Petty Officer 3rd class Paolo Bayas aboard the USS George Washington. Photos courtasy of United States Navy.
Petty Officer 3rd class Paolo Bayas was in awe as he photographed an old woman carrying her crying grandson around the rubble of her new makeshift shanty home. Her face was wrinkled with smiles. She had been cooking a large meal for fellow eastern Samareños affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan, traveling at 195 mph with gusts of 235 mph, tore through the Republic of the Philippines on November 8, killing an estimated 5000 and affecting over 13 million people.
Bayas, serving as a Mass Communication Specialist for the USS George Washington naval ship, arrived at Guiuan, Samar on Nov. 14. His mission is to document the US humanitarian relief efforts of Operation DAMAYAN through his photojournalism.
According to Lt. Derrick Ingle, assistant public affairs officer, the George Washington Carrier Strike Group was stationed in Hong Kong when it received an order from the U.S. Secretary of Defense to provide relief to those impacted by Hayian. Within 40 hours, the George Washington was docked in Philippine waters where personnel were transferred via helicopter to DAMAYAN's operation in Guiuan.
"On the plane ride there, you could see people's homes in ruins, palm trees turned over," Bayas said via phone from the ship. As his team circled around, searching for clear, level ground to land their helicopters, locals ran to guide the pilots. Some even helped with the loading and unloading of supply cargo.
"They had gone three-to-four days without eating, but they were so willing to help. It was a very powerful experience," Bayas said.
Bayas shot as many photos as he could in the five minutes he was on land. Then, it was back to the helicopter to restock on supplies at the George Washington. This back-and-forth, flying between village to cargo ship to village went on for 12 hours in what would become his new daily routine.
Approximately 10 United States naval ships, 7000 personnel and 23 helicopters united with local Philippine air force and ROTC fleets for Operation DAMAYAN to deliver over 400 gallons of water and 16 thousand pounds of food.
"You're heart goes in a civil war of emotions," Ingles said on delivering supplies to isolated villages. "You wish you could too more, but they've looked in the face of adversity with solidarity... They'll bounce back by their boot-straps."
The unity amongst the locals and naval crew in working together struck Bayas as a group of Filipinos offered him a share of their chicken adobo with rice.
"I was fortunate to be able to communicate with the locals, being from Sillang, Cavite," Bayas said.
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Bayas and his family moved from the Philippines to the United States in 1997 to, as he says, "chase the American dream." He was eight when they settled in Long Beach. At the age of twenty five, Bayas decided to follow his family tradition of serving the Navy and attended boot camp in 2012.
"After all these years, even with all that's happened, it feels like I never left [the Philippines]," Bayas said. "There's a strong sense of brotherhood."
The Haiyan Relief effort is also strong in Long Beach, home to a large Filipino community. Over $2,800 in Red Cross donations were raised by Michelle Fajardo in the office of Long Beach's City Prosecutor last Wednesday through a lunch and bake sale. And two weeks ago, a vigil for Typhoon Haiyan victims was also held by Long Beach's Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON).
"The writer part of me can't help but get excited by the fact that I left the Philippines to pursue to the American Dream. Now, for the first time coming back, I'm bringing that dream and sharing it," Bayas said.
For more information on how you can help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, click here.