A social network delivers aid… by Boeing 737
By Daryl Dano
Having been in the aviation business for many years, Ramiro Villavicencio has spent most of his life delivering people and goods to their respective destinations. But his services took on a new meaning in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan as he teamed up with his long-time friend, Immanuel Cabili, to deliver life-saving aid and supplies in the critical early hours after the typhoon hit.
“Helping was never a question,” Villavicencio stated matter-of-factly. “Rather we were asking ourselves what we could do to contribute to relief efforts in some small way?”
But that “small way” went a long way.
In fact, Cabili and Villaviciencio were the first people in private aircraft to reach the ravaged areas of Visayas in its critical post-Haiyan hours.
The initiative began shortly after the typhoon struck, when the two friends first shared their mission to deliver aid in typhoon-ravaged Visayas via social media. After receiving an overwhelming response from family, friends and business partners, Cabili and Villaviciencio welcomed partnering with an international organization.
Thanks to a connection between two old college friends from Smith College, a top flight university for women in the US, the two friends with a plane at their disposal, were put in touch with IOM, just as it was urgently looking for an air bridge to bring life-saving aid to remote Guiuan.
Gina Abesamis, a Filipina, was closely watching the situation unfold on social and other media. She was and is one of many friends supporting Cabili and Villaviciencio’s efforts to get aid to the people. Seeing the huge need, she stepped in to link up those who wished to donate with those who had planes and logistics to get them there.
Through her social media network, she and Kristina Mejo of IOM – both are connected through Smith College, linked up. Mejo had just been deployed to Manila for the crisis and she jumped at the prospect of getting relief goods moving with the help of Cabili and Villaviciencio and their Dornier 328 and Boeing 737.
“Just after I arrived on the ground in the Philippines, I was looking how to mobilize resources and support, and reached out to Gina who made the link. Gina has been supporting us to find other support from the Filipino community as well in our operations,” said Mejo.
“We had the resources,” Cabili said. “What we needed was a trustworthy organization that could assist us in identifying unreached places, and IOM has that reputation.”
From their newly established base in Cebu, the two friends began overseeing the loading of relief supplies, provided by IOM, among private individuals and organizations onto their Dornier 328 aircraft for immediate delivery to typhoon-affected areas.
“From atop, it was a heart-breaking scene,” Cabili painfully described. “Upon landing and seeing people reaching out their hands, knowing they had lost everything… it was simply agonizing.”
Cabili and Villaviciencio initially planned for a few flights. However, after seeing the magnitude of the destruction the typhoon left in its wake on various islands in the Visayas, they resolved to continue their efforts and organize more trips back and forth, in total carrying out 45 flights, supporting the relief efforts to Ormoc, Cebu, Guiuan and Roxas over two weeks, assisting IOM, among others, with movements of relief materials and staff. They laid on additional helicopter flights in particularly hard-to-reach areas. Villaviciencio also recounted flying about 100 people affected by the typhoon a day on their flight back.
“We had an empty plane after unloading and distributing the relief goods,” he added. “We realized it just made sense to ‘replace’ it with people who wanted to get out of the ravaged areas for better accessibility to social services.”
Cabili described passengers, most of whom were women and children and have never been on a plane, as having mixed emotions upon take-off.
“They were happy to leave an area that smelled of death and decay, but at the same time sad to be leaving their families and home behind.”
In spite of the sadness and suffering, Cabili and Villaviciencio exclaimed how humbling it was seeing people from all over the world reaching out and helping each other.
“This is the time to give what we have to others,” Cabili said.
Both men plan to continue helping the Visayas region. Earlier this week, they met IOM`s Chief of Mission for the Philippines Marco Boasso to plan the next strategic steps in rebuilding affected areas.