Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) and the Philippines – Disaster Relief / Aid Donations

Image: Helicopters hover over the damaged area after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban citykeep-calm-and-pray-for-the-philippines-30

It’s been a while since I last posted to this blog, primarily because of a shift in my responsibilities at work, which have recently taken a slightly different (and exciting) tack.  I was preparing to reflect that shift in this blog, but recent events in the Philippines have prompted me to put that on hold for a bit to post this first.  This is a totally personal, out of the normal context of this blog’s content, but it something that has deeply affected me personally and I would like to share with those who read my blog.

Late last week and over the weekend, one of the largest and strongest typhoons (or hurricanes, to us in the Atlantic) in history, Typhoon Haiyan – which is the official international name for the storm –  (or Yolanda, as it is called in the Philippines) bore down on the Central Philippines and literally laid waste to the areas in which it made landfall there.  Those of you who know me personally know that I am half Filipino, and a first-generation Filipino American in our family (my father is from the Philippines, and we still have family there).  While our family is from Luzon, which thankfully was spared most of the storm’s devastation, we all are astonished and saddened by the destruction that Yolanda caused in the Philippines – the land of our heritage.

If you know anything about the Filipino people and culture, you know that they for the most part are some of the most loyal, friendly, vocal, resilient, and hard-working people on the face of the earth.  I think what sets them apart is the nature of their constitution which always has Filipinos putting on a smile, even in the face of the most grievous adversity and seemingly bleak situations.  A lot of Filipinos outside major metropolitan areas in the Philippines live very modestly, and many even in significant poverty.  They are economically, medically, and educationally underserved in many areas, and hunger in many parts of the Philippines is a stark and sad reality on a good day.  The impact of this storm on the affected areas will magnify those problems infinitely – not just for the short term, but for years to come.

The rice crop for this year in the storm affected areas (including those in other areas of the Philippines nad even outside the Philippines in SE Asia) is all but destroyed, meaning very limited rice supplies for the coming months.  Seawater from the storm surges flooded out a vast majority of the rice fields, not to mention the physical destruction of farmers’ homes, families, and infrastructure.  Contaminated water containing raw human sewage and any other pollutants that were washed into the mix by the flooding will contaminate much of the area used to grow rice and other crops for some time to come.

This area of the central Philippines also was supported economically by coconut harvests.  In addition to coconut’s value as a food product, it is also an important agricultural export for this area for it’s non-food uses in cosmetics, chemical industry, and numerous other products that utilize various parts of the coconut for a multitude of uses.  If you’ve seen any of the aerial or ground photos of the landscape in this area, nearly every coconut and palm tree near the coastline is completely gone.  Groves that were inland sustained heavy damage as well, in many cases total grove loss.  It takes three years for a newly-planted palm tree to mature and produce viable coconuts for agricultural purposes.  You can start to see how the reach of this storm is going to impact the affected region for years to come.

As with any major natural disaster, relief is coming in now from the Philippine government and from many supporting nations and NGO’s in the form of the essentials – food, water, and medical care.  Temporary shelters and housing are to be erected soon, and slowly but surely the infrastructure for transportation, power, and communications will come back online as the cleanup and recovery continues.  Unfortunately, for many Filipinos in the affected areas, this influx of aid will only be temporary, and those displaced by the storm now may have an even more difficult time feeding their families and themselves after the aid slows down in a few months.  Hunger and malnutrition will continue at a greater scale for the long term.

For this reason, and as a heartbroken Filipino American, I would ask not only for everyone’s prayers and condolences, but for whatever assistance you might be able to provide.  I’ve seen a lot of folks wanting to send food or clothing or medicines, but honestly, that aid is expensive and difficult to get directly to those who need it in these affected areas.  What really makes a difference now and especially in the coming months is financial assistance to WORTHY and VETTED organizations.  In times like this, and even before this, a little goes a relatively long way if it’s going to the right people and the right organizations.  We have all undoubtedly heard the stories about how so much financial aid contributed gets “diverted and diluted” and that only fractions of donated dollars are actually making it to those in need.  That is sadly true, and the Philippines is in no way immune to the problems of profiteering and corruption that plague other third world nations in need of aid.

Fortunately, there are organizations that have been helping feed Filipinos in need well before this tragedy, and will be on the front lines helping to continue feeding them through and after this disaster and recovery.  These organizations have established in-country logistics to translate donated dollars directly into food that is distributed to those in need through a supply chain of “feeding sites”.  The vast majority of those helped are children, and sadly many of those now will also be orphans.  Additionally, there are also Filipino-American groups who have been returning to the Philippines regularly to provide free medical care to medically underserved areas in the Philippines.  While some of these groups may be called on to participate directly in Yolanda recovery and relief missions, others will continue to serve other parts of the Philippines.  The worry that these groups face now is that they will have limited supplies in upcoming mission trips due to the large amount of medical supply diversion that is necessary to provide medical relief in the typhoon-ravaged areas.  These groups relied heavily on donations of a financial nature, and also of medical-surgical supplies which are used to provide care during the missions.

I would like to highlight two of the organizations representing the needs above, that I can personally vouch for and guarantee that financial and material donations go directly to providing food and health care to Filipinos in need, and I’d urge you all to consider contributing if you’re able:

RISEN SAVIOR MISSIONS (www.risensaviormissions.org/rsm)
This group works with my father’s group (Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association – http://www.phmma.org) and with Feed My Starving Children (http://www.fmsc.org/).  I can personally vouch for the fact that 100% of donations go to the Philippines and are 100% tax deductible.  My parents have literally watched the food they helped pack into a shipping container in the Twin Cities get distributed at a feeding site in the Philippines.  Both Risen Savior and Feed My Starving Children have established logistics, relationships, and networks in country for storage and distribution of food where it’s needed.

Risen Savior will accept donations via PayPal, mail, and would probably take them over the phone as well.  I know they’d be immensely grateful for your help right now.

If you would like to donate money or materials to the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association, please contact them via their website (www.phmma.org), or contact me directly (markfermin@hotmail.com) and I can get you directly in touch with someone.  They are planning a mission in January, 2014 and will be in great need of medical supplies and financial support to purchase in the Philippines what they cannot ship ahead of them (mostly medications, perishable medical supplies, and regulated medical devices, etc.).

The Philippine Red Cross (http://redcross.org.ph/donatenow) is also a worthy and credible place to donate to right now.  There are many volunteers in the Philippines standing by to pack, ship, and distribute goods and turn donations into materials essential to rescue, relief, and recovery in the immediate wake of this disaster.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.  Thanks for reading, and keep the Philippines in your and your family’s thoughts now and for the hard months to come.

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