Bikes for the World

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bohol Strong

On October 15th, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the Philippine island of Bohol. Bohol is part of the island group in the Philippines known as the Visayas. Our partner, Bikes for the Philippines began its bikes for education program on this island and was due to deliver a second shipment of bikes to a new project in Maribojoc, Bohol.

Maribojoc is just one of about a dozen towns in Bohol that were badly affected by this quake. Many of the towns in desperate need of supplies are located along the western coast of Bohol. Our first bike project was launched in Baclayon which is southeast of the main city, Tagbliaran. Many of the reports we are receiving via facebook are from folks in this area that are trying to reach the more remote residents of Bohol who are struggling to receive the basic supplies they need, like rice and water.

80-90% of the houses in Maribojoc were destroyed either in the initial earthquake or in resulting aftershocks, which are still occurring two weeks later. A number of key bridges were also damaged in the October 15th earthquake. Some bridges were submerged and others so compromised only light vehicles (2 wheels) are allowed over them.

Most residents were left without water, electricity, and an ample supply of food. In the days following, Boholanos struggled to deliver supplies to those  cut off from neighboring towns, often resorting to using small boats to reach them.

Most houses in these remote areas of Bohol are made of concrete blocks and bamboo, neither of which are any match against the strong force of the earthquake that was initially centered in Maribojoc. Those living in houses that were still standing often still moved outside away from the structures that could be unsafe in the coming aftershocks.

Filipinos, especially from the lower island group of Mindanao, are all too familiar with natural disasters and live in fear of tsunamis given their proximity to the water. Many people ran for higher ground during this latest earthquake scare, which may have saved their lives as so many homes were destroyed. One family had gone to market when the quake hit and came home to find their home demolished.

 Elvie, who welcomed us to Baclayon National High School (BNHS) during our visit there last year, is the principal at BNHS, but lives in Maribojoc. She lost her home in this month's earthquake.

The house seen here is located in Catigbian. The owner is related to one of the main facilitators of our bikes for education program, Ma Lou. Ma Lou and her husband Rhowix escaped uninjured and with little to no damage to their own house in Tagbliaran City. They still spent a few nights outside in a tent afraid of damage that could still occur afterwards. Many aftershocks can often be more damaging than the original tremor.

 The biggest issue has been reaching some of the more remote areas of this region to ensure everyone has food and water. We have also received word that many of the much needed supplies are being sold at incredibly high prices given the demand and complexity of replenishing the supply.

Many people associated with Bikes for the Philippines including the director Joel Uichico, the owners of Peacock Garden, who helped pay for the initial shipment of bikes, and Nestor Petelos, president of Bohol Local Development Foundation (BLDF) and who we can't say enough about, have come together to collect and distribute supplies to their neighbors affected by the quake.

Nestor, who has dedicated his life to fighting poverty, lost his father right before the quake hit. Amid his own personal tragedy we saw a grave need swelling around him and sprung into action. He immediately organized his own relief mission and set out on motorbike and in some cases foot to reach residents cut off from main roads. Some of these people reported only seeing media crews who came through to report the widespread damage, no relief missions.

Nestor found communities pulling together helping each other out waiting patiently for supplies of rice and water, which they brought. They are now shifting gears to try to rebuild their precious towns. Some homeowners lost everything except what they were wearing and are struggling to find relief loans since they don't physically have a title in hand for their destroyed homes.

 Many historic churches were damaged after the initial tremor, including the centerpiece of Baclayon, Baclayon Church. The tower you can see here in the background during the first delivery of bikes two years ago collapsed.

The fate of these historic landmarks brought media attention to Bohol. The well known Chocolate Hills split in half, exposing the mystery beneath them. But it is the spirit of this island, the strength of its people, and the commitment to rebuild that is the true story of Bohol.

Our bike program is on hold, while efforts to bring this island back to what it was continues. School will resume in the upcoming weeks and eventually our bikes arriving in Maribojoc will continue to be distributed among the students who may need them now more than ever.

Special thanks to everyone reporting from Bohol on Facebook, where we borrowed images and stories for this posting. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

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