On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the central Philippines, killing an estimated 2,357 people, a number authorities say is expected to rise in coming days, and affecting some 11.5 million people across the country, according to the UN.
That is just those affected in the country. Here in the Moosomin area, the impact of the disaster was felt.
Erwin Garcia of Moosomin has family in the Northern part of the country, in Manila, and were fortunately safe from the direct impact of the storm.
“When it happened, all the telephone lines were dead, and the internet was dead, and even my family in the North, I couldn’t contact and it was very scary at that point,” Garcia says.
He says that typhoons are very common in the Philippines, with around 20 occurring each year, but Haiyan has been the most powerful storm in the country’s history. He adds that the threat of powerful typhoons like this happening again makes him worry for his family’s future.
“I want my family to come here to Canada, that is the safest thing,” he says, “to bring my parents, brothers and sisters out of there.”
Carlito Sadsad also lives in Moosomin, and his parents, wife, and child are still in the Philippines, but were also safe. Nonetheless, seeing the devastation on the news left Sadsad feeling depressed.
“The area is crowded with dead bodies, and when I saw that, I cried,” he says, “I have heard also that there is delays in getting aid to people because of organizational issues, and they need to do something about that, because it is heartbreaking, the people there need all the help they can get.”
Sadsad, like Garcia, says this disaster has him thinking about his own family.
“It was scary, and it is scary to think there is another typhoon coming, and we don’t actually know what to do anymore,” he says, “I want to bring my family to Canada, and I am just waiting for my residency papers to go through the federal government. But I pray it will happen soon.”
Sadsad worries that the delay in getting food and water to people is going to cause more casualties. For aid organizations working in the Philippines, getting to the hardest hit areas has been a challenge.
Grant Cassidy is the Senior Communications Advisor for World Vision, and late last week, he was traveling to Tabugon, in the Northernmost part of Cebu Island. The municipality, which contains about 25 villages, was one of the hardest hit areas of Cebu Island, and World Vision says 95 per cent of households were affected.
“What we’re seeing here is buildings completely flattened, roofs blown away, shattered windows, and coconut trees, which are usually very sturdy, completely uprooted, as well as a hospital with no roof or windows,” Cassidy explains, “that devastation is common everywhere the storm hit.”
Cassidy says they were able to get food, water, and hygiene kits to the people of Tabugon quickly, but that isn’t the case everywhere, and delays are common.
“This morning, I was happy to see about 10 trucks on the highway going to Tabugon, and within a few hours, we’ll be there distributing, but in other areas there are greater challenges,” he says.
“In Tacloban City, where the impact was the heaviest, a road which could normally take two or three hours to travel now takes six or seven hours, and can only be traveled by motorcycle because of the debris. So it’s impossible for aid trucks to get into some areas, and we are trying to get food and water where we can.”
Cassidy says that what is most needed is donations to ensure there are no budgetary issues holding back aid agencies. As of last week, World Vision had already received $1 million of donations in Canada.
Aid is flooding into other aid organizations as well. By Thursday, Canadians had donated more than $2 million to the Humanitarian Coalition, made up of CARE Canada, Oxfam, Plan Canada and Save the Children.
“I think Canadians are always generous, and seeing one of the largest storms in history affecting so many people, I think Canadians feel like they have to do something about it,” Cassidy says, “and there are a lot of Filipino communities in Canada, and that I think that has an impact as well.”
It certainly has had an impact for those in Moosomin raising money. Moosomin Tim Hortons owners Jolene and Brandon Banga announced last week that they will be raising money for the Philippines relief effort, and are urging other businesses and community members to get involved.
“We have 12 Filipino people working in our restaurant, and we work side by side with them every single day,” Jolene Banga says, “Even though nobody in our workplace was directly impacted luckily, you can tell the atmosphere at work is different.”
She adds that with the earthquake that occurred before the typhoon hit, many people can’t communicate with their families.
“We do have team members who haven’t been able to talk on the telephone or skype for over a month, and they have just been texting,” Banga says, “and I mean, these are people that they usually talk to via skype every single day, this is their kids and their spouses.”
Banga says she knows it is not just her business that has a special connection to the Filipino community in town. “We thought that pooling together donations can give it a sense of community. We have over 100 Filipino people in our community, and many of them have or have applied for permanent residency, so their families will be coming here as well, and this is just to show them that we support them. Like we said, these people are a part of our community, and their families will be, too.”
The Bangas will be collecting donations at Tim Hortons until the end of November, but will also take donations after that deadline. Those interested in donating can either bring in cheques payable to World Vision Canada, or cash donations, or make a direct credit card donation at World Vision’s website, or with any registered Canadian charity. All donations made through a registered Canadian charity will be matched by the Federal Government.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Moosomin will also be collecting donations until December 8.
Reverend Dennis Remot says he hopes people will extend their prayers and also donations to help those in the Philippines.
“This coming Sunday, there will be a special collection of donations at all the parishes I cover, here, in Wapella, and in Rocanville, and donations will be collected every Sunday until December 8 at the parishes.
Remot has been in Moosomin for around seven years, and has become a mentor for many Filipino people who have moved to Moosomin since.
“I have already received text messages from friends in Moosomin, and in other communities asking for prayers and guidance,” Remot says, “I told them to just focus on their work, and to not forget their responsibilities back home, because their families are really relying on them for financial help.”
Remot adds that he hopes the Filipino community here can stay strong.
“My first message for our Filipino community here is to be strong in their faith. There is nothing permanent in this world, only temporary. We are experiencing darkness now, but at the end of the tunnel, there is light.
Just hold on,” he says, “and of course, don’t forget to smile despite what has happened. Keep that energy positive because we have a long road to walk. This is not the end of the world, we have a lot of tomorrows, and I want people to keep that positive outlook, but also to not forget to keep their responsibility back home, that they are Filipinos, and they have a duty to really help one another out, especially those who are badly affected by this disaster.”
With typhoons happening an average of 20 times per year in the Philippines, Remot says he remembers many experiences with typhoons. As a young priest, Remot says in one particularly strong storm, he and others tied themselves to coconut trees so as to not get swept away in the waves.
“After that, we were waiting for the relief efforts, food coming from the government, and the process was very politicized. They didn’t distribute food right away, they wanted their name on it, for popularity, and I think that’s something that is wrong with the system in the Philippines,” Remot says, “even in the midst of suffering, there is politics. I fear that could be happening now, especially in regards to food, because that is the basic need of the poor people, who make up the majority of voters, so they might take advantage of the situation. But I believe there will be a realization of this, especially now with the international community coming in to help. I’m happy Canada is part of that international community contributing so much money.”
Remot says that despite the tragedy, he has faith that Filipino people will recover from this.
“We Filipinos are very resilient, we can adjust from this disaster. Some of the Filipinos, even though they are facing hunger, desperation, frustration they are still smiling,” Remot says, “That is one treasure you can always give, it is part of our character.”
Remot says he was touched to see how many people at mass approached him to ask what they could do to help.
“You will see people extend their holiness because God has touched their hearts. That is why I am asking the community here to really extend their affections, especially with Christmas time coming, not only in their prayers, but also in the material things these people need to survive,” Remot says.