Just live. Stay strong.
Four small words; one very powerful message.
These words are, hands down, part of the most profound moment of this entire trip. As we were returning to our base after day one of distributing food to people in the remote barangays, I was holding onto the back of the truck when I saw those words spelled out on the bank of the river canal in Ormoc.
Just live. Stay strong.
After everything you own and every way you earn has been stripped from you, it’s natural to feel a bit dejected and hopeless. But the people in the Philippines, despite having not a peso to their names, are doing just the opposite: They’re coming together in their communities and responding to one of the worst natural disasters of their lifetimes with grace, dignity, resiliency, and hope.
Where some might cry, they smile. Where some might feel desperate enough to loot/steal, they wait patiently because they believe in the aid workers volunteering on their behalf. Where some might break down, they grow stronger.
It’s a hallmark of the Philippine people: A sunny disposition no matter how dark the clouds that surround them may be.
Bangon Philipinas, translated means, “Stand up, Philippines.” And that’s exactly what I’ve seen virtually every person do while here. In the face of sadness, madness, destruction, and devastation, they stand. With smiles on their faces.
A Community Bound Together
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. There have been tears and fears and every bit of negative emotion that a human being can process.
The difference is, the common thread that binds everyone here together is a willingness to work together to turn circumstances around. They don’t have to work to be positive because it’s their natural tendency to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles they are faced with.
Bayanihan. It’s a Philippine word for unity, and it couldn’t be more appropriate to describe what’s happening in the wake of these terrible tragedies. Instead of “I,” it’s “We.” And it’s a powerful, beautiful thing to witness.
It’s been two days since I arrived here in the Philippines, but I feel as if I’ve been here for at least a month. When every hour counts for the people you’re surrounded by, you tend to maximize your productivity and efficiency.
Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief
Today, we distributed food bags to over 1,800 families in the remote areas of the island. What started as a daunting, tiring task of hoisting 50+ pound bags into a dump truck ended in smiles, cheers, and hugs from an incredibly grateful group of people.
As we drove around to the various barangays, I was struck by the absolute destruction of people’s homes. The incredible thing is the speed at which these people have adapted and responded to the typhoon’s damage. It’s only been three weeks and yet they’re already well on their way to creating shelters for themselves as they work through the long-term.
Disaster Relief in a Disaster Zone
After being surrounded by striking natural beauty during my trip around the world this summer, it was hard to see the destruction. Where beautiful, lush landscape once stood, there is nothing but scorched, broken trees and uprooted plants.
Amazingly, the people are living amidst this. In the heart of the disaster zone, we saw thousands of people doing their best to live their lives despite the conditions surrounding them. In many of my photos, you can see the blue clouds and remaining green, but you also see piles of sheet metal roofing, fallen trees, and trash. And every now and then, if you look closely, you’ll see the smiling face of a child peering out from an indistinguishable window in a pile of rubble.
When it came time to unload the bags of food in the various locations, our group was prepared. We’d been briefed by our team leader about what to do if the situation escalated in terms of people being impatient or desperate, so we were ready for pretty much anything.
Miles of Smiles
Not surprisingly, the entire briefing turned out to be somewhat unnecessary because the entire process went off without a hitch. The people, those who have been literally starving for weeks and who rely on the generous aid of strangers from around the globe, were patient, grateful, and….happy.
There was no pushing, no line cutting, no yelling, and not a single time when any of us felt as if things could go South. However, there were plenty of orderly, patient people who happily stood in long lines to wait for the small bag of meager means we were passing out. In addition to waiting happily, they went further by putting their elders and pregnant women and injured/sick to the front of the line.
As I passed out each bag of food, I was overwhelmed by the positive response. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t say thank you or smile or hug one of us. There we were passing each person a bag of rice—something so insignificant in our Western world of abundance—yet this was a monumental day in the people’s week because those small bags were a new lifeline until the larger deliveries came through in a few more days. With each bag of rice I passed out, it sunk in further that I was distributing more hope than grain.
A Rock-Star Send-off
After we were through with the bag distribution in each community, we’d load up in our trucks and set off for the next location. As we drove away, some of the children would laugh and chase behind us while waving and smiling. Groups of adults and children alike would cheer and scream, “Thank you!” and give us smiles that would light up the darkest of rooms.
We were rock stars for a day and I couldn’t think of a better way to earn that moniker.
Stayed tuned for more recaps (not all will be so lengthy…haha!)