Typhoon Yolanda

By: Geneviève Bisson

I have been postponing writing about Typhoon Yolanda for a while now. Every time I sit in front of a blank page to begin, I can’t seem to be able to put the experience into words.

The day of the Typhoon a group of friends and I stayed in, made curry, got wine, I even got new pj’s for the occasion. We knew that we would have to stay in for at least 24 hours and decided to make the best of the situation.  Maybe a two-story fort even happened… maybe.

We were sheltered and not really sure how strong the winds would be. We felt safe. The Typhoon passed and Cebu, the region where we live, experienced minimal damage.

Despite living in the same country we were a bit removed from everything that was happening around us. It felt unreal when we looked at the news and saw the damage that it caused. It was heartbreaking.

At the same time we were safe at home, 1,000′s of people were watching their homes being destroyed, their love ones disappearing before their eyes, and lives getting washed away. I can’t imagine how sad and powerless they must have felt.

You don’t realize the importance of shelter and the peace of mind that goes with feeling safe until you witness how it could be much worse.

Since this disaster, it’s been quite the journey.  The first time I left to visit some of the islands that were the most affected it was the middle of the night. A big group of us in the back of a pick up truck full of relief goods made the 3-hour journey to Batayan. As the night turned into day the damage became very evident – bare trees, houses collapsed and people everywhere on the street.

At night on the island of Batayan we set up camp in front of what must have been a beautiful resort. It was a full moon that was offering the only light for the island. In the centre of town locals were lining up at 8pm to get their bags of relief goods. It was quite a daunting site.

It’s been a learning curve and the circumstances forced us to take action, to think and learn to prioritize in what was, for me, out of my comfort zone. But I think life only brings you challenges that you are ready for and I do feel like I have a deeper understanding of the effects of disaster relief. More so, I have such respect for the people that work in that field and such admiration for the courage that I have seen over and over again from the people affected by such a tragedy.

It’s been hard but beautiful to witness.

Of everything that I learned from this, the importance of community involvement is at the top of the list. Sometimes we think we know what people need and want. But, who is better to answer these questions than the people themselves?  I think the most important thing we can offer, besides financial help or medical assistance, is the basic need of hope – show up, take the time to listen, play with children, assist people with what they need and offer your time.

I have visited these islands many times since the Typhoon and every time I witness positive change. Little by little progress is being made and life is taking back its course.  This wouldn’t have been accomplished as quickly without the amount of people that reached out, donated, and went week after week. I am proud to say so many of my friends did this. It wouldn’t have been possible without the resilience of the Filipino spirit.

Yolanda left a trail of destruction behind her, one of such magnitude that it is often difficult to see the silver lining.  However, time and time again over the past few months I have witnessed the strength of the human spirit stronger than any wind.

Thank you, Philippines. You never cease to amaze me.