Cagayan de Oro – The City of Golden Friendship January 5-9 (plus 9-11).
After hearing that CBF would be funding a disaster relief project of Cagayan do Oro (CDO) we called a meeting of Bukal Care and Counseling Center (BCCC). Bukal had taken a small team down the CDO the week before to assess and train pastors in debriefing techniques. This first trip was funded by Springhill Baptist Church, Virginia.
BCCC was started three years ago by Bob and Celia Munson along with Joel Aguirre and other volunteers in partnership with Virginia Baptists in response to disasters in Luzon.
The original plan of the trip was to debrief and train public school teachers along with local pastors in NOVA in the mornings and give pastoral support and debriefing to survivors still living in shelters around the city.
Plans changed when on Thursday morning (the morning we left for CDO) the WHO announced an immediate stop to all religious groups offering counseling and debriefing. We were told that WHO did an assessment (or was going on word of a Unicef assessment) that religious groups claiming to be doing psychological support were actually directly evangelizing traumatized persons. One specific activity of groups was showing Christian oriented films at night designed to influence a conversion experience.
Our local contact Pastor Cleto Bacarro went ahead and scheduled the NOVA training at Grace Christian School – a private school that became an emergency shelter the night of the storm and who’s administration and staff jumped into action providing emergency aid to hundreds of people who were feeing the rising flood waters the night of Dec. 16th and early morning of Dec. 17th.
Delayed flights brought us to CDO by the evening of the 5th at which time we had enough time for dinner and an orientation with Ptr. Cleto.
Early in the morning of the 6th we conducted training of 65 teachers and pastors in psychological first aid at Oro Christian Grace School. Our local contact at the school was Jeanette Li, the vice principal. She was quite wonderful in accommodating us. In the afternoon we facilitated debriefing in small groups.
Also on the 6th we got a tour of Isla de Oro – one Barangay of CDO which was completely wiped out. Located on a sandbar inside the river basin, about 1500 people from this area are still missing or are confirmed dead. There we talked with the Philippine National Police who were securing the area. They had found a dead 1 year old the day before (3 weeks after the storm). We also talked with the owner of a house, one of only a handful, that was still standing after the storm. He told of the night of the storm and how about 10 families (about 60 people) climbed into the large mango tree in his yard. The local media are calling this tree the “tree of life”.
The morning of the 7th we continued with Nova training at Cagayan Gospel Church and were joined by an additional 25 ministers from the areas from various churches and NGO’s. Cindy taught a unit on working with traumatized students and using developmentally appropriate activities which would allow the students to process their trauma and help the teachers transition back into the school’s curriculum. Ryan taught on the grief process, giving everyone a framework for understanding the emotional process at work after trauma.
It is difficult to describe the different levels of trauma among directly effected and indirectly effected survivors. Everyone agrees that the water rose so quickly that they barely had time to react. Typhoon Sendong had intense wind, but everyone was surprised at how little rain was falling in Cagayan de Oro. There are hundreds of thousands of people now who have stories of how their homes and churches were flooded. There are a few hundred stories of parents who were not able to save all their children. Everyone knows of someone who they haven’t heard from. The fliers of photos of missing children plastered all over the shelters are heartbreaking.
I spent time with one pastor whose nephew was found floating in the ocean on a 5 gallon water container 16 hours after the storm had passed. His nephew is alive and reunited with him mom in one of the shelters.
Our group was credentialed by the KEDRN (Kagayan Evangelical Disaster Relief Network) an official agency approved by the DSWD, Dept of Ed, and the Red Cross – who’s purpose was to coordinate all the efforts of the various mission groups and church related donations which had started pouring in.
Saturday evening we visited the Tent City set up by the Philippine Navy and donated by the Shelter Box Foundation and Rotary Club International. By Saturday the 7th, 400 shelters had been set up with 300 families relocated there. The DSWD had just taken responsibility for the community where about 3000 people were now living (expecting about 1000 more from shelters). They were still installing electricity as the sun set. By “chance” we ran into a little girl at the tent city who’d been involved at Pastor Cleto’s church. She took us to her family’s tent. The Bulisac family had been relocated to the tent city an hour earlier. They were disoriented and recovering from a chickenpox outbreak in their shelter. We spent time with the family who was overwhelmed by our visit – feeling a little less lost in the sea of identical white tents. They had water but no food and didn’t know when dinner would be distributed. Our team shared with them a bag of bread, fruit, and 4 chicken dinners with rice (this is all we had since we weren’t expecting to encounter hungry people at the tent city).
We had several conversations with officials who were frustrated that government agencies and NGO’s were not able to solve the problem of housing – quality of life at the tent city is better than in the shelters – but neither are permanent and there are still about 8000 families who need to be relocated to permanent housing.
I also spoke with several frustrated relief workers who were angry and broken hearted at the national and local governments inability to respond in a timely manner and coordinate with all the NGO’s offering aid. It had become common knowledge that the severe leptospirosis outbreak that started killing people two weeks after the stormwould have been easily prevented the prophylactic doxycyline had been distributed instead of sitting in boxes.
On Sunday morning our team members were distributed among different churches. Cindy and I went to Home Church which is pastored by Cleto Bacarro. It was their first day of worship in their new space. After worship we provided two sessions of small group debriefing. 3-5 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
Our team made the decision for three members to stay a few more days in order to coordinate with the WHO and offer some support to Iligan City, about two hours away. They will return tonight (Wednesday night). It takes 12 hours to get from Baguio to CDO and 14 to Iligan City.
Cindy and I, along with Celia Munson returned to Baguio on Monday the 9th.
7 member team
10 Family Relocation Kits
Training of 80 teachers and ministers
Debriefing of 140