Sunday, Feb. 16 marked the 100th day since Super Typhoon Yolanda — as Typhoon Haiyan is known in the Philippines — tore a path through the central Visayas region. One hundred days later, and the destruction I’ve seen since stepping off the plane almost makes it feel like Yolanda is still here. For such a small country, everything is larger than life here in the Philippines.
Hubert Par, a ChildFund sponsor relations officer who also serves on the Emergency Response Team, filled us in on the status of our response efforts in the Philippines, particularly in Tacloban City, where the devastation remains significant. The rest of the team in Tacloban introduced themselves, quickly affirming my confidence the relief campaign here was in good hands. Hubert mentioned that a local school would have a small presentation for us.
I hopped in the van that would take me to the Sto. Niño Special Education Center, an elementary school for differently abled children. This school, like many others throughout the island of Leyte, served as an evacuation center for hundreds of families displaced by Yolanda. ChildFund had established a Child-Centered Space, a safe place where ChildFund staff and volunteers could address children’s fears and emotions in the wake of the super typhoon, and also connect with teachers and local government for the protection of children living under these difficult circumstances.
A warm greeting at Sto. Niño for Anne and Philippines National Director Katherine Manik
When the van pulled into the school gates, I was greeted with a huge surprise: Several hundred students at Sto. Niño, their teachers and many parents had gathered in the school courtyard to greet me. I was ushered toward a podium, where a group of children began reading a story to the audience, describing my background.
A dance number and a few songs performed by hearing-impaired children followed the introduction. Hubert had called this a small presentation, but this was an amazing full-blown performance they’d prepared. I looked to the ChildFund staff members around me, and they seemed equally surprised over how big this “small presentation” was. My gaze darted from face to face until I found Hubert, who explained that this is how the community members wanted to express their thanks. Like other things I saw since arriving in the Philippines, the community at Sto. Niño’s expression of thanks was larger than life.
Then the community members showed me just why they were thankful. Inside a classroom was an exhibit showcasing just about every piece of material created at our Child-Centered Space established at the school. The immense volume of paper crafts, stories and other artwork on display was tremendous.
Students present a dance.
It’s been 100 days since Yolanda, but it felt like I’d walked into a collection amassed over a year. Each piece contained a message of hope or gratitude. Each story, though carrying hints of grief over what the child had lost, also reflected joy over what remained. I was particularly amazed by one child’s illustration of what he wanted to be when he grew up. His dreams were so big, he wrote that it would take three lives for him to live them all: as a fireman, a soldier and then finally a superhero.
Only then did I fully comprehend the larger-than-life gratitude the school community went to great lengths to express. If I was surprised to see how cheerful and resilient such a devastated community could be, they also surprised themselves, and they wanted to thank ChildFund staff and volunteers for dedicating the time and effort to work with their community and children to mount a response campaign that’s larger than life. Super Typhoon Yolanda still seems nearby in Leyte, but ChildFund’s still there too.