Baptist Global Response

Residents of tropical paradise refuse to let Typhoon Haiyan keep them down

Associated Project: Typhoon Haiyan


By Caroline Anderson

The aquamarine waters around the island are pristine. Looking out from the beach, you see a tropical paradise, the kind of holiday destination found in a Lonely Planet guide. The government developed the southern part of Gibitngil Island into a Swiss Family Robinson-style vacation resort, calling it “Funtastic Island.”

Looking in toward the island though, it’s chaos—a shantytown in ruins.

Every home on the island is damaged.

Southern Baptists from the Philippines and Missouri traveled to the island of Gibitngil on Nov. 20 to distribute relief kits to 449 families affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

The relief team took outrigger boats to Gibitngil from the nearby island of Cebu. They piled relief supplies on the small boats and brought them over in several trips.

Adore and Hope Sabido, Filipino partners with Baptist Global Response, supervised and coordinated the distribution.

The Sabidos and a BGR rapid assistance team from Missouri traveled to Gibitngil earlier in the week to assess the needs of storm survivors on the island. The Sabidos and Dwain Carter, disaster relief strategist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, and Michael Beasley, from Trimble Baptist Church in Trimble, Mo., determined food and water to be the immediate needs.

The Sabidos oversee a team of believers that host livelihood skills classes on Gibitngil. Their team also holds weekly values classes in the island’s school.

“We will do this by God’s grace,” Adore Sabido told the group of volunteers gathered on the pier before the distribution. “This will help them get a relief from what happened. They may act traumatized and act rough or aggressive. Give them a chance. Even if it is hard, give them a smile.”

The team prayed over the supplies and for those receiving them.

At the distribution, the people of Gibitngil were far from aggressive. They met the BGR team with smiles and gratitude. Villagers gathered and waited for their names to be called to receive relief goods.

“You are the first to bring coffee,” Lolita Conches said, thanking BGR director Susan Stokeld.

Conches said they haven’t had coffee since the typhoon. Three-in-one Nescafe coffee is a part of the Filipino daily diet.

“We know Filipinos need coffee,” Stokeld said, laughing.

“I say thank you to all of you,” Conches said. “God is so good.”

Oldarica Ancajas also thanked the team for the food and water. Ancajas is 67 years old. Her husband passed away and her children live on another island. She’s alone on Gibitngil. As she ages and with no one to care for her, it grows increasingly hard for her to support herself.

Sofonias Sinambong is Gibitngil’s village captain. Village captains are elected from the community. Sinambong has served for 25 years as the island’s captain.

When the Missouri team earlier inquired about the need for relief supplies, Sinambong asked that all of the island’s inhabitants, not just a select few, would receive aid.

He cares for his people, Conches said. He’s been the leader for a long time “because he is a good man.”

Sinambong made a list of families on the island. At the distribution, he thanked the BGR team for remembering his community, even with all of the stresses and trauma going on throughout the Philippines.

“This is preaching in action,” Carter said.

Elizabth Arreglo, the school’s principal, is a Christian and was overjoyed when Dwain Carter and Michael Beasley made their first visit to the island and asked about sending future teams to help repair the school building.

“Thank you for bringing these kind people,” Arreglo said.

Most of the people in Gibitngil are Catholic, but 50 evangelical believers live there, as well. A house church meets there, too, along with regular Bible studies.

Most people on Gibitngil are fisherman. The island grows sweet onions and cassava. The island’s water source is rainwater.

People often have to bring supplies to Gibitngil from the main island. Families on the island, even before the typhoon, had to use outrigger boats to collect food and supplies. There isn't a hospital; medical care is a 20-minute boat ride away.

Stokeld said it has been challenging to get aid relief to hard-hit areas after the typhoon because there are so many islands in the Visayas region of the Philippines that require travel by boats. 

“We will be back again,” Stokeld said.

Click here to learn more about BGR's Typhoon Haiyan Response.

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