The last time I posted here I was on my way to the Philippines to interview project participants who had lived through Typhoon Bopha. I told you that I’d be posting about my experiences. But we had no Internet, much less reliable electricity. Since I’ve been back I’ve thought a lot about my trip. It was one of the hardest trips I’ve taken. Below is a short reflection piece on my time there.
I’ve seen real poverty before; heard the most heart-wrenching stories from war widows in Kosovo and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. I’ve witnessed the excitement that a gift of a goat brings and the incredible act of Passing on the Gift. But what I saw and heard in the Philippines was a level of devastation I’ve never encountered.
I was in Mindanao just six weeks after Typhoon Bopha tore through the island. As we made our way to the project sites it was as if we were inching our way closer and closer to a war zone. Palm fronds, bent permanently in the direction the winds were blowing, gave way to decimated villages.
Not only are the physical scars obvious—homes in pieces, partially rebuilt or gone completely; people living under tarps; men cutting away rotten portions of wood in an effort to save any materials from damaged houses; layers of silt and mud deposited in rice and corn fields; crops dead where they were planted, trees down—there are now psychological and emotional scars.
I spoke to parents who say their children are afraid of the slightest winds, with mothers who have nothing to feed their families, and with fathers who are out of work because of factory closings or farm damage.
The typhoon ripped away hopes along with homes and livelihoods. All the Heifer beneficiaries here wanted was to provide their children with a life better than the one they had known. But with no food, no income and no job opportunities, it’s only a matter of time before kids will have to drop out of school.
What I learned in my 10 days there was the meaning of urgency. Typhoon Bopha was a minor blip on the Western world’s radar. But these people need help and they need it now. They have no food and won’t until the rice is harvested in the next few weeks.
In my five years with Heifer I’ve learned that each trip to the field leaves an indelible mark, and that each also comes with its own perils of the heart. I’ve been home from the Philippines for three weeks now, and though the images of crippled palms and makeshift homes are as clear as the day I was there, it’s the words of Ester Talledo that will remain with me forever: “While we’re alive there’s still hope. We will stay strong.”
Heifer’s Disaster Rehabilitation Fund is reserved for to help Heifer participants who are victimes of events like Typhoon Bopha. Please give if you can.