‘When Yolanda hit, we knew we couldn’t stop helping’

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


WOMEN played a big role in bringing aid to the survivors of last year’s catastrophes.

University of Cebu (UC) Chancellor Candice Gotianuy, for one, took on
the diffi cult task of mobilizing 46,000 students and 2,000 employees to bring relief to the survivors of the M7.2 earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda.

The university was among the first to respond to the calamities, quickly sending out food packs and offering its campuses to government agencies and private organizations for the repacking of relief goods.

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Gotianuy received a barrage of requests for help.

“The days were surreal,” she recalled in an email to Sun.Star Cebu. “The texts I got in those days ranged from ‘I need a plane’ to ‘We need to evacuate a diabetic from Leyte’ to ‘We are securing a permit from
the NPA (New People’s Army) to be able to bring goods across’.”

Her humanitarian efforts started on Oct. 15, when the earthquake hit Cebu and Bohol.

“I went around the city and assessed the damage. From the strength of the earthquake, I immediately knew there would be devastation,” she said.

Just a prelude

She ordered the evacuation of 2,000 students from campus dormitories and called national government agencies and city governments to offer help.

Gotianuy allowed the DSWD to pack relief goods in the UC-Banilad campus, with students coming in to help.

Less than two weeks after the quake, which killed more than 200 and caused devastation in some parts of Bohol and Cebu, UC partnered with SM City Cebu to organize the second fundraising concert under the Bangon SugBohol initiative of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The concert raised P1.7 million, which organizers used to buy and ship relief goods to Bohol, where the epicenter of the earthquake was recorded.

Then Yolanda struck on Nov. 8, leaving a trail of massive destruction and
killing more than 6,200 people across the Visayas. “Just as we were wrapping up our operations for Bohol, we were hit by Yolanda.

We knew we couldn’t stop,” Gotianuy said.

Help raised

A day after the typhoon, Gotianuy had food packs delivered to the survivors in northern Cebu, particularly in the town of San Remigio.

She used UC’s fleet of 12 buses to transport relief goods and evacuate typhoon survivors.

As the consul to Norway Gotianuy helped bring help from Norway to the
typhoon-devastated areas.

The Norwegians, she said, were the first to bring a ship carrying 100 tons of food and medicines to Tacloban City, with UC cadets manning the vessel.

UC also called for donations in kind and in cash.

As of Feb. 13, it has raised more than P7 million in cash donations.

Aid from UC reached remote areas not only in northern Cebu, but also in the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Panay.

Aside from food, water and medicines, it gave out roofing materials and even sent carpenters to help families rebuild their homes.

Gotianuy worked mostly at their headquarters in Cebu, determining priorities and the setting the direction of their operations.

“By week six after the earthquake, we were hitting exhaustion point. I wasn’t working as a university chancellor anymore; I was working full-time on the relief effort. But I couldn’t stop because the need was there,” she said.

Sending hope

Gotianuy said social media greatly helped them in their relief operations. Her official Facebook account was flooded with pleas for help. She and her team constantly posted updates to let the survivors know help was coming.

“In a calamity, it’s essential to give people hope and to let them know that somewhere, someone is working to help them,” she said.

Gotianuy said she had helpful people around her during those days, citing her operations director Marylou “Lotlot” Labrador-Neri and Ernest Evangelista, who did most of the ground work.

She was also moved by the sight of students, employees and other volunteers working hard to provide the needs of the survivors.

“It was heartening to see people from all walks of life working together, without hesitation, to help give back to the community,” she said.

The last quarter of 2013 was a dark period for the country, but for Gotianuy, it was also a time when Cebuanos showed strength to
help not only themselves but others as well.

“If there is any silver lining to Yolanda, it is that Cebuanos really pull together in times like these,” she said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 23, 2014.

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