By COOPER RESABAL Jr.
MARIBOJOC, Bohol—The new American ambassador to the Philippines captured the hearts of Boholanos in his first official visit on Thursday in the island province of Bohol, bringing school kits for pupils and teaching materials to teachers in an elementary school here, one of the most damaged towns in the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Oct. 15.
Children carrying the red, blue and white colors of the United States and the Philippine flag greeted Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s party, which included United States Agency for Internal Development (USAID) Philippine Program Director Gloria Steele, upon arrival after noon in the Maribojoc Central Elementary School.
Goldberg was accompanied by Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto, Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. and Maribojoc Vice Mayor Fructuoso Redulla Jr.
Upon his arrival at the airport, Goldberg told the media that he had been wanting to make Bohol his first official visit, see some of USAID projects in the province, and have a firsthand view of the effects of the mid-October quake that claimed some 220 lives and damaged thousands of structures.
He cited the Filipino spirit of helping each other (“bayanihan”) which, he said, was illustrated in the speedy recovery of the damaged areas from the disastrous aftermath of supertyphoon “Yolanda” and the mid-October tremor in Bohol.
Filipinos send help even if they themselves are in need of help, he observed, adding that the overall impression is that there is a “wonderful spirit among Filipinos,” but they are “tough and resilient” as well.
Aside from immediate relief, the U.S. is committed to assist in recovery operations, and also in longer term technical assistance, he said.
The envoy mentioned that the American spirit of volunteerism has been concretely expressed by the All Hands Volunteers, a nongovernment organization based in the U.S., whose various nationalities of volunteers are helping in the reconstruction of damaged structures in Bohol.
Classes in schools here resumed a month and a half after the quake, but few students reported because parents were initially hesitant to send children to school due to the continuing aftershocks, Department of Education Director Faustino Oradio told a briefing Dec. 9 here for USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Gregory Beck.
Of the 23 schools in the fourth-class municipality, only three were not damaged, the district supervisor disclosed, adding that many teachers are holding classes in makeshift tents and in shifts since the makeshift classrooms cannot accommodate separate daily classes.
The teachers also lost their teaching materials when the schools collapsed, he said.
Oradio told Steele on Thursday that the Maribojoc schools are “hands on in risk reduction management,” giving awareness and education sessions to parents, including fire and earthquake drills.