Relief for Typhoon Haiyan victims – a personal perspective
How you can help:
We encourage anyone wanting to support the relief effort to contact the disaster relief organizations directly. Due to logistical challenges in the affected areas, these organizations prefer monetary support over the collection of new and used items. FedEx is focusing all of our shipping relief efforts on these agencies who are best positioned to help the largest number of people and we cannot offer discounts to individuals or agencies who are collecting items.
Tuesday night as our relief team headed back to Cebu City from Bogo and Daan Bantayan, we began making plans to accompany the Direct Relief team the next day to Tacloban on Leyte Island, ground zero of Haiyan's wrath. Local air and ground transportation to Tacloban was logistically not possible when we needed to be there, so we decided to go with a different plan.
The next morning, Heart to Heart International, (HHI) advised us of their plan to go to Ormoc City, and if we were to join them, we needed to be ready to leave in less than an hour. They were traveling by ferry, and we managed to reach the pier just in time to purchase the last four tickets on the packed boat.
Two and a half hours later we arrived at the Ormoc pier. Most buildings had lost their roofs and siding. Wires were hanging down everywhere, and there was so much chaos and debris. Although Ormoc had also been hit hard by the typhoon, we soon recognized that the people here had a different spirit and attitude than those we had encountered the day before at Bogo and at Daan Bantayan.
Volunteers told us that the situation in Ormoc was ten times better than when they arrived immediately after the typhoon. The difference here was that the local government had a plan in place, and the people were pitching in. There was activity everywhere, including the constant clatter of people replacing the galvanized roofs of their homes and properties.
The local medical teams met us at the HHI headquarters, and when they began going through the supplies, the smiles on their faces made us feel like it was Christmas Day for them.
The majority of the medical supplies would be arriving later that night, but HHI had managed to bring along several huge duffle bags full of Amoxicillin, electrolytes, painkillers, bandages, and other urgently needed items. Supplies of some of these things were extremely low, and the medical workers were as excited as lottery winners as they went through the duffle bags, happily showing each other the treasures they were finding. It was exciting to realize that some of these supplies would be treating injuries and saving lives the very next day.
Some of these medical workers had just returned from the "front" at Tacloban, and though they continued to work all day treating patients in Ormoc, they told us that their rotation here was like taking a vacation.
They told us that things were so much worse in Tacloban. Most houses were flattened, and people seemed to be at a loss about what to do and how to begin rebuilding their homes and lives. Little help was available, and they had not yet figured out how to start helping themselves.
After all the devastation these medical workers had seen, they had high praise for the resiliency of the Filipino people. I was proud to hear him note the strength of the Filipinos, and their resolve not to let this calamity dampen their spirits.
We met one young girl of about 14 whose story of faith and courage during the typhoon deeply affected me. When the high winds began to blow and her family felt like their house would be smashed at any time, they made their way to the more sturdy house of a neighbor. She told us how she prayed during the worst of the typhoon, and how she and a cousin sang to calm the fears of their family. When I met her she was working as a volunteer to help others less fortunate.
Among the doctors and nurses we met, the same message about FedEx reverberated. They felt that without this FedEx delivery, they wouldn't be able to continue their work here. This FedEx support helped them save lives and give urgent medical care to those who need it most.
We left the facility right after dark and returned to the pier. Our ferry was supposed to leave at 7 in the evening, but was delayed for two and a half hours. It was a long, arduous trip back, but I, along with the others who made the trip, felt uplifted by the experiences that we had. It was such a good feeling to be a small part of such an important effort to ease the suffering of so many others.
Back in early November when Typhoon Haiyan swept across my native country, I worried not only for my family members in its path, but also for the countless Filipinos whose lives would be shattered by this record-setting storm.
I felt a certain helplessness, and began searching for ways to assist. When I heard that I would be on the FedEx flight to carry medical supplies to the affected areas, I was excited and anxious to witness, report back, and provide whatever support I could. I saw much suffering and damage while I was there, and it has had an impact on me.
But the remarkable thing is that I am also carrying away a deeper respect not only for the fortitude of the people in the country where I was born, but also the caring, kindness, and generosity of the FedEx family (as well as Heart to Heart and Direct Relief) in the country where I now live. I truly believe that in many ways, these organizations represent that spirit of giving…of stepping up to answer the call when help is needed.
Part 2: Hope Arrives * Tuesday, November 26 (jump to Part 1 below)
Monday, November 25 was an exhausting day. After 25 hours of traveling, our relief team finally reached Cebu in the Philippines, where we were greeted by a convoy of vehicles, and local government and relief agency officials. We began planning almost immediately with Heart to Heart International, and Direct Relief for the actual movement of the relief supplies to the disaster areas.
Our team began to feel a sense of urgency to rush these supplies to where they were needed most. Transportation in the Philippines can be daunting and uncertain under normal conditions, but when you overlay the additional problems caused by a natural disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan, the difficulties increase exponentially. After several hours of planning and making multiple contingency plans, Direct Relief came up with a tentative plan using local ground transportation for the supplies and communications team.
Finally, exhausted, I went to my room and crashed. (As a personal note, I woke up late at night, with my body clock telling me it was morning. I got dressed and was ready to start the day, when I was informed in email by an amused colleague that it was not yet midnight!)
On Tuesday, November 26, we tagged along with Direct Relief and delivered supplies to two hospitals in Bogo and Daan Bantayan, Cebu, north of Cebu city, two of the worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. One of the hospitals had a 50-bed capacity, but was packed with 100 beds during the storm. Outside the main building was a huge tent, and relief efforts were being provided by teams of doctors and medical staff from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Israel. This was just one example of the outpouring of support from so many different countries around the world.
Ninety-five percent of the homes and properties in Bogo and Daan Bantayan were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, and it was heart-rending to drive through the city on the way to and from the hospitals to make the medical supply deliveries. For miles and miles we witnessed unimaginable suffering on the faces of the people we passed. Gaunt and dirty, they sat listlessly on the ground or on makeshift benches along the roadsides, guarding what few possessions they had managed to salvage. The resignation and despair that I saw in their eyes is something I will never forget.
At one point I saw a woman sitting alone on a bench at the side of the road, carefully guarding two gallons of water by her side. Our eyes met for an instant, and somehow I seemed to understand that the water she guarded was the most important thing in her life at that moment.
From the hospital administrators we learned that at night many people go back to their flattened homes to sleep, only to return to the roadsides the next morning, hoping that help will miraculously arrive.
What truly broke my heart and brought on the tears were the countless children standing by the side of the road, hands held out for any alms from the passing vehicles. I wanted to share a bag of candy that I had with me, but knew it was unwise. Chaos and fighting would erupt, and if a car window went down even a few inches, a dozen desperate little arms would be thrust inside. I had seen this before, following the eruption of the Pinatubo volcano, and knew that good intentions could bring on unfortunate results. So we moved on.
Along the route I saw three churches that had lost their roofs and sidings but were still standing in the midst of all the flattened homes. I hoped that these churches would serve as reminders to those survivors to be strong and keep their faith.
And again I felt proud to know that I live in a country and work for a company that does not ignore, but takes action to provide relief for human suffering, especially in situations such as this.
Part 1: The Journey Begins * November 23, 2013
Native Filipinos like me, and others who have lived here for a long time, are used to inevitable typhoons that blow through our island nation every year. They vary in strength and in what islands they focus their fury on, but there is always devastation, flooding, suffering, and of course many deaths.
But nothing like Typhoon Haiyan has ever hit the Philippines before. Experts say that this might have been the strongest storm ever to make landfall anywhere in the world. Depending on who is counting, statistics indicate that more than 5000 deaths have been recorded, and many other missing people are yet to be accounted for. An estimated 4 million people are displaced from their homes.
On the personal side, I had family members who lived in the direct path of Haiyan. During the storm and for days afterward, there was no word about these family members, but it turns out we were among the lucky ones. Everyone was safe and sound. But my heart still goes out to so many others in my country who were not so lucky, and are still suffering today.
As a FedEx team member, eight years ago I was fortunate to be a part of the FedEx effort to send help and support to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Now I have the privilege to accompany an entire planeload of medical supplies and personal care kits that FedEx is shipping for free to the Philippines through our relationship with Heart to Heart International and Direct Relief. I am following its movement, from landing in Cebu, to distribution to impacted communities. I am anxious, but excited to be on this journey.
I am not completely sure what I’ll see and experience over the next few days, but I have an idea that it may be life changing. What I am sure of is that I am tremendously proud to be part of a company like FedEx that never hesitates to reach out when people are suffering.
As we prepared for departure Saturday from Los Angeles on a FedEx MD11 aircraft that would deliver these 100 tons of disaster relief cargo to the Philippines, I couldn't help but reflect on the FedEx team members I met at the FedEx LAX ramp, many of whom told me that they were there for personal reasons. Some had families and friends in the Philippines, and others explained they have just been touched by the stories they heard. What resonates with me most is their message of hope and prayers for the people of the Philippines.
Today we begin our mission of distributing the medical relief supplies to the Direct Relief and Heart to Heart International agencies here.
[Below: Loading of materials and arrival of Typhoon Haiyan relief aid in Philippines * Read more about Haiyan relief efforts here]