My husband and I went to the Philippines in 2011. Two of our close friends, American and Filipino, were getting married on a remote island in the province of Palawan. We’d never heard of Palawan, nor did we know exactly where the Philippines were. What we did know was that such a special invitation to such a distant place was not something we were going to pass up.
We made the long journey across the Pacific (we lived in the US at the time) and stopped in Manila for the night. Among some fantastic Jeepneys and the chaos of the airport we found our hotel and stayed for the night. In the morning we flew to Coron on Busuanga Island in Palawan Province. The timing of our arrival on Busuanga just happened to coincide with the arrival of the Filipino family of the bride. We received such a warm welcome from them — family members we’d never met who treated us just like we were family. We all piled in a van and drove to the coast of Busuanga, talking and laughing, where we boarded a boat for the final leg of our journey to teeny, tiny Dimakya Island (you can see an aerial photo here).
Over the next few days we got to know everyone. The wedding party and guests had nearly filled the place — the only “resort” on the island — so everyone was related through friendship or family ties. We hung out together throughout the days, enjoyed meals together, explored the tiny island (you could walk from one side to the other) and savored our first impressions of the Philippines — lovely people, smiles, luminous blue-green water, sugary sand, succulent mangoes, saturated sunsets and the rare feeling of being a million miles away from anywhere. We were already making plans to go back someday.
The wedding was magical — a late afternoon ceremony at the edge of the island with a stunning view of the sunset. Afterwards, the party continued on a lantern-lit beach where we had dinner with our toes in the sand and celebrated the union of the happy couple. A perfect ending to a perfect trip to the Philippines.
Busuanga and Dimakya were directly in the path of typhoon Haiyan. Two people are dead, 21 people are missing, and the airport at Busuanga where we arrived and departed on our trip remains closed. I think about the people there — especially the people living on Dimakya Island — and wonder how they fared against the wrath of Haiyan. So remote, so alone, with so little protection. Do they have water? Food? A roof over their heads? Do they still have boats so they can access the mainland? Has anyone even gotten to the people on Dimakya island to assess the damage and account for their needs?
As I sit here and type from the comfort of my home, the reality and struggle of the central Philippines goes on for another day. I, and most of the rest of the world, sit on the outside looking in. There is some comfort in seeing numerous countries and military forces mobilizing to help. But I ask myself, what’s the best way for me to help the communities we visited in a direct, meaningful way? Giving money is one answer, but I think we need more answers when a disaster of this magnitude strikes. What happens to the widows who have lost the primary wage earners in their families? What happens to the children who have lost their parents? What happens to the fishermen who have lost their boats and their way to earn a living? What happens to the people who have just plain lost everything, including hope? How do we help these people, not just for this week or this month but for the long term?
I don’t know the answers but I do know I’ll return to the Philippines — now with the pledge of personally making a difference in the life of at least one person affected by Haiyan. I don’t yet know exactly how I will help or who the person I help will be, but I will help someone — one human to another. I live close enough in proximity (Singapore) to make it happen. The journey will reveal itself in time and perhaps it may even involve you, dear readers. Can we buy a boat for a fisherman or rebuild a home for a family? Let’s think about it together and please feel free to reply with your suggestions.
Out of disaster comes opportunity for the rest of us who weren’t affected. We can empathize, we can choose to act, we can pay it forward — because in this changing world, you never know when the person who needs help is going to be you.