Typhoon Yolanda – Foreigners Perspective A Year After Tragedy Struck
Before I planned out my trip to the Philippines I did some research of places where I wanted to see and visit. One of the places I knew that I must visit was Tacloban. I vaguely remembered a horrible typhoon that hit the Philippines the year before. At the time that the typhoon devastated the region, I had never even thought about visiting the country.. It just never seems the same when you hear about a tragedy from a distance. Sure, you feel bad for the victims when you see pictures on a tv screen, but when you step foot on the ground where 1000’s of people got swept out to sea it takes on a whole new form. Coming face to face with what took place, gave me a whole new perspective. While, I was a foreigner in a devastated community, they welcomed me and helped shed light on the magnitude of what took place.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/82378790″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
The video clip shown above will really help you visualize how devastating this typhoon truly was. I didn’t arrive there till one year after the typhoon ripped apart this country and killed thousands of people. There are still massive ships landed in the middle of the city! Many parts of the town still didn’t have any electricity. People were living in tents, or just anything they could find to use as shelter.
Something So Much Bigger Than You
When I arrived in Tacloban all of the passengers that arrived, including myself were greeted with applause by all of the airport’s staff. Full of smiles and very friendly. I was the only foreigner in sight. By the time I had gotten there, most of the humanitarian efforts seemed to have left. The further you get outside of Manila or Cebu City you tend to see less foreigners so I really didn’t think much about it.. The first thing I noticed other than the small children asking me for coins as I looked for a taxi outside the airport was the trees. More like the skeletons of what were once trees. Most of them were snapped in half and they looked like random telephone poles sticking out randomly across the terrain. As the van driver drove me to my hotel I saw candles lit everywhere.. He told me that today was the one year anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda (aka Typhoon Haiyan).
One of the first things I thought to myself is that “These people are left to fend for themselves.” I asked the van driver, named Ray if he could drive me around the next day. He would be delighted to. This would mean income for him and it was very apparent that people were eager to make a wage in any way that they could!
I really didn’t do much the first day since it was late afternoon and it gets dark in the Philippines at around 5:00PM. I did walk around the neighborhood by my hotel and was pleasantly greeted with hello’s, and yes quite a few stares. I am Caucasian, and I only saw one other person who looked of European descent. Oddly I didn’t really feel out of place. Friendly smiles have a way of making you feel welcome and less afraid of your surroundings.
As I lay there in bed that first night in Tacloban City, I wondered what one man could do? The population of Tacloban during the last Census of 2010 was 221,000. How could I give back to a city who lost so much? So many people lost their families and their lives will never be the same.
Going To Tent City in Tacloban
Upon meeting Ray outside my hotel the next morning, I was a little nervous but Ray had an internal gift of making you feel safe at home. He asked me where I was from. I replied, the United States. He then told me of all the relief efforts, they got the most help from my country. That made me feel good and proud of the place that I call home. He would later tell me about the corruption of their government and how the people of Tacloban received very little assistance from them and they truly were left to fend for themselves. Till this day, I can’t come to grips with some of the stories that I heard from Tacloban residents.
Ray asked me where I wanted to go. I had went to the ATM machine and took out 20,000 PHP, which is about 425 U.S. dollars. I’m not a rich man, but felt compelled to give a little help, to a very helpless situation. My plan was to give 1000 PHP to 20 different families. He asked me where I would like to do this. I said where people are most desperate of course! He took me to a place they call “tent city”. A place where a year later after the typhoon, people were still living in tents (and not very luxurious tents, mind you). He took me to several different places as to not give away all the money away at one location. We would get out of the van and he would take me up to a family. I’m not really a very social person when it comes to meeting new people, but it seemed like someone else was doing my walking and talking for me. It was a very surreal experience. I learned about stories of husbands and wives losing their spouses, losing their children, parents and everything that they ever knew and loved.
Despite the heart wrenching stories that they told me, the look of pure gratitude when I gave them just 1000 pesos (about 25 U.S. dollars). 25 dollars is nothing to most Americans. To these families it meant a week without worrying how they were going to feed their family. It meant a big bag of rice, and maybe even some fruits and vegetables for their children. I have given to charities before (from a distance), but I was never fulfilled the way that I was that day. I felt so wonderful about bringing some smiles to the faces of families that probably couldn’t help but to feel hopeless.
Many families asked me what organization I was from. I said, it was just me. I wasn’t looking for a pat on the back, I just felt the need to gain first hand perspective about what the situation was like. It felt so good, that I ended up calling Ray two days later and said “Let’s Do It Again!” We did 🙂
A day or two later, I had already made quite a few friends. I guess the word travels fast that a friendly foreigner is giving away money around town. lol. Not a single soul came up to me asking me for money in an intrusive way however. We had great conversations about how they are going to come back better than ever. We also had tearful moments when they spoke about loved ones that they lost.
I spent a total of 800 U.S. dollars spreading the love to approximately 40 or 50 families. Not much.. It probably only helped them for a few days, but that was the best money I have ever spent in my life. Sometimes giving is truly priceless. Maybe, these people needed to need to know that there are people out there thinking of them in their dire situation. I honestly feel that I may likely get spoken of now again around one of those Filipino dinner tables when they say, “Do you remember that white guy who came to our door to give us money?” lol. Brings a smile to my face, if I made a positive memory in some way.
Ray, The Van Driver Had Lost His Entire Family
Ray, the guy who I asked to take me around to Tent City and other locations of homeless and hungry people never really got into details about his own family. I never pried. I was afraid of what I would hear. He spoke of his wife once, and then had to stop and gather his composure as tears welled up in his eye. I later found out through other people I had met, Ray lost his entire family in the Typhoon. He was saved by his wife who was holding on to his leg and her efforts kept him from getting washed out into the sea. She drowned in the process. He lost all of his kids, his wife, nieces, nephews, etc.. I was told that he only has 1 remaining cousin that he knows about. This broke my heart, and wish I could have did something for him as well.
I paid Ray for being my driver, but he was selfless in the way he took me throughout his beloved city to give away whatever little money that I had to others. I’ll never forget Ray and hope to make another visit and see if I can find him. I would love to have one more trip like we had on my first visit to Tacloban City and see how much things may have changed for the better!
I am thinking about being an expat in the Philippines one day, and who knows.. Maybe, Tacloban would be a nice place to call home!
Consider Liking “Travel Without A Map” on Facebook to stay up to date on our latest traveling adventures, tips and (hopefully) insightful “wanderlust” thoughts.