Tourists turn volunteers in typhoon-hit Bantayan Island

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/28 Nov.) — They came to visit different tourist spots in the country, but typhoon Yolanda changed their plans.

Two French Nationals interviewed by MindaNews said they have opted instead to do volunteer work for the typhoon survivors, and even shelled out some cash to buy relief goods the day after Yolanda ravaged the Visayas.

Martial Guilhou and his girlfriend Amaya Neuhaus arrived in Cebu from Paris, France a day before Yolanda battered islands in central Philippines and left thousands dead and several thousands more homeless.

Friends advised them to stay put because of the typhoon.

“Our plan for our first day is to go to Siquijor, but because of the storm signal, we stayed in Cebu,” Guilhou, a businessman, said.

After Yolanda, Guilhou and Neuhaus, a psychologist, learned that Tacloban City was badly damaged.

But he was told him another island in Cebu — Bantayan – was also badly hit, and it was there that Guilhou and his friends went after buying some relief goods in Cebu.

Amaya and friends became busy that day buying and repacking goods for the victims. They used a friend’s cars and went to the island via ferry.

“We saw a lot of ruined houses damaged by the typhoon,” Guilhou told MindaNews.

He showed photos and videos during their quick trip to Bantayan.

He said he was amazed at how “resilient the people are,” adding the people in the area could still manage to smile and laugh despite the tragedy.

“It’s totally different. People seem okay. You can’t see on their faces that they are having such a predicament after the strong typhoon,” he said.

Meanwhile, Amaya said she wanted to conduct stress debriefing or psychosocial intervention for the victims in the island but could neither speak better English nor find anyone who can translate French into Bisaya.

“As much as I wanted to but I have this language barrier,” she said.

But Guilhou and Amaya had visited Siargao last week and quake-devastated Bohol this week. They had also planned to visit Moalboal town in Cebu and Siquijor Island.

The two sat beside MindaNews during their trip to Leyte.

They said the trip to Bantayan made their short vacation in Cebu happier. “We will help one another especially in times of disaster.”

Another tourist, half Filipino-half Australian Peter Basset, also spent some of his time doing relief work in Northern Cebu.

Basset said he went with several groups who went to Bantayan bringing bags of relief goods.

“Bantayan was once a beautiful tourist spot in the Philippines. Now it is a prime example of how much damage a few hours of typhoon can create. The whole island is completely destroyed, leaving its people living in the streets begging for water, food and medicine. However, the Filipino people still smile, laugh and they’re spirit is strong,” he said.

The island has three towns—Sta. Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan.

Basset, whose mother hailed from Surigao City, said he and other organizations had donated huge amounts of food, water and time to the victims.

“I joined this amazing, generous group of people in distributing these food rations and water over these areas for two days, visiting remote villages that had not yet received help, and helping thousands of families through this nightmare they are living,” he said.

“Golden Prince Hotel and all its staff and all volunteers are continuing to make these long, tiring trips everyday into these disaster zones for the indefinite remainder of time. Their generosity and will to help always amazes me. So a huge ‘thank you’ goes out to you all and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. God Bless,” he said. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)