In the aftermath of supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) which devastated the Visayas region of the Philippines, causing billions worth of damage and leaving thousands killed, the Filipino nation has immediately invoked the bayanihan (cooperation) spirit and tried to do what they can to bring aid to those who need it — survivors of the disaster who continue to plead for help, scraps of food and shelter, things that they were enjoying before the fateful disaster uprooted decades-old trees, destroyed homes, and tore families apart, levelling entire cities like they were nothing. The destruction seemed like excerpts from a disaster movie — only, the nightmare was real.
In the wake of typhoon Ondoy (2010), Sendong (2012), Habagat (2012 and 2013), Filipinos have always found it in their hearts to do something, especially the youth, who have used social media as a means to mobilize people into action. The outpouring of support was immediate and relief efforts became more organized with groups directing the action through twitter, trafficking volunteers and goods where it should be. The situations then were dire, but no amount of preparation could have braced our country for the wrath of Yolanda. Each image on television was, and continues to be heartbreaking. I personally refrain from watching the news because I can’t help but feel helpless in the face of the difficulty that my people are facing in another part of the country.
After every disaster, it warms my heart that Filipinos always muster the strength pitch in, to share what they can, and as a nation continue to try to bring hope to those who have lost all. Those who do not have money volunteer in relief centers and companies pledge goods and funds to rebuild. Regular working class Pinoys sacrifice their meriendas, kids break their piggy banks. Everybody is involved. Everybody is on the same page. Perhaps, it is innate with the Filipino culture, this openness to lend a helping hand and when this nation comes together, it is magical to see. We can, as a nation, take action and it gives me pride as a Filipino.
I was really inspired by a recent volunteer stint at my school where, while sorting through various food items for repacking, we found notes taped to sachets of milk drinks and encouraging words written on canned goods donated to the relief drive. And apparently, it was happening in other relief centers too. My friend Sara, who volunteered for Red Cross, also found a facebook post about inspirational words on canned goods. While we really did not want to post anything on the social media regarding our volunteer work, the acts were just so touching and precious not to share. These were kids — whom our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal tagged as the future or our nation. The relief goods were simple, cans of sardines, packs of coffee — that they may have bought with their own allowance. To go to the office to volunteer their time, their efforts and share what little they have instead of posting their usual on Instagram, gives me hope that our youth can steer this nation to a bright future. Not once did these volunteers whip out their phones to check on their messages. No one took photos for selfies. And for the youth of today living on the brink of technology, this is something substantial. It means they understand the meaning of what they are doing and they are willing to do it. I believe, if they have the sensitivity to try to uplift the spirit of their fellowmen in need, if they can take the time to show their love, then they have what it takes to make things better. It starts with character. And this generation is proving that not only can they talk the talk (or post the post), they can also walk the walk.
There is also an unselfie campaign going around wherein instead of the usual selfies, Pinoys are using their profile images to direct people to websites that accept donations for Yolanda’s victims. And while there are the usual rants against the government, much deserved because of the politics in play, there is a genuine consensus among the netizens and the people on the ground. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody wants relief to get to the people of the Visayas and everyone is doing something about it.
People can make things happen. And this nation can come together. This outpouring of love and support — this is what makes us strong as a nation.
I continue to be inspired by the Filipinos — those who have survived the storm, and those who are on the other side trying to reach out to people they don’t even know. I salute the foreign volunteers who have arrived to the Visayas to provide medicine, food and shelter to our displaced kababayans. May God Bless You, and May God Bless our country.