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By: Mdadisi Mambo On: 7:33 AM
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  • On November 8, Typhoon Yolanda internationally known as Haiyan, ripped through the central Visayas region of the Philippines. A smaller island in Cebu Province known as Bantayan Island was nearly completely devastated. The island holds special significance in the hearts of my family, so we quickly pulled together to organize relief efforts by creating a Facebook Page: Bangon Bantayanons. (Ba-Ngoon Bun-ty-ya-noons), which translates to “rise up Bantayan people” in the dialect of Cebuano.
    My cousin Gail Roska had an idea of creating a Facebook Page dedicated to help the island of Bantayan, which is where our grandparents spent their childhood. Immediately after the storm’s landfall, she got on her computer and started adding cousins, as well as our parents, to manage the page. There are at least 15 of us consistently checking on the Page in order to provide the latest news and information about Bantayan, to coordinate volunteers and donations and even post photos and videos our “ground team” has taken of the devastation.
    There’s Gail, her husband Terence, along with her sister Kate, cousins Jaja, Ian, Noelle, Merryl, JP, Carla and their parents based in Cebu City. Our cousin Julie is in Manila. My sister Tyra, our mother and I, along with cousins Erika, Cathy and Anne spread throughout California. Marcia and Mark live in New Jersey. We take shifts so one side of the globe can sleep, while others who are awake frequently check the Page to address any concerns or updates. Our other relatives may not be behind the computer screen, but are working on the front lines with other tasks.

    We are from Cebu. To this day the Roska family continues the tradition of visiting Bantayan throughout the year. We have many relatives and friends still living on the island until now. In fact, in the town of Santa Fe, there is a street named after our great-grandfather Francisco Mansueto Roska. He and his wife Apolonia Causing Roska raised their children — our grandparents — for a period of time in Bantayan. My grandpa Cesar, his father and brothers fought in WWII, and miraculously all but Francis survived.
    Our beloved nanny Meriam also lives on Bantayan Island. Her father was the overseer of Francisco and Apolonia’s properties. Thankfully, through Facebook posts, we learned that our family and friends are all right, but their homes were significantly, or completely, damaged.
    Our main priority now is to provide immediate relief to Bantayan by collecting, repacking and delivering donations of food, water, medical supplies and hygiene items. Over a week has passed and people are still without basic necessities. Evacuation centers are overcrowding. Buildings, homes and structures are completely flattened or severely destroyed. Fishing boats have all been destroyed completely, or have had significant damage, as has the Sante Fe port, making it difficult to get there with relief goods. One local resident who has worked with our family for most of her life tells us that money is useless because there is nothing left in the stores. There are no materials to fix roofs, or repair and build boats. They have been sleeping under a tarp for the past week. As a result, they developed skin conditions because they are unable to change into a dry set of clothes. More than anything, these people need food and water.
    My family has been raising funds and awareness so that the Cebu-based team can quickly buy more supplies for distribution. Our “command center” where donations can be dropped off is actually the home of my late grandparents Col. Cesar and Julita Roska. We’ve collaborated our efforts with the local government units, agencies and have raised over $4,500 in less than one week and gotten more than 4,400 likes on our Page. Just this weekend we distributed nearly 2,000 packs of food and other necessities to people on the island.

    There is still an overwhelming need in Bantayan and we know the recovery process will be a long one. Local government estimates it will take three to six months until electricity is fully back to normal, and there is much to rebuild and repair. But the generosity and spirit we have seen from donors, volunteers and strangers around the globe gives us hope.
    During such a tragic time for the Filipino people, we are overwhelmingly thankful to have a platform like Facebook to reach others around the world to help us. It keeps us feeling like we are together even though we are thousands of miles apart. I have not seen my cousins in the Philippines in the last five years. It is an amazing feeling that we have reunited and worked so closely as a team. We hold our “meetings” to discuss relevant matters and divide up tasks through Facebook group messages. Believe me, that chat thread is a long one!
    My family continues to carry on the tradition of our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents by being there for the Bantayan people, as they have been for us. We are proud to be Filipino. We are proud to be American. Our own families were spared and are proud to have been given the privilege of touching the Bantayan people. That is why the Page is called "Bangon Bantayanons" because we are going to stand together and help the people of Bantayan, the island our grandparents once called home.


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