Note: As I write, Hurricane Matthew has already wreaked destruction with its torrential winds and rains, upon many in the Caribbean. Many in the southeastern United States are now bracing for the storms. Prayers for the many people already impacted and who have yet to be impacted, as they bear emotions associated with survival, trauma, grief and loss.
Last Tuesday, I finished traveling through southeastern Philippines in Leyte and Samar with a PCUSA delegation that included executive directors and coordinators (Tony De La Rosa, Sara Lisherness and Laurie Kraus), associate (Luke Asikoye), mission personnel (Mienda Uriarte and Cobbie Palm), and a program assistant (Dayna Oliver). Over three days, we visited “barangays” (very loose translation: “local communities”) which received assistance for shelter, livelihood and water/sanitation/health (WaSH) projects, after Typhoon Haiyan on November 8, 2013. Support for these projects came from overwhelming generosity and developed through a partnership between Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Task Force Haiyan with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
Here are some of the ways that this partnership assisted individuals:
*School children can enjoy a drink of clean water.
*A family is no longer living in trees but now have a home.
*A health clinic can serve people with standard medical equipment.
*Farmers can use a rice mill close to their home that also employs their own people.
*Men can support their families when they provide transportation services with refurbished tricycles.
Several members of the PCUSA delegation had witnessed the early devastation and the ongoing rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts. Without that kind of perspective, I still found myself looking back in a different way. Traveling with this delegation prompted me to reflect on my faith journey from early high school, but also to reflect on my first six months in the Philippines.
On my first short-term mission trip to Merida, Mexico, I traveled with other youth group members. Admittedly I didn’t care much for how we got there, that is, the missionaries who were already serving in Mexico, and the people who would be served by the seminary dormitories being built by our youth group. These questions only formed in me over many years of mistakes and misconceptions. These questions continue to open myself and others to newer conversations and actions around shared ministry and mission. In preparation for this recent visit, I even practiced sample questions in Filipino that I might ask community members about their lives after Typhoon Haiyan.
From the view of a van, I noticed the signs of businesses and spaces that have been rebuilt after Yolanda. Thanks to USAID, this sari-sari store is now open for business. On the main street driving through Tacloban, World Vision has built up a playspace: the sign is almost as prominent as the playspace itself. These signs are still displayed, but many of these organizations closed up their operations, one year after Haiyan.
Through brief snatches of conversations with Task Force Haiyan staff members on the bus and during walks, I learned more and now wonder about the future of my new co-workers—because their peoples’ lives are still “under construction.” Many of these staff members are still recovering from Yolanda, and their very work is helping to support their own families:
“Eric” the avid photographer previously worked as a nurse at a hospital. He remembers hearing the warning of an impending storm that morning. As the eldest son, he urged his brothers not to go to school, even though they had exams. Now he is still providing for his family and looking out for his brothers, but not as a nurse.
“Lisa” is the primary breadwinner of her family, since her husband and his coconut farming is on hold until the plants mature for harvest. Her eldest daughter graduated from college and is preparing to be a school teacher, but until her licensing exams which will happen next year, she works at a call center.
Our three-day visit to Samar and Leyte wrapped up quickly without my saying goodbye and thanks to these many staff workers, yet they are now are a part of my growing heart for the Philippines.
*Check out more videos from our visits throughout Samar and Leyte.