I’ve been meaning to blog about the recent typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, but it’s hard to know where to start with something that is so personal to me, and something I have a million thoughts and feelings about. But let’s get started..
Typhoon Yolanda was the strongest storm on record to ever hit land fall. The Philippines has a long history of powerful typhoons, approximately 25 per year. But this one was the strongest in Philippines history and the deadliest, killing at least 5000 people (death toll still unknown). Winds reached an intense 250-315 kph.
The UN estimate that 11 million were affected by this typhoon, especially those on the islands of Samar and Leyte.
I’ve been to the beautiful island of Leyte many times, as it’s the island that my mother is from. Her village is near a small town called Baybay. Today my grandmother, aunties, uncles, cousins and cousins children live there in a close knit community. Another uncle lives off the coast of Leyte on a tiny island called Apid, that has a small population of around 300 people. Another cousin lives with his wife and 4 children on the coastal town of Palo.
The road to my mothers village
The lush green hills of Leyte
The river my mother used to wash in as a child
An interesting piece of family history- they used to live at the bottom of the hill of their village. But as the house was close to a river, when the floods came each year their bamboo house would get flooded. One year when my mum was around seven years old, she recalls a really bad typhoon in which the whole house got flooded and carried away, and they lost the very little that they had. Many villagers died. She remembers her father carrying her through the water above his head, neck deep in water. After that typhoon they moved up the hill, where many members of the family still live today.
My mother’s village in Leyte
When the storm was about to hit, all we could do was pray for their safety. Those prayers continued for 4 days as we waited and waited to hear from them. The first day they reported 3 casualties, the 2nd day around 100, the 3rd day around 1000, the 4th day around 10, 000… Phone signal and electricity on the island was mostly down, so we knew they wouldn’t be able to contact us, all we could do was intently search Facebook and news for some news on our family and the areas that they live in. We heard some reports that BayBay was okay, but Palo was devastated, and Apid island, we could only imagine submerged in water.
Those 4 days were agonizing. I would wake in the middle of the night to check my phone. I would spend the whole day searching online, and only remember to eat something at 4pm. Having felt that dreaded feeling of what if and waiting for 4 days, I can’t even imagine what it is like for those who still have family missing, wandering the streets or waiting from abroad for a sign of news. Let alone those who have lost loved ones.
Eventually on the 4th day my cousin from Leyte, who happened to be in Cebu at the time of the storm, skype called me. She had a text message from her brother’s wife to confirm that they were all safe in my mother’s village. No one was hurt. Her brother had lost his home, but they had survived the storm and travelled to the village. My uncle from the small island- I am yet to know how he got to safety- but he did! They were getting short on food, and others from nearby villages had been evacuated to their village. So my cousin planned to go to Leyte as soon as she could safely travel there, and bring food and supplies for the family.
Reunited with family in the village
The relief I felt to know that they are safe was overwhelming. I was relieved, but I can’t say happy. It will still take years to rebuild the island of Leyte. Making a living there was hard enough before this, and just as things were starting to look better economically for the Philippines, this happened. Asides from that, thinking of the many people that have lost loved ones, and those left homeless with nothing, still left me with a heavy heart. Some people were not so lucky. How does one console them?
An inspirational survivor!
On a positive note, the response from the global community has given me even more faith in humanity. Concern from allover the world, and initiatives from small groups to raise funds to help, really demonstrated the power that people have to make a difference to others. We posted our own Gofundme link on line to help raise funds for our cousins new home, thinking that only close friends and family would donate to this one family in millions- but we even had strangers donate! Including a couple that had lost their home in Hurricane Sandy, and had so much help from others outside that now they wanted to ‘pay it forward’.
A blog to follow on this will be more news on friends of ours in the Philippines that have a team doing their own relief efforts, and are documenting their story. (they deserve their own blog post!) Other relief efforts will be posted in future too, amazing initiatives.
Photography by Epos GN Santilmo. A small glimpse at their relief effort- more to follow on this!
For me, another ray of hope has been the plea from political leaders and climatologists to take a serious look at climate change. Better than relief is- let’s try and stop so much damage in the first place.
Climatologists have published analyses correlating the increasing intensity of storms with the progression of global warming.
An inspirational and passionate speech was made by Yeb Saño the Filipino representative during the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference (that just so happened to take place just after the storm hit), and he received a standing ovation when he declared:
“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate; this means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this Cop, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.” — Yeb Saño
At the time of making this speech, his own brother had not eaten properly for days, and was in Leyte helping to move dead bodies.
Indeed, deep in my heart I pray that we can all begin to take a real hard look at the way that we live on this beautiful planet. We should have fresh running water, and clean air to breathe. Some destruction is natural, but this degree of destruction is not. I believe that we can use technology in a sustainable and ethical way to improve lives, enable all people to have a home, clean water, clean air, education, healthcare, food etc; and that’s one lesson we can learn from this.
The way that our rivers should look like… fresh water! Cebu, Philippines
The Kawasan Falls, Cebu, Philippines
It really is time to wake up and stop waiting for tomorrow to sort it out. Living apathetically, pointing the blame at others and simply ignoring and denying the truth will not take it away. We are all somewhat to blame and we can all be doing much more to help. Will we really wait until it’s our own children drowning before we decide that something must change? Are we doing all we can? If we can raise millions or billions in a few days to help provide relief aid, through sheer determination compassion and kindness, we can surely group together and make changes that can reduce the impact of global warming. Let’s not wait until it’s too late.
I am guilty in this too of course, but now more than ever I am determined to look at every thing I can do to help protect our planet. Not to simply stop people dying- because we will all die one day of course- but to ensure that we live a quality long life while we are here, and can allow others to enjoy the natural beauty this planet has to offer us.
Kawasan Falls, Cebu, Philippines
To summarize; I will continue to post links to initiatives and news on the Philippines, and next year I am planing to visit family, and be involved in some rebuilding efforts with friends.
The Philippines is a beautiful island filled with beautiful people. Before the storm Leyte was secret paradise, and I believe that it will be once again.
Watch this space