Recently I caught up online with friend and fund raiser for Typhoon Yolanda victims- Coolie Dread. I’ve mentioned before the ‘Typhoon Yolanda vital relief and livelihood missions’ group before, comprised of locally based people from Cebu/ Leyte, doing great short term and long term relief work for the victims; Coolie Dread is one of those people involved.
I thought it would be interesting, having been to Leyte and seen the devastation first hand, for him to give us more information on what the group have been doing, and what it was like being there so soon after the storm.
Here is what he had to say…
After Typhoon Yolanda, you and a group of friends from Cebu went into Leyte to do your own relief work. Tell us about how you know each other and how this came about..
We were just a small group of 5 people who went to Leyte on relief mission. We’ve known each other for a long time, especially Ryan, the team leader and co-owner of DWLE (Driftwood Local Enterprises). Back in the day, we were part of this group of friends who would often go on skim boarding tours.
The rest of the guys–Epos, Dandoy, and Mikmik–are members of the GrupoNopo, a group of Professional Longboarders in Cebu. I’ve been working on a project with them recently shooting Grupo Nopo skaters’ profile videos.
The relief mission came about when a friend of mine from the U.S. Stephen Carpenter asked for my help in trying to contact his pregnant wife and daughter who live in Tacloban. He was in the US during the typhoon, so you can just imagine what a hard time that was, trying to comfort a friend who doesn’t know whether his family are still alive. All of Tacloban was shut down, so I was his only connection at that time, and we were just communicating through Skype. At that time I was fully focused on the internet, trying to look for survivors and making calls day and night.
Thankfully, they survived and were able to evacuate to Cebu. Unfortunately, the rest of the family were left in Tacloban and badly needed basic supplies. Since the Grupo Nopo and I have common friends in Tanuan, Leyte who we also wanted to check on, we finally decided to do a relief mission ourselves. I’ve also been doing aerial photo and video, so It was a chance for me as well to shoot my own aerial footage of the disaster.
You mentioned that you are involved in the skim boarding community. For those that are unaware- what is skim boarding, and can you tell us more about the skim boarding community in that part of the world?
Skimboarding is like surfing, except it’s done just on the shoreline and with much smaller boards. Basically, you glide the skimboard on the shoreline, then ride on incoming waves, or shore breaks.
I was fairly active in skimboarding from 2001 to 2006. DWLE founder, Juan Duazo, was a very close friend back then and he was very much into surfing and mountain climbing, so I was influenced as well. It was hard for us to afford surfing that time, since the boards and travelling to surf spots were pretty expensive. Luckily, we saw a feature in ESPN about skimboarding, which was the closest we could get to surfing.
After I got hooked, I self-studied making skimboards using plywood and fiberglass, and eventually I was able to commercially produce skimboards under my own line. After spending some time riding the flat beach shores of Mactan, we met Dave “the Wave” who’s a local from Tanauan, Leyte. Little did we know that there’s a small group there who had been skimboarding way way back since the early 90′s.
From then on, we started to organize skimboarding competitions around the country, but mostly in Tanauan, Leyte, which is the best skimboarding spot I’ve seen so far in the Philippines. A few years later, more and more locals have been getting into the sport, until it became a community. Thus, we named Tanauan the Skimboarding Capital of the Philippines.
That is why it was so personal for me seeing Tanauan so damaged after Yolanda. It was hard to believe it was the same place after the destruction of the typhoon.
Your videos show us some of the tragic destruction to Tanauan in Leyte … how long after the storm was this footage taken, and does it capture what it’s like being there, or is there more you can say to describe the devastation having been a first hand witness?
The footage was shot from November 19 to 22, 2013, more than a week after Yolanda struck. Before leaving for the relief mission, I actually tried to “condition” myself by looking at all the pictures and videos of the typhoon aftermath that I could find, and trying to somehow immerse myself in them and get used to the scenario. But I can tell you, it was no help at all. Actually being there and trying to shoot photos and videos when there is just massive destruction all around you, it was just so difficult. I had to stop filming at times just to catch my breath because I was literally holding back tears. It was overwhelming. The pictures and videos do not do justice to what you can really see and feel by being there.
Did you seen the evacuation centers? Are people still staying in them or have they been able to return to their homes?
I’ve seen some evacuation centers–schools and government offices–well what’s left of them anyway, but we didn’t have a chance to closely check them out. Majority of the places we went to, and also helped out at, were private groups that do their own relief work, turning their warehouses into feeding stations.
Though I’ve seen lots of people who were able to make do of the remains of their homes, using available resources to patch up their roofs and walls. Some were just camping out on makeshift shelters of tarpaulins and rubble, as you can see on the footage.
From your experience there and your friends that are there now, what is needed the most at this time?
Shelter and livelihood, most definitely. The people there were left with literally nothing. All the food and clothing relief are just temporary. What they ultimately need is the help to begin again by providing means to a livelihood.
What would your advise be for those wanting to help?
I would suggest getting in touch with private sectors or groups of independent volunteers. Some of these groups are even able and actually more intent in going to “unreachable” places that have barely seen help from the big, organized groups. Even a little help, may it be in cash or kind, would go a long way and you would even see results right away.
What are the next steps for you and your team?
For now, we plan to continue to give out hammocks and basic building materials. The crew went to Leyte again just before Christmas, and as far as their assessment goes, the victims still don’t have any means to rebuild their homes. That is why we think hammocks are a great help to at least alleviate their sleeping solutions.
But my thoughts still go out to their source of livelihood. Fishing is one the main sources of livelihood there, as it’s a coastal area. Donations of fishing tools for the fishermen there will be a great help.
A Skateboarding program for the kids is also in the works. Some International friends of ours are sending used skateboards and helmets so the kids will have some fun activities during the day.
As for long-term plans- solar lighting, bamboo shelters, and mangrove reforestation are being considered. We are currently working on an ironed-out proposal for these.
Thank-you! We look forward to hearing more.
You can check out Coolie Dread’s incredible aerial videos here:
Do sign up to his youtube channel for updates, as their work is ongoing.