After the Storm

- Responding to the devastation in the Philippines

On Friday November 8, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with winds of up to 380 km/h.  The monster storm, known locally as Yolanda, was one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded.  It flattened everything in its path, wiping out homes, schools, hospitals, businesses and churches. 

As VOX went to press, the number of confirmed deaths stood at 5,209 while almost 4 million people had been displaced.  The city of Tacloban on Leyte Island was one of the worst affected.

The world watched in horror as news reports broke but for Jaime Casilan the tragedy was personal.  Tacloban is his hometown.  Now a cook at the Halfway House restaurant in Walkinstown in Dublin, Jaime waited anxiously for news of his relatives but communications were devastated by the storm.

“Where I grew up you can see the open sea,” Jaime told VOX magazine.  “On that Saturday morning (9 November), I contacted my sister in Manila and asked, ‘What is happening?’ But there was no news. I was very worried. I rang again on Sunday.  Finally, on Monday I called her again and she told me, ‘I have bad news. It is very bad news.’  I was shaking.”

10 of their relatives had died and two more were missing

Jaime’s sister confirmed that 10 of their relatives had died and two more were missing.  “On Thursday before the storm struck many of my neighbours and relatives went to try and find higher ground,” Jaime explained.  “But my half-brother and my niece and her whole family decided to stay.  They thought that the house could survive.  They did not realise the water would rise so high.” 

Jaime’s church in Dublin was immediately galvanised into action.  Word International Ministries is an international church of 140 people that meets in Chapelizod.  The congregation is 95% Filippino. 

A time to re-build

Pastor Manny De Leon began coordinating efforts to raise funds that are being carefully targeted.  Street collections in Tallaght and Lucan and a special event organised by the local residents association in Chapelizod raised over €10,000.

 “Word International Ministries has set up a response centre in Cebu.  From there we can bring goods and funds to neighbouring islands.  We are also supporting another project that is helping to build new homes and temporary shelters.  Our partners are careful to assess the needs rather than simply handing out relief packets to avoid duplication.”

 In the meantime, Jaime was desperately trying to support his surviving relatives.  With help from the church and a generous advance from the Halfway House restaurant, he was able to arrange transport for his brothers’ family and other relatives from Tacloban to the Philippines capital city, Manila.

 “At the moment there are 14 people living in one room and another 16 people in a small apartment,” Jaime said.  “I’m very thankful for this church because they gave us money and helped the whole family.  A few days ago, I was finally able to talk to my brother.  He was crying and saying, ‘Thanks to God, I am still alive’.  They came to Manila just with the clothes they were wearing.  They lost everything in the storm.”

 Word of Life Ministries has been overwhelmed with donations of clothes, bottled water and tinned food.  They arranged a 20 foot container which left Ireland on December 17 filled with relief supplies.

 “Our main focus now is on rebuilding people’s homes and livelihoods,” Pastor Manny said.  “It will be a long process.  I think it will take at least five years to rebuild. As well as homes, we want to help rebuilding churches.  It costs around €4,000 to build a church in the Philippines.”

Give me a boat

Jaime feels it is vital to focus on long term rebuilding rather than short term relief.  “In Tacloban, 70% of people are fisherman.  The people in my hometown are saying, ‘Don’t give me a bag of rice, give me a boat and then I can rebuild my life.’ There are still fish in the ocean.  Shortly after the typhoon, one person even made a boat out of an empty refrigerator!”

Don’t give me a bag of rice, give me a boat and then I can rebuild my life.

 One boat can support an entire family, providing them with the means to feed themselves and to earn an income.  A good quality boat and net costs in the region of €1,000.

 Pastor Manny appealed to Christians in Ireland to support the on-going rebuilding work in the Philippines even after the disaster has disappeared from the news headlines.  “The first thing we need is prayer for the Filipino people.  The second is money to buy boats and to rebuild homes.  I also hope Irish churches will help us to rebuild churches that have been flattened by the typhoon.”

 Visit www.wordinternationalireland.com for details of how to donate through the church.  Alternatively, you can donate via Aid Agencies such as Tearfund and Christian Aid.