Jessa Cabonegro, Philippines, Humanitarian Radio Reporter

Jessa Cabonegro was 20 and a volunteer DJ at her college, mostly playing songs and providing short public service announcements, when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013. When Internews set up Radyo Bakdaw to provide humanitarian information to survivors, Cabonegro joined the radio broadcasting team.

“Communication is a very important bridge to get the people to talk, to ask questions. It can guide the community and help clear out confusion. It also helped us cope, even while playing those upbeat tunes that somehow, we are inching closer to rebuilding the town and going back to normal again,” Cabonegro said.

“What we do is we encourage people to send us text messages about their concerns, problems and complaints and we tackle these on air, she added. “We go down to these communities and personally ask them what they need. We ask questions like, ‘Do you still need relief? Or would you rather receive construction materials instead?’ We are messengers form the people to the international organizations.”

In January 2015, Cabonegro wrote this story about a family Radyo Bakdaw was able to help:

Two months after the typhoon Yolanda, Diane Tiburcio still hadn’t heard from her sister, brother-in-law and their family. Diane is like others from outside the affected areas who are still desperately hunting for their loved ones. Lack of communication is still a widespread problem. Luckily a temporary radio station launched in Guiuan, Eastern Samar brings hope to people like Diane.

As a part of a community radio station, helping people is something we do on a daily basis. One afternoon, another family was reunited with the help of the station. Diane Tiburcio sent a message to Radyo Bakdaw asking for information about her sister and her family.  After the message was broadcast it caught the attention of Buboy Cabillo, the brother-in-law Diane was looking for. He rushed to the station and asked who was looking for him, and the next thing was history!

Buboy told us his cellphone had been washed away during the typhoon and he hadn’t had any connection from outside the town. We wanted to help and suggested he use the station phone. While the phone was ringing, our hearts was beating fast, and finally Diane picked up the phone! Bill introduced himself as a presenter of Radyo Bakdaw. We all felt goose bumps as Diane began to cry over the phone. Bill handed the phone to Buboy. We were all moved as they finished their conversation, and Buboy was teary-eyed, “Salamat, salamat” (thank you, thank you) he continuously said as he handed the phone back to Bill.

I can’t help to stop and wonder what would happen if there was no radio station in town. To whom would they turn to? Seeing the smile on his face as he left the studio is something I would want to photograph and keep forever, knowing in that very moment you become a part of something in that person’s life. It made me realize we are actually doing the best job in the world! 

 Going back into the studio we received a text from Diane, “C Diane Tiburcio po ito, tnx po sa pagtawag. Thank God po at ligtas cla ate at kuya pati mga bata. Pakibigay po yong number ko sa kanila. Thank u po talaga. God bless u po.” (This is Diane Tiburcio, thank you so much for calling and thank God my brother-in-law and his kids are all right. Please give my number to them. God Bless you.) Our hearts were dancing at that moment, another accomplishment in a normal day from an amazing radio life. We are looking forward for more stories with their happily ever after!

Radio Bakdaw was supported by DFID. The Rubin Foundation supported Internews’ emergency response to the Haiyan typhoon.

Banner photo: Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Guiuan municipality in the Philippines. (Credit: Internews)