A Journey to Help

Talcoban, Philippines

With the $10 raised from every ticket sold on our Thanksgiving Day shows, we sent our Knights to the Philippines. They hand delivered relief funds to the Red Cross and helped to rebuild schools affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (All expenses covered by Medieval Times to ensure that 100% of the funds raised by our fans went straight to the relief efforts.) Our Knights are humbled for this opportunity and we are honored to share their experience with our fans.

Read Our Stories from Talcoban

The Knights

Chronicles of a Knight's Journey

 SATURDAY, MARCH 08, 2014 AT 7:29PM

The Chivalry in Action team embarked from LA on a flight to Manila, the first leg of our journey to Talcoban, the site of relief efforts from Typhoon Hayian. The team was in high spirits, vaccination accomplished, passports ready, and a 15 hour flight in front of us.

Six (large) guys, mostly with ponytails boarding a flight to Manila drew some strange, inquiring looks and a few Filipino returning home asked us what we're doing in the Philippines. When we told them we were on our way to help with the humanitarian efforts in the disaster-stricken area, without pause, each of them thanked us for our effort and contribution. The flight attendants (who seemed a little wary of us at first) warmed up to our presence when they found out what we were doing on our visit. It's rewarding to see that the contribution we will be making is appreciated.

Arriving in Manila, we cleared Customs and Immigration and we met our guide from World Vision, Margrette Patena, and she expedited our travel and check in at the hotel. Today will be a training day for the Knights, preparing some sword-fighting scenarios in case we get a chance to show off our skills for the Red Cross and World Vision tomorrow.

We are looking forward to getting to work!

 


 Sunday, March 09, 2014 at 8:23PM

The first full day in Manila for the Chivalry in Action Team presented a chance to explore the hotel and the area nearby.  Sporting the #chivalryinaction logo tee shirts, the team created a stir at the breakfast buffet - especially some of the more 'hungry' Knights, who may have set new buffet records.

After breakfast it was time for a reconnaissance mission to find a place to break out the swords and shields later. The team found a place in front of the hotel where they could do some practicing.  After the recon mission, everyone hit the hotel gym to limber-up after the long flight from LA to Manila.

When the team gathered to warm up with the weapons, we were located along a busy boulevard, partly shielded by some trees, but it wasn't enough to block the sound and the action of the team practicing with swords and shields. Passersby began to gather around and watch as the knights went through their paces, some taking pictures and videos, some cheering. Hotel security wasn't sure what to make of practice session, several radio transmissions were exchanged between hotel security personnel and management, but after we explained what we were doing, and they realized we were only going to use the swords to 'kill' each other, we got the "okay" from hotel staff, who ended up staying and watching.

After dinner and a much needed night's rest (time zone adjusted) the team re-assembled for our first visits with the relief agencies, World Vision, and the Red Cross.

 


 KNIGHTS CONTINUE THEIR WORK IN TACLOBAN

We were able to successfully put a roof onto a kindergarten classroom today.  The kids at Tabontabon were amazing. They welcomed all of us with open arms and had the biggest smiles on all their faces. It's so uplifting and heartwarming to see that through all the destruction that we've been seeing around Tacloban, these kids can still smile and have fun. They all look forward to going to school the next day. We met this little guy named Ivan. He was our biggest fan but he was the #1 fan of Leigh. When we were working on the roof, we would see Ivan just standing there watching all of us go to work with the biggest smile on his face. Even as we walked around the school, we would see him wandering around or following us just to see what it was we were doing. We performed for the kids and no matter where we go, all the kids go crazy for Jason! They've never seen someone as big as he is so he was like a superhero to them.

The Chivalry in Action Team executed an early morning transport to the airport in Manila at 3:00am for a 4:30 flight to Tacloban. After a short one hour journey by air, the team landed at Tacloban near dawn. The first indication of what to expect in the wake of the super-typhoon was evident at the terminal building, which was just four walls, no windows, doors, or much of a roof.  The baggage 'carousel' was a twisted mess of aluminum, so the bags were simply passed by the baggage crew to waiting passengers.

The entire team had previewed photos and news articles about ground zero in Tacloban, but none of us were prepared for the massive destruction that was visible as we began our trip by van through the disaster area. Photos will have to suffice here, since describing the horrendous conditions under which the survivors are living would be difficult to put into words.  We are all used to seeing the after-affects of hurricanes in the US, but what we saw when we arrived in Tacloban was devastation on a completely different scale. As far as the eye could see in every direction, the wreckage of homes, businesses, farms, and entire neighborhoods was piled on both sides of the road, the storm victims huddled in shacks, sheds, and roofless structures. In areas where the storm surge made land, the former site of homes and businesses resembled a moonscape. Every power pole in the area was down, giant palm trees were now just wooden stalks, steel and concrete structures were twisted masses of metal and smashed stone.

The Team was anxious to get to our first job site, and along the way was mile after mile of the same kind of overwhelming devastation.  We wondered how the children of Tacloban and the surrounding are had fared in all of this... we were about to find out.

After driving for several hours through the havoc left behind by the typhoon, the Chivalry in Action Team arrived at our first project destination, the Dagami North Central School. I'm sure we have all seen newsreel footage of visiting dignitaries at small schools and in native villages attending ceremonies overseas, but it doesn't prepare you to be the recipient of all that attention! All of us on the team are used to greeting fans after the show, but we were hailed by the kids and the staff of the school like heroes just for showing up.

Our curiosity about how the children who had been through the storm had been affected was quickly answered - even though they had all suffered the loss of possessions, a secure and dry place to live, and (maybe) even loved ones in the tragedy, these kids were all waving, smiling, and as curious about us, as we were about them. The Team was immediately ushered into an outdoor makeshift 'theater' where we were entertained by several groups of students who danced and sang for us.  Local officials from the municipalities and from the school district gave speeches thanking us for our donations of time and money, all the while the crowd of curious kids crowded closer to us, at first shy, but smiling and eager to say "hi". The final entertainment that closed the welcoming ceremony was a performance by a group who danced to a song that one of the Team Members couldn't resist, so he jumped up on the stage and danced along with the children - let's just say that he won them over for the rest of the day with that little dance performance, for the rest of the day, everywhere he went, our team member Jason was greeted (and followed) by a huge group of little fans who chanted 'Jason-Jason-Jason'.  After a few hours of this, we kind of knew what the Beatles must have felt like! The kids were delightful. Engaging, curious, friendly, and mostly just happy to know that people from outside their community cared enough about their situation to come and help out.

Even though our 'official' mission in the Philippines was 'construction' - it turned out that our first job was going to be 'destruction' - and so, armed with sledgehammers, the team went to work dismantling a badly damaged building that was slated for removal, the space to then become home to a brand new classroom that our donation will help to build. The work was hard and the sun was very hot, but the chivalry in action team proved to be pretty adept at knocking downs walls (go figure!)

After a long morning and afternoon, it was time to gather all of the kids from the classrooms and entertain them with a classic Medieval Times sword fighting display.  The whole school turned out for the event, cheering and laughing as the team put on a great display, team 'Jason' was the loudest bunch, and after the show, Jason looked like the Pied Piper as he led a huge group of adoring little fans back into the school ground.

We wrapped up our first day in Tacloban ( a day that started in Manila at 2:30am) by waving goodbye to all the great kids and teachers that we had met that day. We left them with the new classroom project on it's way, the work to be completed by the charities, and  I know we left them with some great memories. They left us with some great memories too.  We were really touched by the affection, the appreciation, and the resilience of these kids, kids who have seen so much destruction, hardship, and loss, but have managed to come out of it all, smiling and ready to start rebuilding.

 


 TACLOBAN DAY 2

Tacloban City, and the surrounding areas hit by the super-typhoon last November is still a city that is reeling. In the wake of the tragedy, the city has not yet begun any noticeable rebuilding, instead, life seems to be centered around creating some sort of inhabitable shelter for each family, with the remainder of the days spent putting food on the table. For readers in the US and Canada who have been through natural disasters, Tacloban, six months after the disaster looks like a North American disaster site would look just weeks after the event.  Due to it's location on a separate island, it's distance by road from Manila, and the utter devastation that the storm created, efforts to rebuild have taken a backseat to efforts to simply stay alive.  The streets are crowded with small makeshift market stalls that sell everything from flip-flops and chewing gum, to gasoline in Coca-Cola bottles (easier to carry on a moped or scooter, which is the main way of travel). In the absence of any noticeable industry, everyone is busy trying to create some sort of order out of the chaos, selling whatever they can find to sell, repairing whatever they can repair, or simply sitting amid all the wreckage and letting the world go by.  Almost everyone seems busy with something, but once in awhile, you see a person who has the look of some sort of post-traumatic illness who doesn't seem to be able to cope. It's no small wonder.  The lives of these people have been altered forever by what they have gone through.

But there is one part of the population who seem determined to look for the rainbow on the other side of the storm, and that is the children.

Our second day in the disaster zone was to be spent doing construction at the Remandaban School in Tabontabon.  Once again, when we arrived we were greeted by an official "welcoming committee", and once again we were ushered into a large tent where a ceremony had been laid on, complete with musical entertainment and a dance program put on by the children. Again, the Team was humbled by this great welcome, a welcome that had been put to together by the kids (and obviously well rehearsed) despite the incredible hardships that they must be facing every day. Groups of kids played traditional music on new instruments that had been donated to the school by a charity after the storm, and then there was more dancing, all of the kids displaying enormous poise and dignity as they went through the routines.  Again, we were welcomed by local officials and teachers, all the while, curious kids smiled and waved at us, and like the day before, at first shy, they quickly warmed up to our presence, and soon enough they were shouting and waving at us wherever we went.

The construction project for Day 2 was to begin repairing the roof of the kindergarten classroom that had been completely destroyed in the storm.  With some new building material on hand to get the job started, our resident carpenter and builder (and Senior Knight) Tim Baker took charge of the Team and led the effort to get the roofing project started.  Unlike the first day, the weather had turned cloudy and rainy, so the building project went slowly at first, as the Team negotiated the roof in less-than-optimal conditions, but once things were started, new panels began to replace the old ones, and the re-roofing project began to take shape.  The children, always curious to see what we were up to, couldn't resist popping out of their classrooms and coming over to see what the big strangers were doing at the kindergarten. Some of the kids took an immediate liking to us, one of the Team's favorite was young Ivan, who seemed to spend more time with us than he did in the classroom!  At the end of the first few hours, Ivan knew us all by name, and we all knew him - he was a great little fellow, and we all enjoyed his company.

At the mid-day break, we were all treated to a lunch that had been prepared by the faculty of the school (this honor was repeated by each school we visited). It was touching to be fed by these people, who obviously had little to share, but who had chosen to make us welcome and to make sure we were fed a good lunch every day while we were working.  That effort alone says a lot about the people in this devastated area, their kindness, their generosity, and their spirit.

After lunch with the teachers and faculty of the school, the Team went back to work on the roof. Tools and materials are very scarce in the affected areas, so some ingenuity is required to accomplish projects. Dodging rainstorms, the Knights managed to almost complete repairs on the roof before classes elsewhere in the school were due to let out for the day, so it was time once again for the Knights to get ready for a sword fight. As with the day before, the kids were ready and waiting when the Team arrived in the grassy courtyard of the school to put on the show.  After a couple of days on the ground in Tacloban, we were beginning to understand how starved these children were for a change in their routine - you have to realize these kids had been traumatized by the terrible events of November, and that very little (or no) entertainment had come their way in a long time. In our time in Tacloban, we hadn't seen anyone watching TV, there were certainly no movie houses, and even hand held devices like cell phones or iPads that other kids take for granted were completely missing, so the Knights were keenly aware that putting on a fun show was nearly as important to these kids as the new roof on the kindergarten was - and the Knights didn't disappoint. With hundreds of kids cheering them on, the guys did a great demo, which was followed by lots of pictures with the children and more than a few autographs signed.  Always at the front of the crowd was our new young friend Ivan, who followed us to the van and was the last to say goodbye.

We didn't know it at the time, but we would be seeing Ivan again - but for now, we returned to Tacloban City for some rest, the kindergarten roof nearly finished, and the rain pouring down.

 


 TACLOBAN DAY 3

Another day of torrential rain greeted the Chivalry in Action Team in Tacloban. We were slated to begin work at a different school, and were pleasantly surprised to find that our newest project was located just down the road from the school where we had worked the previous day.

Again, we were treated to a royal welcome by the faculty and staff of the high school in Tabontabon. Another welcome ceremony brought yet more entertainment and thank-you's from the grateful kids and teachers.  We were getting accustomed to being welcomed in this way, but what was constantly surprising us was the incredible spirit of all the kids in the schools. From our privileged vantage point, we were amazed at how these young people, still living in deplorable conditions, could show up for school every day, some after walking along dangerous roads for more than an hour, and still be so upbeat and positive.

They are truly an inspiration to all of us.

The skies were opening up every 30 minutes or so, the rain came down in sheets. Leaking roofs were keeping most of the classrooms in a semi-flooded stage, with buckets everywhere to catch the rain falling in through the ceiling.  On this day, our building materials had been delivered well in advance, but the rain made it impossible for us to begin installing a roof, since the tarp was protecting the classroom from further damage, and we would need to remove it in order to get started  - so we decided to leave the project un-started.  It was nice to see the Medieval Times donation was going to good use, and that materials were showing up, but we didn't want to make the situation worse. The good news is World Vision will be spearheading the completion of all the projects we had begun at the schools, and eventually all three of the targeted classrooms will be finished, along with a lot of other improvements.

With the rain letting up occasionally, we decided to walk down the the unfinished project from the previous day and attempt to get it done. A few of the nimblest Team members ventured up on the wet tin roof, and holding on with belts and other gear to keep from sliding off the roof, they got to work finishing the project.  We had promised the kids from the high school a sword fight, but the weather had turned worse, with thunder storms rolling in.  Luckily, just as the roof was completed and the interior of the classroom was prepped for renovation, the skies cleared a little and the fight was on!

Originally, we had intended to perform over at the high school, but while we were working, the high school kids had walked over to the school where we were, so the kids from the previous day got to join in for a second performance.  Our young friend Ivan was front and center again as the Knights did yet another great show, the high school kids combining with the young kids to make an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred.

As with the day before, following the fight there was a lot of fun had by the team, interacting with the kids and posing for photos.  Then it was time to pack up.  We had been working in the rain all day, and a few of the team members were getting pretty ripe. As we packed up the van and got ready to leave, we were surrounded by dozens and dozens of smiling kids, all thanking us for our contribution and for the sword fight.

If that was the only thing we had ever gotten out of this journey - it would have been enough.

 


 DEPARTURE

In 1944, Douglas MacArthur made his promised return to the Philippines. Oddly enough, the very spot where he landed, and the now famous picture of him wading through the surf is now the epicenter of the destruction caused by the typhoon. A set of large bronze statues at a memorial site that marks the occasion now marks the spot where both MacArthur and Typhoon Yolande made landfall.

The Chivalry in Action Team checked out of our extremely modest hotel digs in Tacloban, we had made a few jokes about the meager options for housing in the city, but none of us really complained - it seemed inappropriate to gripe about a dirty hotel room and cold showers when so many people around us would have been grateful for the shelter afforded us. The Team stopped by the MacArthur memorial site, as well as several other locations in and around Tacloban on the way to catch a flight back to Manila. Our guide Margrette pointed out some other memorable spots in the area, but again, the overwhelming destruction left by the storm made our attempt at tourism pretty miserable.

We returned to what is left of the airport and caught our flight back to Manila, where we will be flying back to the US today. Our last glimpse of Tacloban and the rest of the Leyte coast that had been wiped out by the storm passed by our airplane windows. The Chivalry in Action Team had done some good work, but looking down at the work that is left to do, we realized that our efforts were only a tiny fraction of what remains ahead for the folks who continue to suffer through the aftermath of the storm.

We will miss our little friend Ivan, our amazing guide Margrette, and all of the hundreds of kids, teachers, and volunteers who made us feel so welcome in the Philippines.