“It’s human nature to protect our minds and spirits by fleeing behind the cover of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ But if you’re reading this and feel your heart reaching out to the people affected by Haiyan/Yolanda, take another couple of minutes to find out if you can help more. It doesn’t take much.”
Last weekend, one of the worst storms ever devastated the Philippines—the home country of my parents, grandparents, ancestors. We were fortunate that none of our relatives were directly affected, but the Filipino community is small and tight-knit so I know loved ones of friends were affected. Lara Torii shares her experience about the storm passing while she was visiting her family in Manila. Abba Chan talks about Tacloban (her birthplace and the town hardest hit by the super typhoon) and the efforts that her family is making in the wake of the devastation. Read on for their stories and to learn about opportunities to help directly.
The Calm Before the Storm
LARA: MANILA, PHILIPPINES
On the evening of Thursday, November 7, those of us here in Manila received a signal 1 warning, the lowest storm alert. This cautioned us to expect low impact from the approaching Typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda here in the Philippines). We didn’t have to evacuate, but we were advised to keep watch. Signal 1 also meant that school and some work was canceled for the next day. My 5-year-old cousin was happy to stay home—similar to a winter snow day in the States. The morning of November 8 was calm and we kept the TV on all day, keeping tabs on the storm watch. We were told to expect rains and winds by late afternoon, though we weren’t sure how strong they would be. By Friday evening, it was clear that Manila was safe. However, in the late night of Friday going into Saturday morning, there were intense winds. Howling winds. My mom was nervous that the corrugated tin at the construction site next door to my uncle’s house, where we are staying during our visit, would be ripped off and flung around.
But Manila was fine. The Visayas, islands south of Manila, were not. In the aftermath of Yolanda, we have been keeping a constant watch on them. It is devastating to see the faces of women and men and children, who have lost everything—their families, their friends, their homes, their livelihoods. My aunt’s friend lost her mother, while her father is now in critical condition. Luckily, they were some of those able to get out, and he is now in the hospital here in Manila. Those still stuck in the destroyed areas are struggling to get clean water, food, gasoline, and medicine. A woman interviewed in Tacloban said she and those with her have taken to drinking water from a broken pipe even though they aren’t sure if it’s safe, because they have no other options. People in those areas were warned, but many of them didn’t properly evacuate because they didn’t think that it would be so bad. Dozens of typhoons hit the Philippines every year; they didn’t know that Yolanda would turn out to be one of the biggest storms in recorded history. And so, Yolanda is a reminder that this could have happened to any of us.
I think Yolanda, like every other tragedy, has revealed the best and worst in humanity. My cousin told me about a Manila politician who opened relief boxes and repacked them with images of his face and campaign colors as publicity for his next election, wasting time and resources. On the other hand, people and organizations everywhere are getting together to really do what they can to help. My cousin’s friends who own a coffee shop down the street are collecting donations of anything useful to send over. The local church—just like the hundreds of other churches here in the Philippines—is collecting money and hosting benefit concerts and raising awareness.
Not all of us can physically help, not even myself here in Manila. But many of us can offer donations or cash. And all of us can pray and send healing energy to those affected by Yolanda. It’s easy to become desensitized to natural disasters like this that seem to inundate our world with ever increasing speed. It’s human nature to protect our minds and spirits by fleeing behind the cover of “out of sight, out of mind.” But if you’re reading this and feel your heart reaching out to the people affected by Yolanda, take another couple of minutes to find out if you can help more. It doesn’t take much. The United States is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. And yet, climate change has most destructively affected poorer countries and will continue to do so. I can’t help but think that this is proof of that. We are all vulnerable, and we are all responsible.
Tacloban is my hometown
ABBA: LOS ANGELES, CA, USA
Both of my parents are from the island of Samar—one of the major islands in the typhoon’s path. Tacloban is where I was born. So not only was it “close to home,” the typhoon hit home! My mom’s sister and her family were in Tacloban when it hit. My mom’s two brothers and their families were in Basey, Samar (half an hour away from Tacloban City).
It’s completely surreal and numbing to see familiar places now completely wiped out and unrecognizable. There is a great need to help others that have been hit due to devastation, but there is an even greater sense of urgency to help your loved ones. We know too many people that have lost their entire families, their lives, and their communities. They have no family members to go back to, no home that can provide comfort or shelter. Their entire lives are darkened by the typhoon.
Almost a week later, I still read messages from people that are looking for or waiting to hear confirmation that their loved ones are safe. I have family members that evacuated with only the clothes they had on. There was even a time when my cousins and I had to start prepping emergency plans in case we discovered any of our family members didn’t survive the storm. We had to brace ourselves for possible funeral plans and figure out how to recover bodies. It was a constant battle of staying strong and focusing all our energy praying that no news would come back that anyone perished. You can never prepare for a situation so tragic. It was the biggest relief to get confirmation that my mom’s siblings and their families are safe and doing okay.
One of the biggest blessings I have is my family, and I’m so grateful for our willingness to help each other. My paternal cousins aren’t related by blood to my maternal cousins, but the saying “no one gets left behind” holds true with all of us. It was my cousins from my dad’s side who were among the first responders in Basey to ensure that my aunts, uncles, and cousins were all alive. What started as relief goods for our very own family became a whole commercial truck bed of relief goods to distribute to all those in need in Basey. My cousins were there to provide goods as well as first aid assistance to those with cuts and gashes from storm debris.
The first step is always “relief,” and that’s what our family’s initiative is. I may be thousands of miles away from the Philippines, but I want to assist in connecting relatives that have no contact with loved ones in the heavily hit parts of Samar and Leyte. I am raising money to send directly to my cousins in the Philippines, so they can continue purchasing relief goods and distributing food, water and medicine to those hardest hit in Samar. Many criticize the Philippine government’s lack of action, but I am fortunate to take part in helping the typhoon survivors directly without relying on public resources. People are suffering and people are hungry, people need help so if you feel inclined to participate in our direct efforts please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More ways to help
As superbly single girls, we are called to act. Every little bit helps. If you want to go the traditional route, click here for links to the largest organizations mobilizing efforts to help survivors and what they are doing specifically. However, other leading ladies like Abba are making moves in the States if you want to feel a more direct connection to the effort.
YOLANDA RELIEF EFFORT
“The beauty of this effort is that we’ve found that Filipinos don’t need to know anyone directly affected to be driven to mobilize efforts,” says Teresa Fernan, one of the three ladies who started the Yolanda Relief Effort. “The drive comes from a sense of community that overlaps with the sense of family.”
While many relief endeavors have focused on the main city of Tacloban, Leyte, Teresa along with April Rama and Lor Torres are directing their efforts to bring supplies to the following towns and islands: Medellin, Cebu; Bogo, Cebu; Pilar, Camotes; San Francisco, Camotes, Poro, Camotes; Coron, Palawan; Palo, Leyte; Isabel, Leyte; and Tanawan, Leyte. Monetary donations are directed to relief packages composed of basic food and supplies for a family of four to last 3 days (a total worth of $5 USD) as well as for tetanus shots which cost $0.77 USD for one shot (a year of protection), while cargo boxes full of medicine, toiletries, and clothing are being packaged at donation centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York.
If you have started your own efforts for the typhoon, email us and let us know about it.
Catherine Abalos is founder and editor of The Single Diaries.