being there, so I didn’t arrive in Manilla until 6.30pm, with my connection to Singapore from Terminal 2 in another part of town at 7.30pm! A lovely man helped me out and found me a taxi, the driver was incredible – he put his emergency lights on, swerved in and out of traffic whilst honking his horn at everyone, it was rush hour and we made the journey in 15 minutes, probably would’ve taken 45 minutes on a usual day! I ran to the check in desk and managed to jump the queue and spoke to the manager, she was amazing also and got me on the flight even though it was already boarding! I ran through to the gate and thought I’d missed it – but no one else had got on it yet, and I even had time for a smoke in one of the hot boxes they have in the airport! Needless to say we were delayed by 30 minutes so I could’ve taken it a little easier… After a 3 hour flight to Singapore, I jumped on my airport transfer and arrived in my hotel at 1am – I decided that I needed a day of rest so I paid a little extra to stay at the hotel until 6pm, giving me time to sit by the pool in the sunshine! Only took one picture today – I needed to give my eyes and brain a rest!
I’m really going to miss everyone here, and I WILL return one day to see how the place has progressed. SALAMAT TACLOBAN!!
My last full day today in Tacloban, so the whole group has headed to the nutrition project, where the volunteers cooked spaghetti, pork and vegetables, and also had a whip around in order to provide a second meal of oatmeal with bananas. The children there love it when we arrive, they know they’re going to get some food but they love to play and are crazy for having their pictures taken, I’ve taken almost 9,000 photographs on this leg of the trip alone! On returning to Tacloban I headed downtown with Kirby and Karen for a farewell lunch (it’s Karen’s last day too) and to grab a few gifts for everyone back home. We ate at a place called Chewlove, and I had a burger and fries (the first bread and potato I’ve eaten in two weeks!) accompanied by some of the nicest ketchup I’ve ever had! In the afternoon it was games time with all the local children teaching us how they play – they have no games consoles or the like, so it was three legged races and blowing elastic bands from the step – games that need minimal equipment but are just as fun to play! In the evening I took Nanay, Tatay, Marc and Marianne to a restaurant downtown called Ocho – it’s Nanay and Tatay’s favourite seafood place, we ate like kings (chilli shrimp, grilled fish, beef kebabs, fish soup and a huge plate of scallops), it was all so fresh and the whole bill came to £35, reckon it would have cost at least £200 in the UK! After returning we watched the Pope’s arrival on television, so many people in Manilla cheering him in, but the thing I remember the most was his skullcap blowing off as he stepped from the plane, as cool as a cucumber he just carried on as though it hadn’t happened! I finished the day with a beer with some of the other volunteers, I’ve met so many amazing people here, and have been offered a place to stay in several countries I’ve not traveled to before so will be definitely taking them up on the offer! Going to be hard to say goodbye in the morning…
It’s been raining all week and has continued today, so have spent the morning doing even more editing and writing, was hoping this trip kept me away from the computer a little but I’ve probably been on it just as much as home! Kirby ran another cooking workshop for the Nanays, this time it was rice pudding! Afterwards I went with the French Canadians to the VfV dump site project, where they educate the children who live and work on the dump. It was so sad to see, the people who are there spend their days collecting plastic and metal that has been thrown away, it’s a daily battle just to put a little food on the table, and disease is rife, completely expected when you’re there 24 hours a day. We also visited the school where John (from VfV) teaches the children, it was a lovely project to visit and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met! It’s also been my last Nanay Lea dinner – I will most definitely miss her cooking, will be (trying) to replicate some of her dishes when I return home.
I’ve just had a confirmation that an image from my trip to the Philippines has been featured in the Guardian Witness section covering Pope Francis’s trip to South East Asia. See the page here. I have to leave today as my original flight tomorrow was cancelled and so was brought forward a day, I’m absolutely gutted as sure there would have been some amazing photos to be had, millions of people expected on the streets!
This morning I travelled with Alli (Helsinki, Finland) to a boys shelter north of Tacloban, where she’s been leading workshops in art and crafts, gardening and sports. The boys there are all orphans for a variety of reasons, and are aged between 5 and 14. As well as taking photographs of the activities, I was able to get involved for the first time, including thinking that my paper aeroplane skills would go down well, only for one boy to completely outdo me by making an origami Batmobile and a Bat plane that floated through the air! I also gave the boys my camera for them to take some pictures of the activities and they absolutely loved it. One boy loved the camera so much that he made me a loom bracelet and necklace, a really lovely moment and I’ll keep them forever! (Finally got a few photos of me too taken by the boys!) I gave the children a Tadcaster Albion scarf and the woman who runs the shelter asked for a photograph with it as she said she might be able to find a boyfriend from Tadcaster if everyone back home sees her with it!! I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to go to many of the projects and so have seen much more than those working on one project alone. After returning to the office I accompanied JR around all of the homestays, to take pictures of the houses and the people that the volunteers stay with, so everyone who comes here will have a better idea of what to expect when they arrive. It’s been raining constantly all day so it’s been another evening of catching up with editing my images and writing my blog entries, and keeping an eye on the developments around Pope Francis’s visit on Saturday, as the city is going crazy for it, with road closures and many flights either cancelled or changed, I hope I can get my flight on Friday!
The rain is coming down hard today, so I spent the morning at the office catching up with emails and making plans for when I reach Australia, I’m there for 10 days and I’ve managed to sort out eight nights accommodation with people I know there, really can’t wait to see everyone! I’m also trying to find out if my flight on Friday is going ahead – Pope Francis comes to the Philippines on Thursday and visits Tacloban on Saturday, so my original flight out of Leyte was cancelled and no one really seems to know what’s happening so it’s a little bit up in the air! The Philippines is a nation of 100 million people and 80% of them are Catholic so it’s a huge event here, it’s constantly all over the news and Tacloban is beginning to fill up with journalists, tourists and the huge police presence required for security (Tacloban only has 309 police and more than 7,000 are coming here from other parts of the country so every home nearby is either accommodating them or letting them use their wash rooms). It’s been raining all day so it’s not great for pictures anyway, and I’m exhausted after our hike yesterday so having an easy day is no bad thing at all! In the afternoon I drove with the French Canadian group to the local university for a presentation on their schooling methods, it’s in a part of Leyte just outside of Tacloban and was particularly hit hard by Yolanda, many of the buildings here were completely destroyed and the devastation is everywhere to see. I headed back to the office and taught a few of the VfV staff some Yorkshire terms in case anyone from there comes to help here in the future – my particular favourite was teaching Princess ‘Ay up mate’ – she got the accent down perfectly! After another amazing Nanay Lea dinner (we all missed her cooking over the weekend massively!) we popped to Robinsons Mall to pick up a few gifts, and headed home for an early night. I’m getting used to going to bed early and rising before 6am, something I really want to keep up when I return home.
It’s the weekend so I’ve joined the French Canadians on their excursion to Maasin City in the south of Leyte, we drove for almost 5 hours to reach our destination, and I decided to give the camera (and my eyes and brain) a well earned rest on the journey, and listened to some music for the first time in a week and really take in the breathtaking scenery. The drivers here travel so fast and what can only be deemed recklessly, there’s no traffic lights, few road markings and many of the roads (even the major ones) are in a bad state of repair, but I’ve still not seen a crash or even a scrape, I suppose if everyone drive crazily then everyone knows to be fully alert all of the time! We drove up over the mountains and arrived in Maasin, where we quickly changed and grabbed a boat to Canigao Island which was absolute paradise – white sand, palm trees and a greeny-blue sea that was the warmest I’ve ever felt, stunning! I had a walk around the island with Winston and JR which took about 15 minutes, you can stay here if you like and I would have definitely been up for sleeping on the beach! After a few hours here we headed to a sea food restaurant next to the beach and I shared a kilo of sweet and sour shrimp with Daniel, before returning to the hotel for my first hot shower in over 10 days (the bathroom at my homestay only has a bucket of cold water!) and heading to bed, where I slept solidly for 8 hours, it’s so cool by the sea so slept amazingly well, very much needed! On the Sunday I rose at 5.30am and had a great breakfast of bacon and eggs (I”ve had no ketchup since I left the UK – for people that know me that’s very unusual!) and witnessed the locals coming out at dawn to search for shellfish while the tide was out, and also one of the best rainbows I’ve ever seen, it reflected in the water to create and awesome sight. Afterwards we headed to Hanginan Mountain nearby, it’s a place of pilgramage for many Filipinas, but I hadn’t been told we were going for a trek so I only had my flip-flops! It was raining at the start so the track was muddy and wet, and half way up my shoes broke and couldn’t be fixed, so I made it up the rest of the way barefoot! After reaching the top Daniel commented that I was probably the first Yorkshireman to scale the mountain barefoot (although a lot of it was paved), I think he may have been correct! At the top I tried to fix my shoes but as I toiled away a local man approached me and gave me his spare pair of flip-flops and wouldn’t except any cash for them, so I made a donation to the church where I was also blessed with the Black Nazarene. After heading back down we drove to Bontoc where Winston grew up, it was fiesta day so there was an incredible party atmosphere, we ate lunch at his grandmothers and then joined the dancing procession along the promenade while the sun blazed overhead. A really fantastic weekend and superb to see some more of Leyte island – I’d love to return here and explore some more! Everyone here is so pleased to see us, we’re constantly being asked to have our pictures taken with the locals, it’s really off the beaten track so they don’t have masses of visitors and so welcome us with open arms.
This morning I left my homestay at 6.30am to meet up with Catherine (Copenhagen, Denmark) to document her working on the build-a-home scheme in Tacloban City, just around the corner from the Volunteer for Visayans office. I stayed with her and the family she’s working with for an hour, to grab a few shots of her helping the family rebuilding their home following the typhoon. She’s struggled a little as non of the family speak English, so has had to rely on watching and learning and trying to help out where possible! In the afternoon I accompanied the French Canadians again for a visit to the Commission Of Human Rights to the Philippines, where they gave us a presentation around the human rights within the Philippines, and specifically here in Tacloban. Afterwards our Jeepneys took us to the San Juanico Bridge, which was built as a gift from President Marcos to his wife Imelda (read the full story here – very interesting!). After a well needed siesta a group of us headed downtown to the Pop Up bar (a previously touring bar in a van but now in a permanent position) as a few of the volunteers had finished their placements and were heading onto the next legs of their journeys. It was full of the NGOs that are based here, they played great music (including the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack which I’ve been listening to loads while I’ve been here) and a few San Miguels costing about 70p each, pretty cheap for a city centre bar! It’s the weekend tomorrow so we’re heading to Massin City in the south of the island for a two day break, we have a hotel booked so really looking forward to a couple of days rest and recuperation!
It’s Thursday and today I accompanied the French Canadian group to a teaching programme out in the sticks – we travelled for about 45 minutes in a Jeepney (gathering an amazing collection of these – will post a seperate album of these alone!) and spent the morning teaching the children English and French. They are so amazed to see us we’re like celebrities, and they provided us with a second breakfast of noodles and liver, with Sprite to drink, difficult to procure and expensive treat where we were located! I’ve been able to get some great shots of Tacloban and it’s people from the Jeepney windows, there’s so much life on every corner, there’s always something happening and it’s a photographer’s dream to be here, I could do with about a year and that’s just in Tacloban! In the afternoon we were taken for a presentation at the Tacloban City Police Department, and given a tour around both the remand and permanent prisons. We were taken straight into the main area so were surrounded by serious criminals, but many of us felt as though we were looking down at the prisoners and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Some of the prisoners are kept there while they await trial, the conditions were not the best and some of the inmates would walk free if found innocent, but could end up staying there for up to three years before being seen before a judge. In the evening I drank a couple of beers with Stefan, Manon, Daniel and Lucie (the French Canadian group leaders) before heading for another superb dinner by Nanay Lea, this time we ate stir fried beef, fried fish and vegetables in coconut milk, before heading to bed at 9pm. I’ve been rising at 6am every day so early nights are a must! It was also the first time I’ve needed to use a sheet as it’s been a little cooler overnight and was very welcome indeed!
I’ve been shadowing the French Canadians for the last few days, they are a group of 15 and so have numerous projects to work on and it’s meant I’ve had a variety of locations to shoot at. Today they started their assignments and I headed with Daniel and his group to a new nutrition project up in the hills, a huge amount of people were displaced by the typhoon and it’s subsequent storm surge, so they lost their homes and possessions and headed to higher ground to avoid such an occurrence again. VfV provide nutrition programmes to such communities, and today’s was aimed at malnourished four and five year olds. We stopped at the store and picked up some pork, vegetables and spaghetti, they were given a budget of 600 pesos (about £10) and this needed to feed 35 children, but in reality there were many more who went without. Most of the children would only eat that one meal that day, so the people there are massively reliant on the charity providing food for their children. It was definitely the most humbling experience of my life, seeing how happy the people there were even though they lived in ramshackle houses and had next to nothing to eat. Afterwards we headed back to the office where Kirby (from Delaware, USA) was leading a cookery class to promote vegetarian cooking for the volunteers at their homestays as the Filipinas don’t understand the concept of not eating meat! Then the whole volunteering team had a Waray-Waray language lesson (waray literally translates as ‘nothing’) followed by the French Canadians carrying out their daily English class for the local children. We’ve had another amazing meal cooked by Nanay Lea, including whole chicken livers which were surprisingly delicious!