December 7, 2009
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Victoria
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 309 days
This is a very different Blog to normal and although it’s long, it’s a story I hope you won’t mind me sharing. Many of you will be aware of the tragic consequences that floods bring. We are reminded of this all too often, especially recently as our thoughts go to those in Cumbria in the north west of England. Only a couple of months ago many of our Cunard family from the Phillipines were also affected by the devastation caused by flooding. Some were at home, and many were on board, but they all felt the same sense of loss and helplessness which for so many was overwhelming. Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng left a trail of devastation in Manila and nearby provinces; in fact Ondoy brought as much rainwater in a six-hour time span as would normally fall in the whole month of September.
So many of our friends and colleagues from the Philippines have a story to tell about their experiences and how they have managed to cope. For some the damage was fortunately very light, but for others the tragedy was made even worse by the loss of family members and friends. The homes of two members of my department were virtually destroyed and one of them, Armando Gayona, was kind enough to tell me his story in this special guest Blog. Armando is a member of the Stage Crew, working back stage during the shows as well as assisting with the technical aspects of the Entertainment Product on board. Here he is with two of his colleagues working in the Queens Room; (from left to right, Ben Salavante, Armando Gayona and Christopher Mirilag).
Guest Blog – Armando Gayona – Queen Victoria Stage Crew
I joined Cunard in 2007 and have worked on Queen Elizabeth 2, Queen Mary 2 and now here on Queen Victoria. Although I came to sea to provide for my family and create our dreams little by little, it has also given me the chance to see the beauty of the world; I can see places, meet new people and friends, and travel the world. I have seen many different faces in all aspects of life and I strongly believe that being at work and in tune with nature can make my life complete.
I come from a family of two brothers and two sisters and I live in Novaliches, Quezon City which is a part of the capital of the Philippines, Manila. I am away for over six months a year, so I really treasure the precious time I have at home to spend with my family.
This is my family from left to right, Gerald (10), Me, Joyce (12), Argie (7), my wife Mary Jane & Arris Christian (13). I’m very proud of my children who are very clever and so keen to learn; they are already talking about future careers such as engineering, teaching and nursing.
My wife is a teacher, so when I am away my father in law and my cousin help out with the children and looking after the house. We are lucky to be able to live a two storey house that I built myself and call home. There is a river nearby and it is a very busy area with hundreds of neighbours living in different sizes of houses.
September 26th is a date I will never forget, as it was when Hurricane Ondoy hit my country, with the eye of the storm above my city.
I was on my vacation and wasn’t that bothered at first when I saw the flooding, as we are used to seeing this heavy rain and it’s normal to see floods every time a hurricane passes my country. There are many people who treat the flooding as part of everyday life. This time was different though, because the rain continued for several hours and when I saw the strong current of the water in the river by my house, I realized this wasn’t the normal seasonal flooding; it was going to be worse. In the distance I could see low lying houses being hit by the river water and the waters kept rising.
Some of those families were scared and asked us for help as we were on slightly higher ground. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes, because within minutes the water had risen so fast that it was now rushing towards my house. It happened so quickly that we were frantically trying to make sense of it all, as it had never been this bad before. Immediately, I tried to save some of my belongings that I had worked so hard for, while getting my family to the second storey of the house. When I came back down after just a few minutes the water on the ground floor was already above my waist.
I realized I had to evacuate my family to somewhere higher, so I took them to the four storey Elementary School buildings nearby.
When we got there we found many other families who had experienced the same, and had literally just run to the safety of higher ground.
Thankfully the water subsided by the following day and we were able to go back to our homes to see the damage the flood had done. It was a very sad sight looking at the wreckage the flood had left behind; so many things from basic necessities, furniture, household goods and personal treasures that had been completely ruined, such as this cabinet that my mother had given me many years ago.
It wasn’t long before I heard about other friends I work with at Cunard, who were also victims of this disaster as well. So many of them had a similar story to mine, but sadly some families were even worse off. I can be thankful that my family and I are alive and that I was at home so I could be there for them.
Looking back it was amazing, how some of my on board training with Cunard came in very handy. Because my safety role on board involves looking after guests in the assembly stations in the case of an emergency, I was able to avoid panic and put my skills to use to help my family and others in our community.
I did what I could before I left to begin clearing up the mess, but it was difficult to know where to start. Here’s a picture of me and my wife’s sister (May Anne), who along with other members of my wife’s family, came over to help as much as they could in the clean up.
I had just one week to achieve as much as I could, and fortunately we were able to live in the top floor of the house again quite quickly. The local authorities did what they could to clean the streets and restore the water and electricity, which took about a week. They also helped with relief food and water for those who needed it, supported by our national TV and radio stations. There was also damage to a nearby bridge which they have already started to repair.
It was hard to leave my family to come back and work, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to support them financially and look to the future. I am comforted by the thought that we are still alive and although our house is damaged, at least we have shelter and dreams to pursue. One of the lessons I have learned from this experience is the need to be strong and calm, and you realize that the safety of your family has to come first. I felt it was really important to protect my wife and children from the fear I was experiencing, so they could have confidence in the future.
We have a strong sense of community at home as well as on board, so I am very grateful to the all the people who have supported us. I would also like to thank the crew of Queen Victoria, who gave so generously, which has meant so much to me and my family. Thanks to them we now have some money to begin rebuilding our futures.
Brian Lynch is the Personnel and Training Manager and he coordinated the relief fund on Queen Victoria. I asked him about the impact the whole tragedy had on our crew. He told me: “Times have changed so much at sea, due to the many innovations in communication, not least CNN. Thanks to its up to date news we were able to keep up with events in the Philippines when it was struck by those two devastating typhoons. We on Cunard ships always like to feel we are a family, and like all great families we have our rifts, our prodigal sons and daughters but for the most part we enjoy being together. So when calamity strikes, we react just as we have done in the past. We banded together, gave solace where it was needed and where financial help was required we raised money through crew activities such as donations and a Grand Prize Draw to help our friends’ families back home. This sense of belonging was further demonstrated by crew members who were offered funds, and then declined them to give even more help to those who were more affected than them. This was a financial sacrifice that demonstrated their sense of social responsibility to their colleagues whose needs at that time were greater than theirs.
I am reminded by what Norman Thomas said; “The secret of a good life is to have the right loyalties and hold them in the right scale of values “. I am proud to say that philosophy is alive and well at Cunard.”
Meanwhile I also spoke to Rishi Chandha, our White Star Trainer on Queen Mary 2, who told me: “Many families of our Filipino crew on Queen Mary 2 have been affected. Some managed to escape the floods literally at the last minute as the water level increased so quickly. Many of our returning crew have told us about their own rescue experiences. Communication hasn’t been easy as many households were without electricity, but with the help of our Manning Agents in Manila and the efforts of Sally Spiers, our Personnel & Training Manager, we were able to ensure regular communication between those on the ship and their loved ones back home. As soon as we heard the dreadful news and how many of our colleagues were affected, TheFilipino Flood Relief Fund was started by the crew and officers of Queen Mary 2. Through donation boxes and charity auctions and further contributions from our head office in Southampton, I am pleased to say that the all of this money has now been transferred to those most affected.”
Thank you to Rishi and Brian for their help in telling this story but mostly to Armando for sharing his experiences. We all of course, wish him and his family, as well as all our other friends and colleagues, all the very best as they look to the future.
Meanwhile I’ll be back again on Thursday with another regular Blog and this time we’ll be going over to Queen Mary 2 and some very special visitors who went on board recently.