First, it was about the magnitude 7.2 earthquake and its series of aftershocks. Then it was the twisters. But when finally we started posting on Facebook about the supertyphoon Yolanda, our friends abroad couldn’t believe it anymore. The string of disasters happening to a place within less than a month’s interval was just too much. It could not have been possible, no way. I could imagine them shaking their heads.
Yet, it did happen. The worst typhoon we had—and probably the worst ever recorded in the history of the world—followed the worst earthquake we also experienced. And the year is not over yet.
Checking the web at a mall during blackout in the wake of Yolanda, I was surprised to see an avalanche of messages, many of them from friends in other countries, expressing concern for us after they saw the news about the supertyphoon on television. The Philippines, they say, was all over TV.
Thus the rush of the international community to come to our aid. As rescue and relief efforts from the Philippine government proved slow due to lack of logistics, other countries immediately sent help. Israel sent doctors and a mobile hospital. The United States sent tons of food, medicine and other relief goods through huge cargo planes and choppers coming from aircraft carriers sent to Leyte.
Japan sent its biggest relief operation yet to the Philippines. Australia, France, England, Sweden, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea, Thailand and many more countries either sent planes or ships full of relief goods to areas affected by the storm. Even China donated money and sent relief goods and a hospital ship.
All in all, there were 61 aircraft and 41 naval vessels used by foreign contingents. It’s such a massive operation by the international community to augment what little assets our air force, navy and civil defense units have in the common effort to rush to areas where people are dying from hunger and lack of medicine.
Local efforts have been equally awesome. My American friend recently posted on his Facebook wall about how impressed he was by the widespread efforts of private groups and ordinary citizens in Cebu to collect donations and rush them to disaster areas, particularly those in the North who are also badly hit by Yolanda.
He cited how fast local groceries were emptied of canned sardines, instant noodles, rice and other items usually packed as relief goods. He also noted the weekend traffic jams on the way to the north as trucks and cars all head there to distribute relief goods.
Such displays of initiative by ordinary people is something he has not seen in his hometown, New York, even after 9-11, he said.
Most of us, too, have not seen anything like this massive display of the bayanihan spirit.
Walking down a narrow street on my way to the university, for example, I noticed a family conducting their own garage sale to raise funds for the victims. And near the Gaisano Country Mall, a group of students are also selling used clothes to raise funds for their own donation drive.
Such efforts continue here and abroad. On Facebook, we see different efforts of Filipinos abroad to collect donations or raise funds for calamity victims in the Philippines. Our Cebuano friends in Texas are holding a raffle draw while other friends in Oman are holding a fund-raising dinner with the Filipino community there.
Our French hosts during our recent art residency in Paris are also organizing exhibits of our works we had left there to raise funds to add to what they have already collected from donations from their French friends.
Help is coming from everywhere, even from people you would least expect. The worst of times here in the Philippines is also bringing out the best in people, those of us, Filipinos and our friends abroad. It’s just too good to be true. But it is true.
A guest from Tacloban