What Yolanda has done

By Richelle Verdeprado

Shortly before Christmas the Assistant Editor and Editorial Assistant of Misyon, Anne Gubuan and Richelle Verdeprado, went to the island of Panay, west of Negros, and visited the municipalities of Sara and Estancia in the north-east of the island and the north-east of the province of Iloilo to help in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda.

Last 8 November was supposed to be like any other day in the lives of Filipinos. For the children I was able to talk with on Friday 13 December, it was supposed to be another day of playing in the fields and along the shore and for some another day of learning at school.

But something happened that day that made these children hide under their beds and when their houses were destroyed, made them run as fast as they could to seek solace in the hills, in the houses of the well-off in their community and then in the evacuation centers. There was something not ordinary that day that has made the children tremble with fear, cry hard and then pray on their bended knees. That day typhoon Yolanda came in so fast and then left the country with unimaginable destruction and deaths. That day came and has left these children with awful memories.

I had just no question when 9-year-old Jose told me that he wished that 8 November had never happened at all and that typhoon Yolanda had never hit their place. He described it as something he never thought could happen for real. He recalled how the winds made him feel so helpless and so worried about his parents and siblings who were outside their house. He tried drawing that scenario in his notebook and he shared with the group how the rushing rain and wind had literally hurt his face. He knew it was so strong because their roof flew away. 8 November is now a day impossible for him, all the survivors and their loved ones to forget.

Since that day when Yolanda hit the Philippines, we at the Misyon editorial office in Bacolod City have been disturbed too, in deep sadness. I know I share the same feeling with many people from various walks of life across the world. Survivors are still badly in need of assistance for their basic necessities like food, potable water, clothes and medicine, and materials for re-building their houses. They also need psychological support so that they can cope with trauma and the negative impact of the disaster. Even their spiritual aspect is in need of some consolation because due to the loss that they had incurred, many are still in the midst of darkness.

It is easier to see the physical effects of Yolanda compared to the emotional scars. We can get possible get estimates of how many will be starting from scratch again in terms of building their houses. While traveling towards Sara and then to Estancia, Iloilo, together with a team from the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Delgado, Iloilo City, who organized the relief operation, I saw many houses still roofless. I saw several junk shops filled with scrap housing materials. I saw uprooted trees and tilted electric posts. Estancia’s situation was worsened by an oil spill that we witnessed. We also passed through temporary housing campsites for the people. It will take time before things will be back to normal again.

More than a month had passed since the storm when we went to Iloilo but I could still sense the sadness in the communities we visited. Part of me says that help can never be enough. Typhoon Yolanda has left but its long-term effects will continue to haunt the people. With the inconceivable aftermath of the typhoon and the tears and losses you hear and see from television and newspapers, you are moved to do something, whatever it is that you can do to help, or at least lessen the hunger, pain and suffering of the people.
That is why Misyon assistant editor Mrs Anne Gubuan and I got found our way to that relief operation. We wanted to do whatever we could to be of help. We were so disturbed that we couldn’t just sit and watch our neighboring island suffer. I had no doubt that it was God who was touching us. Our editor Fr Seán Coyle immediately said ‘Yes’ to our request to go. We are thankful that God had given us that opportunity to use our academic background, our experience and our passion to be with the survivors even for two days. With that very limited time of helping in the repacking of goods, of hearing the stories of the children and looking at their artwork, and then seeing the communities and the people, we felt at one with them. We hoped that with our simple efforts we were able to bring a message of hope and love to them.

Estancia, Iloilo, after Haiyan/Yolanda Video by Philippine Information Agency, Region 6

Survivors, Estancia
[Video produced by HCBN, a service of the Seventh-day Adventist Church]

It was not the first time that I participated in a relief operation but it was made so unique for the people and even for me as we were singing Christmas carols. Fr Ron Arevalo Datu, Regional Chaplain of Regional Office 6, PNP, spearheaded the singing and then later on encouraged the people to sing. When they sang with us with smiles on their faces, I felt we were producing the best melody ever. It was so special maybe because I knew that I was hearing it from people who would be having a different Christmas this year.
They were only beginning to re-build their houses. They are recovering from the loss of means of their livelihood such as carabaos and boats. But here they were, clapping their hands and enjoying the music. God is really so amazing. ‘Pwede syang gumawa nang mabuti sa isang masamang pangyayari’, (God can make something good out of a bad situation) shared Father Ron.

How could a tragic event such as Yolanda cross all barriers and borders and revive our brotherhood and sisterhood? How can it lead us back into unity and into love? God can do that.

Survivor, Estancia
[Video produced by HCBN, a service of the Seventh-day Adventist Church]

Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Sara

Sara, Iloilo, after Haiyan/Yolanda

Our team did not just go there to bring material goods or simply to talk with the people. We went with the hope that God would use us as instruments for the people we visited to feel the spirit of Christmas and to affirm their resilience. On our way home, despite the same view of roofless houses and junk shops filled with dilapidated housing materials, I found myself feeling just a little less sadness. Optimism overpowered me. I just knew that right at that moment, God was continuously disturbing many young and old hearts all over the world. I just knew that once God touched them, they would find themselves helping too. Like us, they will go home not having only reminded the people they’ve visited of God’s love but also reminded of God’s undying and empowering love for themselves. And that will lead them back to the beauty of cheerfully offering themselves for others.