Once the clothing and food – including WFP rice – were loaded onto the motorised canoe, we clambered aboard and sat on top of the soon-to-be-distributed aid packages (I'm the woman with the blonde hair you can see in the photo on the left).
Moving down the swollen river, we looked at the partially submerged houses on either side. People wading through the streets off the river proper or seeing us from the top floors of their homes waved as we went by.
Without us noticing, the river – our route – became a flooded street. We floated through the town, past houses with people on rooftops or the highest accessible parts of their homes. As distributions from the canoe began, a cute toddler no more than three years old yelled out from a rooftop in Tagalog: “big brother, please give to me”.
The boat ride was both a heart-warming and a heart-breaking experience. Young and old forced their way through the chest-high water towards us, arms extended, pleading for our packets of food and clothing.
Just above water line
We stopped at one house, where an elderly man squatted just above the water line on a ladder under a corrugated roof. He told us he was there alone. His family had fled to the relative safety of an evacuation centre.
In other homes, there were whole families. At one, a woman held her child close, combing his hair. At another, the desperate expression on the face of an elderly woman standing on the balcony of what had been a fancy house brought tears to my eyes. Food and clothes were handed up to her, and for an instant she brightened.
Handing out packages
All around, there was desperate need. We handed packages to people in the water and tossed them to others on rooftops. When the supplies ran out, and we explained that there was nothing left to give, resilient Filipinos we couldn’t help simply smiled and thanked us for coming. Fortunately, there was another aid boat behind us.
The dedicated local relief teams will continue distributions for as long as there is need. With no sign of the waters subsiding – in fact they are rising because of the continuing rains and the precautionary opening of a dam upstream – the teams are well aware that they have many weeks, perhaps months, of hard work ahead.
Read more about WFP's response in the Philippines: