In 2012-13, I worked alongside the Philippine Red Cross Leyte Chapter as an Australian Volunteer for International Development. I was involved in developing community-based disaster management and healthcare teams in remote municipalities across Leyte. I lived in Tacloban City and worked alongside some incredibly dedicated and inspiring staff and volunteers involved with the Chapter.
When news broke of the devastating impact of Typhoon Yolanda and the chaos that surrounded the island of Leyte, I feared for the safety of friends and colleagues. The days taken to make contact felt like months. In knowing the area, the types of houses, the difficult terrain and the often-challenging political situation, I knew the relief effort would be compounded with obstacles. However, the Filipino community is resilient when facing adversity and the aid community has been amazed by the attitude and determination of the local population in the quest to rebuild their lives.
It took me all of 24 hours to decide that I would return to help with the relief effort. After finally making contact with friends on the ground I returned to Tacloban City to once again work alongside Philippine Red Cross. Interestingly, I was mentally prepared for the state of Tacloban, but had not given a thought to the Chapter itself. Needless to say, it was no longer the quiet building operating off minimal resources and a handful of staff and volunteers; it was now one of the most important relief coordination points in the region.
At the backbone of the Chapter and the relief effort were the newly recruited volunteers. I was overwhelmed to see so many young and committed people living on site to support the response. The volunteers worked tirelessly in incredibly difficult conditions, with days starting at 5am and finishing at close to midnight. They slept in tents, had no running water and maintained a diet of one meal a day, dealt with months of rain and minor flooding and amazingly would still finish with the ability to laugh.
86 of these volunteers were the students of Colegio de Sta Lourdes, a regionally based nursing college renowned for its high educational standards and offering opportunity to those financially burdened. These students had arrived at the chapter within 5 days of the Typhoon, many not returning home until Christmas and some without homes to return to. I had heard of this college previously and knew of its reputation, but the strength and compassion of these young students was beyond inspirational. Without these students a relief operation that fed over 400,000 survivors, provided shelter to 40,000 families and assisted 35,000 people with emotional support would not have been possible.
It became clear that they all held great admiration for their college knowing of the positive change the school could bring to their families. In their eyes, returning to class was their first step towards normality since the typhoon. To be “just students” again was a topic of conversation that brought such laughter and hope. However, we all knew the impact that Yolanda had on the college grounds and everyone understood it would not be a normal school year. Even without a structural classroom, computers or books, the students are now back at college and once again aiming for high standards while approaching each day with a willingness to learn.
To learn more: http://startsomegood.com/CSLLFI