Muay Thai champ's big heart

Muay Thai champ's big heart

KINABALU - Jumat Lias Mansor showed his resilience when he survived the worst in a cage fight as a professional mixed martial arts fighter, but his trip to Tacloban in the Philippines made him weep at first sight.

The devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, as it was called in the Philippines, brought tears to his eyes even before he landed there on Nov 20.

"I do not think there are words that can describe the disaster that struck," said Jumat, who was at ground zero, Tanauan, one of the worst-hit areas.

His visit came less than a week after he became the One Fighting Championship Malaysian featherweight champion in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 15.

Jumat, or better known as A.J. Pyro, defeated Melvin Yeoh for the title.

He pledged his winnings for the victims of the calamity, which struck early last month.

Medical volunteers called "Salamat Dok", who saw his pledge live on television, offered him the opportunity to travel on a special flight to Tacloban via Manila to view for himself the devastation.

The group got in touch with him through a Filipino-based media organisation that aired the championship.

"I was still injured, bruised and really tired. But, this was one offer I could not afford to pass," said the 39-year-old from Putatan, Sabah.

A quick nod from his wife and manager, Emily Barner, and mother, Nuriah Awang, and he was good to go, taking with him only a sleeping bag and clothes.

Volunteers at the site were assigned chores and since Jumat was not a a trained medic, his muscles came in handy when it came to carrying goods and performing other tasks.

Jumat also helped to look after a group of children, including those who had been orphaned or displaced.

Using his classroom experience -- he was a teacher in Sabah for several years before becoming a professional Muay Thai fighter -- he read to the children and conducted drawing lessons.

"It was a good feeling being able to help, but there is still a lot that needs to be done.

"Everywhere you look, there is something to be done.

"Everywhere you turn, there is something that could hit you and break your heart," he said, citing as an example the list of missing persons.

Jumat said there were many signages at camps, temporary shelters, and food and medical stations there with the names of missing people.

"That, to me, was like a nail in the heart."

He said another thing that made him quiver was the permeating "smell of death".

Truckloads of bodies could be seen moving in and out of Tanauan, about 20km from Tacloban, on the island of Leyte.

"I came back a few days ago and now, with every spoonful of food or drop of water that I put in my mouth, I think of the people who are suffering.

"It was really sad, but I did not allow myself to show my emotion because the victims had their hopes on us to help them."

Hope, according to Jumat, was the only thing that most of the victims could hold on to for now.

"The challenge is to keep that hope going."

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