Monday, November 25, 2013

In the Philippines: The Sun Rises

The sun rises behind storm debris and trees stripped clean of vegetation by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

By Linda Unger*

I am on my way back to the States after an eventful week in the Philippines assisting Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the hard-hit city of Tacloban and surrounding towns. Our UMCOR convoy departed Sunday, November 17, from DasmariƱas in Cavite Province, made the 36-hour drive, distributed emergency food packages over the course of two days to abundantly grateful survivors, and returned to Manila via the ruined local airport in Tacloban.

What stood out? In Palo, which lies next to Tacloban and about a kilometer from the sea, there was an especially eerie quiet—no sound of chainsaws clearing a path through the debris, just the occasional hammering; from inside our passing car we watched as forensics specialists put two bodies into body bags and photographed the scene, and it seemed as though we were watching a silent movie. Everywhere, the ruined coconut crop lay in piles of shredded brown—brown, in fact, was the dominant color: of the spoiled branches of the coconut palms, the seared hillsides, the mud underfoot, and the piles of wet wood and other debris lining the roadsides. Brown, brown, brown—and it was quiet like a family in mourning.

Trees were shorn of their branches, the stubby remains of which reached wanly to the sky—“arms too short to box with God.” Too short, too shocked, too stunned and exhausted. The storm surge in Palo, a kilometer from the sea, and Tacloban shoved everything in its path out of its path, depositing it where it didn’t belong: in fields, on roofs, and in piles of what sometimes looked like junkyard wreckage. Filipino flags and painted slogans called for strength, affirmed courage, but down each side street—where there had been side streets—lay more wreckage. The Roman Catholic cathedral in Palo allowed its grounds—where many of the severed tree branches and parts of trunks had come to rest—to be used for a mass grave. The figures of two angels, standing high above where the cathedral doors used to be and beneath the roof that no longer is, remained inexplicably intact and watchful. Palo, particularly, made me think of pictures I’ve seen of cities bombed in the Second World War.

We drove back at night from the town of Dagami, through Tanauan and Palo, to Tacloban after our second day of distributing emergency food packages. The night was black as pitch. The full moon that had cheerfully accompanied us from DasmariƱas was, by this time, in retreat and covered, besides, with black-on-black storm clouds. Every once in a while a small, bright, red-orange family fire gave a sign of life and challenged the darkness with its warmth and beauty.

Where destruction is so pervasive, one looks for signs like that, signs of hope. And there were at least two other such signs that penetrated the desolation which I became aware of: one is found in that great dynamic of neighbors helping neighbors; the other, in the very remembrance that the sun rises.

Freddie Santos (left) and Angelo Catanga work to erect a temporary roof for a friend whose home was laid open to the sky by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

At the height of the storm, seventeen-year-old Dilmar Barnizo made a rope and pulled people out of the fast-moving storm surge and up to the roof of his family’s home in a vulnerable community in Tacloban. Christian Tabao hosted about 50 of his neighbors, even as his own home was being severely damaged by the typhoon’s high winds. His house is on a hill, and they would be safe there from the floodwaters, so he took them in. On the road we stopped to talk briefly with two men, Freddie and Angelo, who were helping a neighbor put up a temporary roof on a badly damaged home, a first step toward rebuilding a community. And there were more stories and scenes like these.

And, yes, the sun rises, even though, in the midst of so much destruction, it may seem impossible. For survivors, it rises and announces the start of a new day—a day perhaps eerily quiet, but a new day nonetheless. The sun rises, and we can do… something—to ease another’s burden and to make this day better than the day before….

*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.

Friday, November 15, 2013

UMCOR Executive Reflects on Hands-on Theology

Jack Amick, center, with Typhoon Haiyan volunteers and family food packs. Photo courtesy UMCOR Philippines. 

By Jack Amick
Sometimes, the best way to learn is by doing. That principle seems to be especially true when you’re learning about God’s love. That’s why the UMCOR Philippines office was full this morning. It was full of food and theologians. Young seminary students wanted to help and learn. Stacks of 50 kilo rice bags filled the hallway as 25 students, mostly women, from the Philippines Mission Institute, began their work of making food packets for families impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. 
These young women were soon joined by students from nearby Union Theological Seminary. But these volunteers were not just students. They were champions. They were the champion varsity football (soccer) team – and their coach. 
“These are my champs,” boasted UMCOR Philippines Director Ciony Eduarte. “They are my most experienced and dedicated volunteers. They do the quality control to make sure there are no missing items.” 
Her comment about missing items reminds me that UMCOR is intentional about reaching those on the margins and in crisis, making sure no one is missed. 
As the evening wore on, the young men were expecting their skateboarder friends to come help out. “Everyone here is eager to help,” Eduarte noted.
By the end of the day, over 800 relief bags were completed, adding to the hundreds that have been assembled in the past few days.

UMCOR's role in Typhoon Haiyan

On Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan battered parts of the Philippines. It cut a swath of devastation through the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol. 
UMCOR approved a grant to provide emergency food, water, and water purification tablets to 7,500 people (about 1,500 families) in Tacloban City, Leyte Province, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan. 
UMCOR volunteers in Manila have turned locally procured food into family packets, each of which will provide a family of 5 in the affected area with emergency food for around 5 days and costs $50.
Relief efforts are being funded through the UMCOR International Disaster Response Advance #982450. 100% of all gifts will be used to help people in need.
Jack Amick is at the UMCOR Philippines office in Manila and shared this reflection. He is the Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response for UMCOR.