Giving the gift of light to typhoon-struck Malapascua

Alyssa Caganda
Giving the gift of light to typhoon-struck Malapascua
In Malapascua, Cebu donated solar lamps are helping a community affected by Typhoon Haiyan recover

CEBU, Philippines – A 30 minute banka ride from the northern tip of Cebu, Malapascua is a gem of an island. Its long white beach is reminiscent of the former Boracay- one not tainted by the effects of commercialism.

On this tiny island, there are no roads, only paths used by motorcycles and tricycles.  There is little air pollution, just beaches, corals and coconut trees. The beauty of the island however lies not in its unspoiled resources but in its people who continue to smile despite going through some of the toughest trials.

Before and after Haiyan

When Luc Vaillancourt arrived on his first trip to Malapascua, just 6 days after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the island, there were almost no open paths and no intact roofs. Most resorts were not even operating and the vast majority of coconut trees were down. What surprised Luc however was that despite the chaos surrounding him, he was still surrounded by smiling faces.

Unfortunately, despite the smiles, the situation was dire.  Almost nobody on the island had adequate shelter, and very many had no home left at all.

A population already suffering from the lack of a permanent municipal doctor, now needed medical assistance more than ever with injuries from nails and ripped corrugated iron that the storm had scattered everywhere. 

Before Yolanda, Malapascua’s main economic activities were tourism, fishing, and coconut harvesting.  With most resorts and fishing boats destroyed, and most coconut trees broken, desolation and gloom would have been expectable.

But the tight-knit communities of this small island give a hard-hitting life lesson on how to face disaster with resilience and good humor.  

Luckily, numerous small-scale donors, including many of the resorts, started bringing in construction materials to start rebuilding homes. 

Several international medical teams visited the island, providing at least interim relief to the sick and injured.  Paths and rooftops were gradually cleared, thanks to donated chain-saws and the super-human efforts of the few men on the island with experience in using these tools, helped by a handful of volunteers.

Dark days

However, one problem that remained was the lack of access to electricity.  Electricity on the island was problematic even before the storm: generated by a private diesel generator (run by PowerSource), it cost three times more than the already prohibitive price of electricity in Manila. 

This translated into no electricity at home for most of the population of Malapascua.  Most islanders therefore had the choice of using kerosene lamps (by far the most common solution), candles, battery-powered flashlights, or simply being engulfed in darkness. 

Most of these lighting options are very expensive especially when compared to the meager revenues of most households in the area. 

Candles bring a high risk of fire, while kerosene is a potential killer not just because of the fire risk, but also the toxic fumes released when it is burned indoors. 

Providing light

Lyn and J.R. have four children, the youngest of whom is handicapped and cannot walk. 

Lyn has no work, and J.R. can only get infrequent and short-term work, mostly in construction. The family said that kerosene costs P65, and this only lasts them for 2-3 days. This amount is more than what the family earns on some weeks.

Hundreds of kilometers away in Manila, kind samaritans gathered their resources to reach out to affected communities in Cebu. 

Luc, a British School Manila (BSM) parent, knew about BSM’s community work with One Million Lights Philippines (OML), and immediately understood that solar-powered lamps could greatly improve the lives of the poorer inhabitants of Malapascua, especially given the decrease in earning opportunities following the typhoon. OML is a youth-led, non-profit organization that provides clean, safe, and accessible solar-powered lights to impoverished, off-grid Filipino communities. 

As part of its on-going efforts to assist victims of typhoon Yolanda, BSM agreed to fund 1,100 solar lamps through OML, enough to cover more than 90% of households on the island.

On February 8th, a team of One Million Lights Philippines volunteers, travelled down to Malapascua to distribute the solar lamps.  Using lists of all the households with no access to electricity, the OML team carried out three lengthy distributions, over a day and a half. 

Here are photos from the initiative. All photos by Sean Angsanto/One Million Lights:

Now the vast majority of households on the island no longer need to spend a significant part of their limited household income just to make sure they have light. 

Rising from the devastation

Because of the lamps, children can study at night, people can walk safely after dark through the post-typhoon debris (which will take many more months to be fully cleared), and small businesses, such as sari-sari stores, can operate at night. 

BSM teachers who visited Malapascua after the lights were given out saw first-hand how the solar lamps were being recharged all over the island during the day, and their owners were delighted with the positive change these lights have had on their lives.

Malapascua’s economic situation has begun to bounce back since the typhoon hit.  Many of the fishermen are back out at sea, and most of the resorts have once again opened their doors for business. 

But the tourists are not yet back in the same numbers as before. Perhaps they don’t realize that the island is once again a peaceful tropical paradise, that its vast white beach is totally cleared of debris, and that its thresher sharks never left, and can still be seen by divers almost every day.  

Wondering how you can also lend a hand?  One of the best ways to assist the people of Malapascua is simply to go visit and enjoy the pleasures of this beautiful island and its smiling people. – 

One Million Lights Philippines continues to assist poor communities who have little or no access to electricity, and a surprisingly small amount of donations can change the lives of entire towns.  Visit for more information about their activities.


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