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Local News

‘Bayanihan’ Spirit Uniting the Philippines, Santa Barbara in Aftermath of Killer Typhoon

Locals keep an eye on family and friends, mobilizing relief efforts and providing support and encouragement

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery.]

"Hope your father is doing OK," a family friend texted my mother last weekend after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines.

My grandfather lives in Tagaytay City, a provincial town in Manila, which is one of the main islands. My parents came to the United States from the Philippines at young ages, but we still have many relatives who reside there.

Although this part of the Philippines was left relatively unaffected, many of the islands were left in a "national state of calamity" as declared by President Nonoy Aquino in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 storm. An estimated 10,000 people were killed.

While communication between my family and my grandfather is limited because of our choice of communication channels, popular social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have made it possible for people to reach loved ones in the Philippines immediately. People of the PI have also been posting thousands of pictures from the typhoon.

For Sonia Fernandez, a public affairs writer at UC Santa Barbara and a former Noozhawk reporter, constant contact with her family members in the PI has been open since a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit Bohol in October. 

"Since (the earthquake), we've constantly been in touch," said Fernandez, whose family members and friends reside mostly in the urban parts of southern Cebu.

After learning of the typhoon, Fernandez was determined to keep checking in.

"We knew the typhoon would be a big one," she said. "We just didn't know how big."

As the typhoon started sweeping into the PI, Fernandez was still able to communicate with her family members via Facebook.

"Initially, posts were really good," she said. "It was only raining really hard."

But as the typhoon began ripping its way through the PI, electricity and, thus, communication, were cut off for a few days.

"After being able to get a fast response from them, it was really scary not knowing what was happening," said Fernandez, recalling that her Facebook posts were going unanswered.

The world watched as photos emerged, showing the devastation that the PI was undergoing. Trees and buildings appeared to ripped from the ground, which was piled with rubble.

"It was intense," Fernandez said. "I was worried, especially with no communication."  

Fernandez later found out that southern Cebu, where her family was located, was relatively undamaged. The northern, more rural parts of the island, were completely devastated, however.

"Everything was just gone," she said.

While relief efforts were being mobilized overseas to aid those severely affected, many people in the Philippines immediately got to work to send help to victims in nearby cities.

"I've heard of a lot of people mobilizing and lots of organization of on-the-ground relief efforts," Fernandez said.

Sheila Doherty Apawan, a Cebu City resident and former classmate of Fernandez, is mobilizing relief efforts in northern Cebu out of her family home with the help of her four daughters and husband, Edgar. Noozhawk was able to reach her and get the story about the current situation.

"For us, there was just a lot of wind and some trees fell," she said of her typhoon experience in Cebu City. "But there are many shantytowns in the northern parts of Cebu where everything is just gone. People in those areas are now living in makeshift tents."

Apawan, who already was heavily involved in relief efforts after last month's earthquake, quickly organized some community members and started collecting food and other necessities from nearby warehouse stores to send to devastated areas.

"We needed relief right away," she said, noting that some individuals had already been sent out with shipments of food and medical supplies to northern Cebu and cities in the neighboring Leyte Islands.

"It's a remote place," Fernandez said. "You want to rely on the government, but you really have to take care of yourself."

While Apawan's is a small, grassroots operation, it is apparent that her volunteers are commited to help.   

"What has touched me the most, is that when some of these kids, maybe 15-16 years old, are packing supplies for many hours straight," Apawan said. "I don't hear one complaint. Everyone just wants to help."

That sentiment has carried over from the people of the Philippines to those around the world with their eyes on the typhoon's devastation.

While online media have blown up over the past week with one-minute ways to donate money to different international relief organizations, some Santa Barbara locals are going beyond that to raise more money.

Bishop Diego High School junior Katie Hoeflinger has been organizing efforts at her school to raise money for relief efforts via Hands4Others (H4O), a local nonprofit organization that concentrates on bringing sustainable sources of drinking water to remote places.

"There are a lot of fun ways for students to get involved," she said, listing the many ideas her club has come up with, including the sale of Thanksgiving candy grams, a car wash and a Christmas Fair activity.

"These kind of crises are horrific, and, in my position as a student leader, I have the chance to help," she explained.

Along with H4O at Bishop Diego, other local nonprofits are sending relief straight to the PI. Direct Relief has been shipping emergency medical packs to on-the-ground relief workers since last week and Unite to Light has partnered with Rotary International to get their solar-powered lights on the ground.

While the Philippines has been struck with much disaster, the outpouring of support from the international community is overwhelming to Apawan.

"It's the bayanihan spirit," she said, referring to the Filipino word for communal strength or unity. "Everyone is amazed at how the world is coming together to help us."

There is still much work to do. With aftershocks from the Bohol earthquake and many left hungry and without electricity, "Nobody is out of the woods yet," Fernandez said.

There are still many ways that Santa Barbarans can help fund these relief efforts in the Philippines. As a community of giving, Santa Barbara has time and time again shown off its own "bayanihan spirit."

In this time of trouble, as a Filipino-American, I urge you to contribute and to keep the people of the Philippines in our thoughts and prayers.

Noozhawk intern Frankie Victoria can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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