How to Help the Leyte Landslide Survivors.

When I first went to Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte, immediately after the devastating landslide, the area was like a war zone. Helicopters were buzzing all over the place, soldiers manning check points, international flags towering above camp sites, heavy machinery humming everywhere, the media clicking their cameras at every angle, and politicians jockeying for position. The circus-like atmosphere was worthy of an international billing. Two weeks later, I came back, and saw a completely different picture: a lonely giant cross stood facing the broken mountain, and a few uniformed students were staring at the place where their homes once stood. No media. No politicians. No more rescuers. No hope for more survivors.

The focus is now on rebuilding the lives of the 500 or so family members who did survive. Ironically, almost everyone left. Even the school-turned-evacuation center is quiet, almost surreal, except for the expected noise of school children unmindful of the weight of the moment. As I said, no more media. No more politicians. No more rescuers. Just survivors fending for themselves. This is now reality setting in.

I have been asked many times how and where our help should go. From what I have heard and observed, there is an abundance of food and clothing that will last for months. The day I left, a truckload of bananas was unloaded for the victims. That evening I saw five boxes of those bananas aboard our ferry to Cebu. Those bananas were intended for the victims, not visitors or VIP's.
A brother, Chito Cusi, president of MARCH for CHRIST, is working with the government and local companies to help build low cost houses for the survivors. As I write this, he is meeting with the Undersecretary of Social Services regarding this plan ( Therefore, I am narrowing my personal recommendation to three needs. Where I see the best place to put our help right now is in the following:

1. Medical missions. My brother is going back to Leyte again to treat the survivors. One lady we helped lost three of her kids and her husband. She was holding her 2-year-old baby when a wall of mud swept her 100 yards away. When she miraculously surfaced, her baby was gone, and she was bloodied from head to toe with scratches and deep wounds. Leyte preacher Samson Octobre met her and helped her as she recovered. When she saw him the second time, I saw her eyes light up, happy to see him again. Medical missions such as this help us establish relationships that will later allow us to evangelize and plant a church. This will cost about $200 per doctor per day in medicine, food, transportation, and material expenses. See pictures:

2. Beds. The survivors and refugees were housed in the schools around St. Bernard. To be blunt, their living conditions are inhumane. Literally 10-20 families are cramped into one small classroom. The men let the kids and women sleep in the room, and they stay outside sleeping on the floor or sitting up against anything they can find. The Japanese donors put up dozens of tents, but Filipinos are generally not used to living in tents, especially on the ground without elevated beds. No matter how poor a Filipino house is, it is usually on stilts above the ground. During my last four-day stay there, it rained the whole time. The tents and grounds were wet, and no one stayed in them. So, I offered to buy them wood and nails for them to build their own beds. Several Leyte Christians (led by Samson) were there to lend a hand, and also bought tools like hammers and saws. When the survivors finally get their own houses, these beds can still be useful to them in their new place. Each bed is 4X6 and costs about $5-$6. As soon as they finish the first 20 beds (targeted for today), we will deliver materials for 20 more. I promised them at least 100 beds, but they probably need 1000, including the other evacuees the government moved out of their communities.

3. Scholarships to attend Sunrise Christian College This is where I think we could make the most long-term and permanent impact. I met 12-18 year olds who lost their parents, siblings, house, everything. I have offered them scholarships to attend Sunrise, which accomodates all grade levels from elementary through college, and is the only accredited Christian college in the Philippine brotherhood. This provides an avenue for help in more ways than one: food, shelter, education, and spiritual growth. For $50-$100 a month, a young survivor can get all of that, and hopefully more. The cost is $50.00 for high school students, and $100.00 for college students. God willing, some of them will later become church leaders and even missionaries. The condition for this scholarship is that they must have lost one or both parents. We have identified about 30 such children. Five scholarships have also been made available through Altamesa Church of Christ for children 4-8 years of age. These funds will pay for their tuition, food, books, and uniforms.

Several churches and individuals have already donated or plan to help. If you wish to help in any way, please let me know. I'm currently working on the financial report and other matters.


Salvador Cariaga (March 10, 2006)
ps. Levelle Pollard of OKC and I are going back there next week (April 4).

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