When I first heard through social media about Typhoon Haiyan striking the Philippines, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. After all, my homeland has a tendency of attracting natural disasters left and right.
And then, the numbers started showing up: hundreds of bodies washed up in the aftermath, thousands more feared dead from the devastating winds and accompanying earthquake, zero sources of food and water for the survivors. Pleas for donations spread like wildfire on Facebook.
What really did me in, however, were the photographs: a man writing an S.O.S. message on the ground, houses literally torn apart and flattened to an unrecognizable heap, body bags lining the streets and people struggling to identify the dead, tears on many of the survivors’ faces.
I thought of the millions of people left without homes, livelihood and even family at a time when they should be gearing up for the holiday season. They have to literally start from scratch and live off the generosity of others for the next few months.
Even though I haven’t set foot in my home country in almost eight years, my heart still belongs to the Philippines. And this heart broke into a thousand pieces for my countrymen.
I thought back to the years when I was living in the Philippines, where impoverishment can be seen in the countless makeshift houses that shelter multiple families, but togetherness is evident despite the circumstances.
It hurt. There’s no other way to describe how I felt when the full impact of the situation dawned on me. Years of exposure to the country’s strong tendency of empathy toward each other have trained me to be particularly sensitive toward the struggles of Filipinos.
I still can’t go through a single article on the storm without crying.
At the same time, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride to how my countrymen are handling the spotlight. Despite the circumstances, Filipinos have proven their resilience, togetherness and strength. It may take a while for them to fully recover, but they will.
I know I’m not the ideal spokesperson for my country — unlike many of my countrymen I lived comfortably when I was there — but I do want to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has contributed to the help that I know will keep the Filipino spirit alive as my people struggle to come to terms with their loss.
At a time when every penny counts, every bit of assistance means the world to us.