MANILA, Philippines – There were many untold stories in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda, which hit Leyte and its surrounding provinces on November 8, 2013.
The breadth of the unprecedented devastation made it difficult to cover everything that has unfolded in its aftermath as survivors and the local government scrambled to get back on its feet.
Some of these stories were tragic. Others were inspiring. Among these inspiring stories are the unsung heroes of Yolanda –the Bike Scout Philippines group.
“Living in the Philippines, we are used to seeing reports of typhoons and storms and all sorts of natural disasters. But watching the flood that were coming to Tacloban City that day, I knew i was going to be bad and so I followed the reports and then the day after that,” Myles Delfin, the founder of Bike Scouts Philippines, recalled.
His instinct was to help in any way he can.
First news reports that came in told the communication breakdown in heavily affected areas. A biker, Delfin thought of bringing his bicycle to isolated areas and help survivors get in touch with their loved ones.
He posted his idea online and many pledged to volunteer and offer their services. If anything, what transpired was an amazing display of Filipinos’ bayanihan spirit.
“Within a matter of days, we were on the ground in Tacloban. And we were riding around, helping people get in touch with each other,” Delfin said.
All of the volunteers were bikers like himself.
“The concept behind Bike Scouts Philippines is that we would serve as volunteer bicycle messengers, and we chose to use bicycles for our disaster response concept because, as you know, in the Philippines, when something like that happens, there’s really so much difficulty getting to isolated places,” he said. (READ: These good samaritans celebrated noche buena on the road)
Information is gold
This proved to be a bright idea considering that the storm surge scattered debris everywhere, erasing the slightest hint of roads and bridges around the province. Parts of houses, cars, trucks, and clothes littered everywhere – in flattened houses, up in trees, and on the roads.
“Even large fishing boats were spotted in the middle of the road,” Delfin said.
Going through this mountainous rubble, the volunteer bicycle managers were able to scour the isolated areas in Leyte and help survivors get in touch with their worried loved ones.
During one of their deployments, Deflin received a call for help from a security guard in Cebu. His relatives reside in San Jose, a seaside town that is among the most badly hit in Tacloban.
While both the security guard and Delfin knew that the chances were slim that they were alive, they still pushed through and searched for them.
“We didn’t really have a lot of hope of finding his parents, because it just so happens that his parents live in a place called, I think it was San Jose. Everything was gone in San Jose,” Delfin said.
At San Jose, Delfin said that the town was almost flat except for a few two to three-story houses. Initially, there were no signs of life.
They decided to rest at one of the torn-down structures.
“It just so happened that we looked up, in the hole in the floor, there were people who were looking down at us. They were asking if we had medicine, food supply, and stuff, which fortunately we had,” Delfin recalled.
As luck would have it, Delfin later discovered that they were talking to the relatives of the security guard.
According to Delfin, it was during their response initiative in Tacloban when they realized the how information becomes a form of relief during disasters.
Their unforgettable experience in Yolanda was enough to keep their initiative going.
The Bike Scouts continued their volunteer work during disasters. They were there when typhoon Nona hit Oriental Mindoro, when a 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit Batangas, and when typhoon Nina devastated the tourist island of Caramoan in Camarines Sur.
They also went beyond disaster response.
Every November 8, their foundation anniversary, they would hold a 1000-kilometer ride. They would go from Manila, traversing the provinces of Laguna, Quezon, Sorsogon, and Samar, to advocate disaster preparedness in communities.
“We talk to the students, we talk to the people in the communities about how they can use bicycles and what we call portable technology. For example, almost everybody has a mobile phone that can handle some form of mobile app that will help them get in touch with, maybe MovePH or Agos,” Delfin said.
According to the disaster preparedness advocate, bicycles for disaster response is “a Filipino solution to a very Filipino problem.”
The Bike Scouts are more than hobbyists. They are advocates who want to make change happen.
Their vision is to help achieve zero casualty during disasters.
“Change, really, is about that… having that mindset of really looking for a way to use technology that we have right now and other resources that are available to us,” he said. – Rappler.com