Over a month has now passed since large swathes of the central Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. While the island of Culion in northern Palawan province was not among the worst affected areas, it nevertheless suffered extensive damage.
Culion was once the world’s largest leprosy colony. Today, out of a population of some 20,000, there are around 600 people affected by leprosy, including 160 living on government subsidies or receiving medical care. Since 2003, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF) has been supporting the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital, the Culion Museum and Archives as well as an association of people affected by leprosy on the island.
Following news of the typhoon (known locally as Yolanda), we decided to provide emergency relief aid to Culion, in coordination with Dr. Arturo C. Cunanan, Jr., the hospital chief. We have also launched an appeal to help with Culion’s reconstruction and rehabilitation.
In the wake of Yolanda, Dr. Cunanan reported that some 45% of the hospital buildings had been destroyed, many homes damaged or razed and that three quarters of the island’s residents had been affected. As one lady described it, “The moon is now our light. Having no roof over our heads, we see the moon and stars when we go to sleep, and the sun when we wake up.”
Because of the disruption to communications, maintaining contact with Culion in the weeks since the disaster struck has not been easy. Yesterday, however, we received the good news that a ship carrying relief supplies from SMHF had arrived in Culion from Manila and that aid packages had been distributed to 1,310 families on Sunday, December 8. These packages consisted of rice, noodles, sugar, milk, canned sardines, water, bread, biscuits and blankets.
The handover of supplies went smoothly because an initial assessment of disaster victims had been carried and coupons distributed to them in advance. The packages were dispensed from the lobby of the hospital.
In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, nine evacuation centers were set up, with the largest providing shelter to 100 families at its peak. Many people have since returned to their homes – or to what remains of them.
In the coming days, damage assessment is continuing, with priority assistance being given to those without a roof. Families are being divided into two categories: those who can repair their homes if materials are available, and those who need materials plus manpower. Fifteen families were due to receive building materials and manpower today, with many more on the waiting list.
Dr. Cunanan wrote in a recent email: “We have nothing before the typhoon, now we have less than nothing after the typhoon; we are homeless, roofless but not hopeless, thanks to the Sasakawa foundation.”
We, in turn, thank all those who have already contributed to our Culion appeal. For more information on how to make a donation, please follow the link below. Donations are being accepted through February 28, 2014.
Because cell phone signals remain very weak, it is easier to communicate at night when there is less demand on the network. Going up to high ground and using a homemade antenna works wonders!
Volunteers distribute SMHF relief supplies that arrived by ship from Manila.