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Typhoon Haiyan – A Lesson in Solidarity

ACTS sprung to the aid of Philippines in the wake of this horrific natural disaster that wrecked many homes and robbed many lives. The needs of the people are great and will take an immense time to heal. However, with the beginning of relief efforts brought forth together with the Salesian sisters in Cebu, many in Philippines who are touched can now slowly pick up the threads of their dignity and hope and courage to live on.

When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, my heart was moved by the images of those who had perished and even more so by those who had survived, lost their loved ones and were struggling with nothing except the shirts on their backs.   No shelter from the elements, no water, no food… for how long, nobody knows. It is hard to imagine the pain for one who has been fortunate to live in safe sunny Singapore.

It started with an offer to help the ACTS group with any kind of relief work that can be done remotely, collection of clothes, fund-raising initiatives etc.  Then came the need for water filters… CHARIS had donated 5 water filters to be used for emergency relief in the Philippines.  I was tasked to help Daniel (ACTS member) arrange this shipment to the Salesian sisters in Cebu.  After a few days, it became apparent that the logistics difficulties we were encountering would only mean a longer delay in getting the much-needed filters over to the disaster-stricken areas.  Our mission leader Audrey then threw open a last-ditched suggestion to carry the filters over by human courier.  I approached my husband Nicholas to consider making this trip together, and to my great surprise he agreed… not without much trepidation!  So we found ourselves on a flight to Cebu within 2 days! We carried with us the precious cargo of 5 Katadyn water filters which could each purify 100,000 litres of drinkable water at 4L/min, equivalent to 8 Goodwater bottle filters which was a handy size to be distributed to affected families. The relief package included a solar set which could provide much-needed lighting for areas without electricity.

When we arrived at the Cebu airport, our first hurdle was to clear customs with 3 large suitcases containing our loot.  Thankfully with all the prayers bolstering us, we got through without any trouble.  From the airport , it was a 5-hour journey with the Salesian Sisters to the Northern tip of Cebu, an area hit by the typhoon, where we were heading to distribute 2,000 relief packages to the community of a parish there.  The parish actually serves 7,000 but Sisters could only allocate 2,000 packages here as they had several other relief trips to be made in the coming weeks.  By now the Salesian sisters had already distributed >12,000 relief packages to different parts of Visayas.  Another 5 trips were planned reaching out to Ilo Ilo, Tacloban, Palawan with another 10,000 packages.  The items included in the relief packages were food and water, shelter kits and clothing.

Relief efforts were led by Salesian Sisters at the Don Bosco school with strong support from parent volunteers and past pupils of the school.  Everybody was contributing whatever they could, donations came in cash and kind, and those who could spare time and energy spent all week packing and making the arduous trips to the relief sites for distribution.  Even elementary school kids wanted to chip in for the packing during their recess time. It was most heartwarming to see so many of them bringing in their entire piggybanks to empty out their contribution.

On route to the North Cebu, we saw the occasional truck piled high with supplies and people riding it out under tarpaulin sheets when it rained, just to get supplies to the disaster area.  We learnt that some of these were individually-organized groups of friends who got together and rented a truck to bring relief supplies to fellow countrymen they probably do not know.  What an incredible sprit of generosity and solidarity!

As we travelled closer to the area hit by the typhoon, we could see the extent of devastation in the landscape; wooden houses crumbled into piles of timber and zinc, plantations strewn with fallen coconut, banana and maize.  Homes and livelihoods destroyed.  We saw families and children standing by the roadside with arms outstretched, hoping for someone to just stop with any form of aid.  The Sisters had already done a separate ‘highway distribution’ the week before to these families – these are families working on remote plantations and to whom the bigger relief operations will never reach.

Friends and families of ACTS Singapore missionaries have contributed in excess of S$16,500, which went to the typhoon relief efforts of the Salesian sisters based in Cebu and Manila. The money has gone a long way towards ongoing food and essentials purchased by the FMA sisters and personally delivered out to over 10,000 post earthquake and typhoon victims across the Visayas region. The Sisters have been visiting these places since late October - Bohol, Talcoban & Ormoc in Leyte, Bantayan, San Remigio, Bogo, Ilo Ilo, North Cebu, Palawan.

The first-hand accounts that we would hear over the next few days were heart-wrenching… how one survivor was holding on to her elderly mother in the swirling waters but lost her grip when hit by the spiraling debris; how after the winds subsided, mothers were wading in chest-high waters looking for their children, not knowing that under their feet they could be stepping on bodies.  It is sobering to realize that there is not only the physical and basic needs for survival that needed to be fulfilled, but a tremendous emotional void to recover as well.

So, what started off as a courier-mission, turned out for us to be an experience of invaluable life-lessons learnt.

We saw in the people and especially in the Sisters, the spirit of selfless compassion and love, and a true joy deep in their hearts in the service to fellow mankind.

We saw how people in situations of desperate need could still share the little they had.  The sisters share of how a father had managed to get one boiled egg amongst the clamoring crowd (Sisters only had 150 eggs for a few hundred people). He took the egg quickly to his wife and children and peeled it for them, nothing for himself.

We saw the solidarity of a nation struck by a tragedy.  Everyone was offering up whatever they could: time, effort, money, personal vehicles for transportation etc. It reminded us of the parable or the woman who gave up her two coins.  God gave each of us different talents not to be kept to ourselves for our benefit, but to be shared with our fellow brothers and sisters in need.  Mother Teresa says “It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Friends and families of ACTS Singapore missionaries have contributed in excess of S$16,500, which went to the typhoon relief efforts of the Salesian sisters based in Cebu and Manila. The money has gone a long way towards ongoing food and essentials purchased by the FMA sisters. These have been personally delivered out to over 10,000 post earthquake and typhoon victims across the Visayas region. The Sisters have been visiting these places since late October - Bohol, Talcoban & Ormoc in Leyte, Bantayan, San Remigio, Bogo, Ilo Ilo, North Cebu, Palawan.

And so we returned… our hearts totally transformed by His Love and Mercy shown through His people.  We are indeed blessed to have had this opportunity to experience it.

- Adelene Tan

 

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