A visit to the Philippines from Jan. 18-28 to evaluate the current state of the response to Typhoon Haiyan was made by Roy Winter, associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries--part of the Church of the Brethren response following the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan last November. Brethren Disaster Ministries is using the information gained to identify local partners and how the Brethren may best contribute to ecumenical relief and recovery efforts.
Accompanied by Church of the Brethren member Peter Barlow, who has volunteered for the Peace Corps in one of the hardest-hit areas, Winter visited with partners of Church World Service (CWS) and ACT International, communities where Heifer International is at work, and local Filipino organizations.
The two visited the island of Leyte and the city of Tacloban, which has received much of the world’s attention following the typhoon, met with government officials, and visited communities where Heifer is doing longterm sustainability work around Ormoc city. They also met with several village community groups, who received them warmly. At some places the two Brethren spoke with larger meetings of people. “They mostly seemed really glad to see people who were there to help,” Winter said.
The storm made landfall on Nov. 8, 2013, and affected some 12 million people, displaced nearly a million more, and killed more than 6,200. “For many coastal fishermen, coconut farmers and rice farmers, the wind and storm surge not only took their home, it stole their livelihood possibly for years to come,” Winter reported.
He said that some areas they visited were hit by 40- to 50-foot tidal surges. In Tacloban, some two months later, the city was still struggling to regain basic infrastructure such as electricity, buildings were destroyed and roofs blown off. “It was a shock to see so many palm trees down,” Winter said, noting that is unusual given the resilient nature of the tropical trees that survive many storms. However, so many palms were blown down by this storm, the strongest typhoon in recorded history, that people are using their wood for rebuilding.
The hardest part of the trip was listening to the stories of death and loss, Winter said. They met parents who lost children, families in which many loved ones died, and communities that have been decimated. One man who survived by clinging to a tree, told how his wife was swept out of his grasp and lost to the storm.
Winter views the typhoon recovery in the Philippines as an opportunity for Brethren Disaster Ministries to help a country work at sustaining itself. He plans to focus the Brethren resources on rebuilding livelihoods for at least the next couple of years, with some support given to permanent construction work by partner organizations in the Philippines. So far at least $200,000 in donations have been received for Typhoon Haiyan recovery, with some significant responses from congregations and districts.
Read Winter’s personal report from the trip is at www.brethren.org/bdm/updates/tindog-tacloban-stand-up.html . A story from Peter Barlow’s experience of returning to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan is at www.brethren.org/news/2014/tita-graces-tiled-floor.html . Give to the Typhoon Haiyan appeal online at www.brethren.org/typhoonaid . Donations may be mailed to Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.