San Miguel

When millions of people have lost their homes, families, livelihoods, and everything they own, and corrupt governments and aid agencies make the situation worse, what can a you do?

Since Supertyphoon Yolanda hit the central Philippines in September 2013, a group of activists from Manila have been on three missions to assist an affected in community in San Miguel, Leyte.

I joined them on the third mission. (Read more about the first and second missions.)

The typhoon caused thousands of deaths and injuries, damaged two million houses (many of these were destroyed completely) and affected 12million people.

San Miguel is a village 60km from the city of Tacloban, and suffered badly in the typhoon. One of the activists has family in this village, who can host the group and introduce them to the community.

Motivated by an ethic of mutual aid and autonomy, the group have gathered donations of food, medicine, and money, to support these missions.

Mobile Anarchist School is a small network with limited resources, yet with good organisation and committed people, its achievements are impressive.

The first two missions focussed on distributing food and medicine, recharging cellphones and flashlights with solar power, and games and activities for children. For the third mission, our activities are free haircuts, games for children, storytelling, Food Not Bombs (a free meal for all the children), film screening, and a fire dance performance. Since the power has been restored, there is no longer the need for charging. However, people have retreated to their homes and televisions, rather than spending the evenings together in the streets. Activities that bring people together are one way to continue a culture of mutual aid and community, that was essential after the storm.

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Over three days, we ran these activities in three neighbourhoods in the village. We spend the mornings preparing food for the free meal, and one volunteer, who is a barber, gives haircuts. In the afternoon, when the children come home from school, the neighbourhood activities begin. The children love the games, storytelling and fire dancing. After the free meal, a short film about the previous two missions is screened in the street. When a volunteer begins playing a bamboo flute, children gather around close to listen. Under a multicoloured umbrella, and illuminated only with a flashlight, the scene is magical.

Nearly all the children lost their homes in the storm, many have lost family members. Playing games, telling stories and dancing feels like such a small contribution to the relief effort, when so many people are still without homes. But for a community that has experienced such trauma, just knowing that there are people who care, who bring in some fun and games, and aren’t expecting anything in return, can mean a lot.

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