Haiyan victims still suffering as Christmas nears

Chunichi Shimbun

More than a month has passed since Typhoon Haiyan demolished a large number of towns and villages in the central Philippines, and the people now have sufficient supplies of food and other basics. But most lost their homes and are now having to live in the open, according to the International Children’s Action Network, a nonprofit group in Nagoya that is assisting them.

Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of year in the Philippines, where the majority of people are Christians. Instead, many are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

ICAN’s activities are primarily based in southern Leyte Island, an area few aid groups have so far focused on. It has been delivering food and building materials to Dulag, a small town with a population of over 30,000 to the south of Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm.

Aya Yoshida, a 29-year-old member of ICAN’s Japan office who visited the area to survey conditions earlier this month, about a month after the storm, found that the electricity was still out in Dulag, forcing people to burn the remnants of houses for light and heat. Bodies were continuing to wash ashore as well.

Many people found themselves with no roof over their heads because the larger buildings, such as schools, which would normally function as shelters, were destroyed. As a stopgap measure, they have been using tin sheets and other boards distributed by ICAN to build sheds.

During the day, children gather at where their schools used to stand, even though classes have not yet resumed. “By playing together, the children can help each other heal,” Yoshida said.

The spirit of the residents, however, was what left the greatest impression on her.

When trucks carrying supplies arrive in Dulag, both adults and children take the initiative in helping unload and distribute them. They comfort each other by saying phrases like “Keep on smiling, and you’ll be fine.”

The Philippine government hasn’t been able to provide much support or financial aid yet, so the typhoon victims aren’t exactly in the mood to celebrate Christmas. But Yoshida hopes “they will be able to put their worries aside for at least one day and enjoy the special day.”

“Without help from the international society, it will be impossible to rebuild the country,” Yoshida said. The NGO is calling for further aid from Japan.

To make a donation, please contact ICAN at 052-253-7299.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 13.