I can’t quite believe it’s seven years since I went to the Philippines as part of a Rotary sponsored Group Study Exchange (GSE). Some of the memories seem so fresh including visiting school on the shores of Laguna de Bay where the children danced for us (though dancing wasn’t unusual, there was always dancing). Just a few months later, the school and so much of the surrounding area was devastated by a typhoon. This is what I wrote at the time, back in early October 2009.
Visiting the school in April 2009
Where were you when…? A phrase probably most associated with the assassination of Kennedy and more recently with the terrorist attacks on the twin towers. It may not have had the same international impact but I’ll always remember the exact moment when I heard about the flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in the Philippines. Driving out of Bridlington with the car radio switched on: it was a sunny Sunday afternoon following the annual conference of Rotary District 1270, where I had been speaking with other members of the GSE Team to District 3820 in the Philippines. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. My initial deep shock turned to feelings of helplessness and distress at a situation where I knew people who were involved but could do nothing to help.
Typhoon Ketsana wreaked havoc in Manila and Laguna – a region visited by our GSE team. One month’s worth of rain fell in six hours; at least 288 people were killed; the homes of 3 million people were damaged or destroyed; and an estimated £72m worth of crops were damaged. The scale of it is difficult to grasp, the long term impact perhaps harder. The disaster is so massive that the government and aid agencies have been overwhelmed. Outside Manila, much of the relief effort is being carried out by volunteers and civic organisations including Rotary.
The town of Bay, on the shore of a large lake, has been a major casualty. In March, when we visited a school in Bay it was an idyllic place. The children sang and danced for us, and we looked over the still blue waters of the lake. Now the school, and adjacent neighbourhood, are chest deep in muddy water. The water isn’t expected to recede for weeks, perhaps months. The smiling children who had met us already had so little, now their homes and school are underwater, their school bags washed away.
The same school after the typhoon, in early October 2009
Like many of the Rotary Clubs in the region, the Rotary Clubs of Bay and West Bay responded immediately. Delivering what emergency relief aid they could. Food, water and clothing were a priority. Now they plan to buy hygiene products, medicines and water purification tablets. They are also preparing the families that will be housed using ShelterBoxes. This immediate response by Filipino Rotarians has been repeated throughout the affected area. But their ability to help those in need is, and will continue to be, limited by a lack of funds.
International aid has arrived in the Philippines but is prioritised in the capital, Manila, leaving those in the provinces such as Laguna feeling frustrated. The Philippines is no stranger to disaster: being in the path of typhoons rolling in off the Pacific and with active volcanoes and earthquake risk. District 3820, has a Calamity Fund to help cope with disasters but this fund is now depleted. The Rotary Clubs have little left to help with the reconstruction/rehabilitation of communities.
The response by Filipinos to the unfolding disaster should be an inspiration to us all, as is the Filipino Rotarians dedication to Service above Self.
This was published by Rotary District 1270 and by a few local newspapers in the UK. We managed to raise funds to help with the relief work carried out by the Rotarians that had hosted and looked after us six months earlier.