Day Four: Delivering Food and Hope to Residents of Tolosa

Day Four: Delivering Food and Hope to Residents of Tolosa
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Mike Lee

Mike Lee, a native of Chicago, graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Creative Writing. At LMU, Mike developed international and domestic volunteer trips and served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Student Veterans Organization. Mike’s professional background is in advertising and marketing, and has experience in executing large print and digital campaigns for non-profit and tourism clients. He lives in Los Angeles where he thinks a lot about dogs, bourbon, and the Chicago Bears.

The day got off to a warm start, but weather does not seem to affect the team, reporting they’ve grown accustomed to steamy mornings, intermittent deluges, and waves of mosquitoes until the wind shoos them away.

Sunrise at the Tacloban Airfield just in front of the FOB. Sunrise at the Tacloban Airfield just in front of the FOB.

Captain Trinidad of the Philippine Navy requested TR explore further south to assess the area of Tolosa, a slightly less populated region comprised of a few barangays. The Marines made an entrance to remember to transport and transported the team via Osprey. They entered Tolosa bearing two pallets of food to be dropped off by their four-man team.

A four-man team unloads pallets of food from USAID in Tolosa. A four-man team unloads pallets of food from USAID in Tolosa.

Within three minutes of touching down, the aircraft was unloaded and they had attracted a rather large crowd. The locals waited patiently in a nearly perfect line as members of TR laid out the contents. Then, an inevitable, all-out sprint unfolded. As the Osprey began to ascend, the rotor wash knocked several people to their feet as they moved forward, hats and vegetation flying everywhere. The boxes and bags of rice were gone in 20 seconds, and the team walked into town with nearly 200 villagers, promising them they were not being forgotten and more food was on its way.

Locals line up, preparing to sprint toward much needed nourishment. Locals line up, preparing to sprint toward much needed nourishment.

A two-kilometer trek later, members of TR arrived at the mayor’s back porch in some much appreciated shade. The team spoke with his sisters while he was out and learned of a surprisingly low casualty count in Tolosa, which they attributed to their Sacred Heart shrine sitting atop the naturally made, pyramid-like land mass on the coastal edge of town.

Chris Wharton treks into town to begin a day of assessments. Chris Wharton treks into town to begin a day of assessments.

Even injuries seemed to be relatively few. However, after visiting two makeshift clinics and a relatively quiet relief disbursement unit, it became clear medicine was in short supply, but water-borne illnesses were not.

At the Tolosa mayor's home, Shane ValVerde speaks with his family about the needs of the town. At the Tolosa mayor’s home, Shane ValVerde speaks with family members about the needs of the town.

The team took notes, geotagged several photos to plug into Palantir’s database, and assured locals that more aid was coming. Walking through the center of town, they answered questions, returned waves and greetings, and were delighted by the sounds coming from a future virtuoso and his violin as he sat in the shell of his former bedroom.

A young boy plays a violin in the remains of his bedroom. A young boy plays a violin in the remains of his bedroom.

Throughout the day one rumor persisted and various versions of the story lingered. Two unknown foreigners had evidently died in the town’s lone resort while they rode out the storm. Some said their bodies remained – others, that they’d been buried last night. So en route to the landing zone for their extraction, the team stepped into the gates of what remained of the resort in an effort to find the bodies and hopefully identify them for some worried loved ones. As they entered, the rumors were clarified: a couple had indeed died – an American girl and a Filipino boy. They had just been married, and their bodies had washed up on the shore of the resort. Last night, they were buried in shallow graves where they lay.

Volunteers marked the burial site of a recently wedded couple who did not survive the storm. Volunteers marked the burial site of a recently wedded couple who did not survive the storm.

The team made note of the GPS coordinates and marked the grave with coconuts and bamboo while local children looked on. Then, they used the hour they had left to slice open some coconuts and sit on the shore with charming and curious children and noticed one boy’s meal was rather familiar: a protein packet from one of the food boxes unloaded earlier. The day had certainly come full circle.

A boy takes in much needed nourishment, delivered by the assessment team in Tolosa. A boy takes in much needed nourishment, delivered by the assessment team in Tolosa.

The Osprey returned, right on time, and landed in dramatic fashion with a few more bags of food which the team spread out once again. The food was gone in 20 seconds. And with a wave and thank you to the kind people of Tolosa, so were they.

An Osprey descends onto the LZ in Tolosa. An Osprey descends onto the landing zone at dusk.