Four years ago, I went to Bohol for a field trip with all of my batch mates. Together, we experienced the beauty that the place, the culture, and the Boholanons had to share. I had a lot of first times in that place, and all of those experiences were amazing.
I got to eat lunch on a floating restaurant in Loboc. I saw the amazing Chocolate Hills, that up until then, I’ve only seen in books. I came close to touching a real life tarsier (although I never did because it wasn’t allowed then, and I was too scared to stress them out.) And, I made a wish in one of the oldest, and most beautiful churches in the country, the Baclayon Church.
That trip had some of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced, and I remember writing in my journal that I thought Bohol was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Fast-forward to four years later, and I was suddenly woken up, because my bed was heavily being shaken. I kept thinking that I was probably just dreaming, so I just brushed it off, simply stretched and went back to sleep. By the time I woke up again, everything in my social media timeline and newsfeeds confirmed that it wasn’t just a dream. It was a 5.0 magnitude earthquake that shook our city, and worse, a 7.2 magnitude that destroyed Bohol.
My sister showed me a comparative before and after photo online of the Baclayon Church. The same church that I made a wish on a couple of years ago, where one of my prayers got answered. The “after” photo was devastating. I could never have imagined that the church would be ruined, just like that. So much history, so many moments, and memories, all just toppled to the ground. The church that stood since the 1500s finally met its end.
It was dark times for the city of Bohol. There were still a lot of unsafe aftershocks, landslides, deaths, and missing people. For a couple of days, those that survived had no electricity, no water, and no homes. But there will always be a silver lining in every darkness, and little by little, Bohol is slowly finding its light.
Gawad Kalinga immediately started the “Operation Walang Iwanan: Bohol” which translates to ‘nobody gets left behind’ and extended the meaning of it’s slogan to the disaster-struck city. GK Team Negros Occidental responded to the call of heroism by gathering hundreds of volunteers to donate, gather, and pack relief goods to be sent to Bohol.
The people of Negros Occidental overwhelmingly gathered a total of 1,750 relief packets and 73 boxes of bottled water, which were packed by more than 200 volunteers just a few days after the tragedy.
A couple of us volunteers decided to personally hand out these relief packs to Bohol, and see for ourselves how the place was coping with the calamity. I felt really excited and horrible at the same time about the thought of going there. The last time I went there, it was beautiful, but now, it’s a ruined city.
As soon as we arrived, the place spared no warnings; everywhere you looked was damaged. Even those structures and roads that seemed capable of withstanding anything had the tiniest bits of cracks. Before you even got to the center of the city, you already knew how horrible the rest of it was going to be.
On our way to the school where we will be staying along with the other volunteers from GK, we saw all kinds of destroyed buildings, churches, roads, and houses. Most of the people there set up tents just outside their houses for fear that it would collapse when another aftershock strikes. I couldn’t even imagine not feeling the least bit of safety even in the confines of your own home.
We met a few other volunteers from GK and a couple of locals who extended their help to the different volunteer teams. Some families opened their homes for us to at least have the comfort of using a bathroom. The mother of the household humbly said that it was their contribution, because they were very thankful that we were there to lend a hand. It was simply just people helping each other, breaking language barriers, and letting strangers in their homes simply because they knew that we all shared the same cause – we all wanted to help Bohol.
In the middle of friendly conversation and getting to know the family, we experienced our first aftershock since we arrived. It was definitely a scary moment, one that I would never want to feel again. Their aftershocks are much stronger than the earthquakes we had in Bacolod. It wasn’t something you could simply just stretch from and go back to bed in. I finally understood how serious this mission was becoming. I can only imagine how the people who have been here since day 1 felt, when all those aftershocks kept coming in varied intervals and magnitudes.
As the day went on we went around to see more of the ruins and met even more locals. We talked to them about their experience during the earthquake and how they were doing after everything. We went to the mangroves and saw houses that were just a few feet away from completely being submerged underwater. The water level by the pier was alarmingly high, and the view of the mountain was destroyed. There was now a chunk of white dirt that covered the greenery, a proof of the continuing landslides. There was a village that cannot be found anymore because it was completely covered. Most of the people from there live in tents just outside the church grounds or in evacuation areas. Their stories were heartbreaking, but they were all just thankful they survived.
Surprisingly though, the people of Bohol didn’t seem swayed by the calamity. Of course they were in mourning for the loss of their houses, and their loved ones, but talking to them just makes you realize just how strong these people were. Homeless, and still in danger, they still were welcoming enough to talk to us and show us around. The San Miguel Church that we went to was completely damaged; the roof collapsed in the center and all the walls and glass windows were piled up in the middle, only the front facade was still upright, and the people we talked to told us that it was lucky the mass had ended and everyone was already outside before the earthquake took place. Just behind it, they were already building a small chapel to accommodate them, for mass or prayers. Even in the most devastating calamities, these Filipinos will never lose their faith.
I think that the reason why they seem so strong, positive despite the tragedy and determined to rebuild their city was because they knew that we are behind them every step of the way. Gawad Kalinga, a couple other organizations, and a lot more Filipinos are willing to help them and show them that definitely, nobody gets left behind.
We never got around to see the ruined tourist spots like the Chocolate Hills, and the Baclayon church, but I think it was easier that way because I can understand how heartbreaking it will be to see how ruined those beautiful places will be, but I still have hope in my heart for Bohol. The way I saw the willingness between the volunteers and the locals to unite in rebuilding the city, I know that it’s not long before Bohol will slowly begin to rise again.
The Boholanos are humble and grateful people. They deserve to be helped in anyway that they could. Maybe we could come back again, and this time bring with us even more volunteers, relief packs, water, and tents. They still need our help, and let’s show them what we believe in: Walang Iwanan!