Typhoon hits home from miles away

By Steffie Drucker

Filipinos from all across the nation gathered at the University from Nov. 8 to 10 for the Filipino Americans Coming Together Conference. At the same time, relatives and friends in their homeland were being battered by Super Typhoon Haiyan, or as Filipino authorities call it, Yolanda.

Justine Rich, freshman in Engineering, has many paternal relatives in the Philippines who weathered the storm. 

“It was a big deal over there. A couple days before, when everyone was expecting it, my entire Facebook newsfeed was filled with ‘Yolanda’s coming,’ ‘Be safe,’ ‘Stock up on food,’ etc.,” she said. Now when going online, “I see pictures of the destruction, and everything is annihilated.”

While typhoons are fairly common in the region, Haiyan is the second most deadly typhoon ever to hit the Philippines. The storm killed 3,982 and injured 18,267 people as of Nov. 19, according to a report from the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. About 1,600 people are still reported missing, according to the document.

FACT is an annual conference that aims to build a community of leaders by uniting Filipino, Filipino-American and non-Filipino youth from across the country, according to its mission statement. This year’s conference just happened to coincide with the disaster in the Philippines.

“One of our facilitators was the head of a nonprofit called ARK, the Advancement of Rural Kids, and it’s specifically Philippine youth,” said Lizah Doctor, president of the Philippine Student Association and a senior in LAS. “She actually ended up leaving early to tend to her centers in the Philippines.”

Doctor said the attendees of FACT had been raising money for ARK, as it was the featured nonprofit for the conference, and found out on Sunday that the money they raised would be used to reconstruct the centers damaged by the storm.

“Right after concluding the conference, we had a meeting the very next day to talk about immediate response, immediate reaction and to spread awareness on campus,” Doctor said. 

Doctor stressed the importance of creating a safe space for the group’s members that had families that were affected or in regions close to those affected.

Though communication has been unreliable because of power outages, Rich was able to check on her relatives in the Philippines. Although her relatives’ homes are intact, there is a lot of outdoor property damage, such as downed trees, scattered benches and lampposts. 

“Everything’s a mess, honestly,” she said. “Electricity has been out since the storm hit. It’s hard to find food.”

Many different organizations have sprung into action to provide aid. Philippine Student Association held a raffle that raised more than $2,700 and continues to create additional fund-raisers to help relief efforts. While still in the stages of talking and planning, they hope to go on a mission trip to the Philippines during winter break. Outside the association’s efforts, the University YMCA held a fund-raiser Saturday to benefit the Philippine Red Cross, and other Asian organizations on campus are holding their own fund-raisers, as well.

“In a disaster like this, it’s really heartwarming when people ask me, ‘How is your family affected? Do you know people who were affected?’ and then they ask me, ‘How can I help?’” said Augusto Espiritu, department head and professor of Asian American studies. 

Espiritu spoke at an event Tuesday at the Asian American Cultural Center that aimed at informing attendants about the effects of the typhoon.

Espiritu explained that people’s first instinct is to send whatever sort of aid they can — food, clothing — but often those items aren’t culturally sensitive. The Republic of the Philippines is a tropical nation; therefore, they don’t need winter coats and boots. Material donations actually add to the cost of the aid, too, so the best bet is to make financial donations to reputable charities.

“Every little bit that you can do helps. Different people in different walks of life are helping … Individuals can make a difference,” he said. “Because of the long-term damage that the Philippines sustained, everybody’s help and support is going to be needed for a long time.”

Stephanie can be reached at [email protected]