Sunday, November 15, 2015

A House is not a Home

We have arrived safely in Tacloban, and have already put in our first clinic day, which is one of the most grueling days ever. We set up clinic outdoors, under full sun, in the center of a makeshift basketball court in the center of a illegally built shanty town. 
It was a crazy introduction for Walley, sweat soaked clothes and full body heat rash!  Almost like getting jumped into a gang.  He was a trooper, always with a smile, and of course with candy in his pocket for the kids. 

The clinic was in the Anibong neighborhood just outside of Tacloban, which is most notable for having been blasted by the tsunami, which washed several tankers ashore, landing in the middle of a fishing village. When we were here just after the typhoon, it was surprising to see that the people of that village just continued to live in the middle of the debris and all around the stranded tankers. Google it. It is kind of crazy.  At the time I couldn't really conceive that a person would continue to live amongst such wreckage, but I am starting to understand that your home is not just a building, it is so much more. 

On the first day here we toured around the city and were happy to see that there has been relatively a lot of progress. It is so much greener, the vegetation has really rebounded. And now there are tons of businesses, and most of the debris has been cleared. Homes are being repaired and rebuilt, although the locals complain that it is still hard to source building materials, and you have to get in line to have builders help you. 

We toured the resettlement areas, which are row style house that are built for people that were displaced from their homes due to the destruction of the storm.  They are huge groupings of shack style houses on the outskirts of town.  I know this sounds like a very "first world" perspective, but there seems to have been zero urban planning.  It seems like there were houses built, but not homes.   

Many of the people we spoke to are from fishing villages, and the resettlement areas are placed deep inland without transportation. There are no schools, markets, vendors, or job opportunities in these settlements.  To send each kid into town for school is 20 pesos each way (not even one dollar, but a steep price to many of the displaced families). 

As a result many people, like the people of Anibong that we saw today, are not going to the resettlement areas, but living back in the original areas they were displaced from. The government has set no-building zones all along the waterfront as a reaction to the destruction of the storm, but people continue to build in the areas they are accustomed to. 

It reminds me of what I experienced in Central America where we saw families living in garbage dump settlements. A year prior a group of humanitarians from the UK had build homes a few kilometers out of the garbage dump and moved families to much these new, much cleaner and safer environments. But the families abandoned these new homes and moved back to live at the dump.  It is what they knew. Their parents and grandparents had lived there, their livelihood and community was there. It was their home. 

One thing I have learned over the years with these trips is that you cannot place your own values and beliefs on someone else's life. 
 So with that perspective, this time I viewed the the people living in Anibong with new eyes. What last time looked to me to be terrible conditions, this time looked like community. Where I previously saw filth and squalor, this time I noticed the homey touches like house plants and decoration...a pride of place. 

The day of work in the clinic is hard, but rewarding.  I saw a young guy today with a really high prescription, and when I found him a new pair of glasses he said it felt like an early Christmas, and I was like Santa Claus, though I suspect what he really meant was I looked like an old white guy with a red/burned nose. Picture attached!!

Walley is awesome, as I knew he would be.  He has been placed in one of the most difficult stations of the clinic, using the only real "technology" we have. Not only is it a complicated instrument to use, it requires some yoga-style postures from him as he is generally towering over the locals. Can you tell how hot he feels in this picture?:

Tomorrow we set up a more permanent clinic (indoors!!) at the tacloban hospital. No air conditioning, but at least not full sun. 

Full of gratitude for the life we get to live at home. And a new appreciation of what home really means,

Love you all, Brad McDougall O.D.


  1. Beautifully written Brad. Will be thinking of you Marina and the rest of the TWECS team in Tacloban. Well done my friends!

    Rene Royal

  2. Brad your perspective was really well written, Really appreciate a true accounting of what the team faces each day. Great work you guys
    All the best to all of you.