‘Thank you, Brunei’

National 2 minutes, 56 seconds

TACLOBAN CITY, PHILIPPINES

A team of Brunei  disaster relief personnel journeys to Guiuan,  a town on the tip of Samar island that was ravaged by Haiyan

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM’S generosity has touched the hearts of the survivors of supertyphoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Much of the world has known Tacloban as the city that bore the brunt of Haiyan’s fury, but the typhoon ripped through several other towns as well. Guiuan, which is some 155km east of Tacloban and home to 45,000 people, is a fishing town where Haiyan first made landfall.

I went with a team of Brunei government personnel who travelled by land from Tacloban City in Leyte to Guiuan, a municipality on the southeastern tip of Samar island and is sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf. The team left Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 on an RBAF aircraft, a CN-235, carrying 1.3 tonnes of relief goods that comprised one batch of donations put together by His Majesty’s Government.

We reached the Philippines via the Mactan Air Force Base and then headed to Tacloban where the Brunei disaster relief delegation holds its base camp. With the assistance of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA), the Brunei team then set out to deliver the relief goods to Guiuan by land. It took us six hours to reach a warehouse at an air strip that was built during the World War II, where the relief goods would be handed over to Philippine representatives.

Along the way to the Guiuan air strip, there was no second I could lay my eyes on a spot that was spared from the fury of supertyphoon Haiyan. The devastation is so massive. Houses are gone; the foliage that used to cap mountains are gone, too.

I had watched the networks’ coverage of the devastation on parts of central Philippines, but seeing the magnitude of the havoc up close made me understand that the survivors deserve every bit of help that the international community can extend.

The Brunei team stopped to distribute relief goods every time they saw children enroute to the air strip. I watched Bruneian government representatives hand out basic food items and packets of Oreo.

There is something about these children that makes me think a supertyphoon cannot ruin the good in a person. One child received an Oreo and as the team prepared to continue the journey to the air strip, the child wished us well and reminded us to take care on our journey. That’s from a child who’ve experienced a typhoon making a landfall that brought winds knocking down walls and concrete structures in its path on November 8, 2013.

At the airbase, I saw hundreds of survivors still queuing for a flight out so they could join other evacuees who had flown to Villamor Airbase in the capital. Some say they have no more livelihood in Guiuan, their houses gone.

We spent the night camping at the air strip in Guiuan. I am back at the team’s base camp in Tacloban. Around us are scenes of devastation and of people struggling to rebuild their lives. Scenes that break my heart.

But as I review the stills and footage I have taken so far during this assignment, I am awed at how Haiyan’s ferocious winds failed to weaken the children’s ability to smile and say “thank you” to a Bruneian handing out an Oreo in the middle of a vast wasteland.

The Brunei Times