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Typhoon Haiyan survivor tells: ‘The strong winds brought strong help’

World Vision
7 November 2014 by Rhonda Hirst
Typhoon Haiyan survivor tells: ‘The strong winds brought strong help’

Best friends Benjamin and Antonio have been active in helping their community to clear and rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Rhonda Hirst, World Vision

When I arrived in Tacloban, the ‘Filipino way’ was strikingly obvious: they have the admirable, intentional attitude of finding the joy in what they have, rather than focusing on what they’ve lost.

It’s this spirit that has seen Haiyan-affected areas undergo remarkable change over the past year, compared to the progress made in the wake of other disasters, like the Haiti earthquake or the Boxing Day Tsunami.

It was just a year ago when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Visayas, snatching more than 6200 people away from their families. Even some of the most seasoned emergency professionals are telling me that this response is very different to anything they have seen – largely due to the attitudes of survivors. The Filipino resilience, positive attitude and determination to ‘bangon’ (rise up) has played a vital part in the Philippines’ recovery.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many remarkable people with stories of tragedy, hope and joy – and every one of them is special. But last week I met two men that had a beautiful friendship that I felt was representative of resilience, World Vision’s work and a very strong bond.

Benjamin, 61 (pictured in orange) and Antonio, 65 have been best friends for more than fifty years. They live in a green, secluded community in rural Dulag, about 90 minutes from Tacloban City.

They look at each other and communicate without words, laughing as I take a picture of them. Partially excited about the photo, (Filipinos LOVE having their photo taken!) maybe a little nervous – but I don’t think that either of them could really see what I found so special about their bond.

Antonio is a fit man with defined muscles who doesn’t appear to be 65. When I asked him his secret to ageing gracefully, he tells me he exercises daily. He and Benjamin have both taken an active part in clearing their community after Haiyan – a village that has been self-sufficient in providing their own food sources for generations.

But when the typhoon hit, it placed extreme pressure on this community that held so much pride in being able to provide for itself for so long. Benjamin used to be a coconut farmer, but like those of so many other farmers his trees were damaged.  On November 8 last year the family’s main income source literally disappeared overnight.

Thankfully, the root crops are recovering – producing enough to feed the community, and even to make a small income from selling excess at the markets. What they needed help with was the rebuilding and repair of homes. The majority of this village is made up of the elderly and children, unable to physically or financially rebuild their own homes.

World Vision gave some people emergency shelter immediately after Haiyan hit, and has since helped build some more permanent homes for people who needed it most – shelter materials and construction for people like these men. Antonio is a widower, and Benjamin cares for his three grandchildren. The community nominated them as two of the most in need of assistance.

“We live close to each other”, Antonio tells me, smiling. “We can walk to each other’s house. This is good”.

I can see that this widower finds a lot of joy and belonging through his relationship with his lifelong friend. Benjamin is more than a friend: he provides a sense of family, a sense of belonging.

“The strong typhoon was exchanged for strong help,” Benjamin tells me. “The strength of other countries came with strong winds”.

This makes my heart so full – he is so grateful for the help, when so many other people in the world would look at this situation with nothing but negativity, expectation and resentment. There are many lessons in the attitudes of these communities that I think our western cultures could learn a thing or two from.

So on November 8th, please spare a moment for the gracious people of the Philippines. So grateful for the support the world provided them in their time of need, and so resilient and empowered to get back on their feet as soon as they can.

Rhonda Hirst Rhonda Hirst

Rhonda Hirst is Emergency Marketing Manager at World Vision and is currently working in the Philippines for the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan.


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