By Will Reisman, @WillReisman
Originally, it had started as a vacation—a chance to visit friends and family and enjoy some nice tropical weather. But by the time SamTrans bus operator Felipe Pansoy arrived in the Philippines, his biennial trip to his family’s homeland transformed into something much more meaningful.
The day before Pansoy was set to fly to Cebu City, a Filipino metropolis where his close friends and relatives reside, Typhoon Haiyan hit the island country, leaving millions homeless, thousands dead and remnants of devastation everywhere. Pansoy’s travelling companion, one of his childhood buddies, elected to stay home after seeing the destruction. But when Pansoy realized the effects of the typhoon, he became all the more determined to make the trans-Pacific flight.
While affected, Cebu City escaped Haiyan with significantly less damage than other parts of the island. Intent on providing aid where it was truly needed, Pansoy and his brother-in-law, a United States military veteran, linked up with some pastors delivering resources to the northern island town of Daanbantayan, which was pulverized by the relentless winds and rain of typhoon Haiyan.
Travelling in a small convoy of commercial trucks, Pansoy left during the early morning hours to visit the small coastal town. When he arrived, he viewed human suffering unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.
“I think my brother-in-law described it best,” said Pansoy, a five-year veteran at SamTrans, based at South Base. “It was like a war zone, only caused by Mother Nature and not bombs.”
Because of its isolation, Daanbantayan had yet to receive much attention from international aid organizations, Pansoy said. The streets were flooded and power lines dangled perilously above the water.
Despite the dangers, Pansoy stayed for nine hours in Daanbantayan, helping dispense food, water and other vital resources to the residents. Alongside the pastors, Pansoy also did his best to provide emotional support for the traumatized locals.
“Obviously, they were in need of food and shelter, but I think they also needed someone to remind them that there is still something to hope for,” said Pansoy, who lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. “I like to think we provided a little bit of that.”
Pansoy said he continues to keep in touch with his Cebu City family, which did not suffer any major injuries of deaths, fortunately. If the opportunity arises for him to travel back to the Philippines, he’s ready to offer his assistance once more.
“This is definitely a life-changing experience for me,” said Pansoy. “At one end, I’m grateful for all that I have here. But on the other, I know just how much help the Philippines needs right now.”