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Philippines

Rebuilding lives on storm-stricken Philippine islands

Ordinary Catholics and church social action groups pull out all the stops to help the needy overcome Typhoon Rai

Rebuilding lives on storm-stricken Philippine islands

Residents carry bottled water given as aid from a non-governmental organisation in Burgos town, Siargao island, on Jan. 5, weeks after Typhoon Rai devastated the island. (Photo: AFP)

Eighty-eight-year-old Anastasia Baroro begged the media to send out her short message.

“Please, air this so my children can watch it,” she told a reporter covering the aftermath of Typhoon Rai in Cebu in the central Philippines.

He expected to hear her lament how the typhoon had turned her bamboo hut into pieces, destroying the small store that sustained her.

Surprisingly, Anastasia began her statement with these words, “My children, I thank God because I am still alive. Do not worry about me because I am still here. I will see you soon.”

Instead of cursing the world, the old woman felt heaven had given her another chance to live despite her home collapsing around her. Her only wish was to see her daughter who lives in another town.

When Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines on Dec. 16 last year, it destroyed roads, bridges and infrastructure amounting to a conservative estimate of 28 billion pesos (US$560 million).

Even if they have money, there’s nothing to buy because stores were closed or destroyed

It also killed 407 people, injured more than 1,140 and wiped out thousands of homes on the islands of Cebu, Siargao, Surigao and elsewhere, leaving residents with no electricity or potable water.

The Catholic Church’s social arm Caritas and the Jesuit-run Tanging Yaman Foundation were among the first organizations to make their presence felt among people on the ground.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, meanwhile, appealed for help for typhoon victims.

In a Dec. 19 letter, Caritas chief Bishop Kolin Bagaforo called on all dioceses in the Philippines to support victims not only in terms of material goods but through prayer.

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The bishops declared Dec. 25 and 26 as national days of prayer for families and communities affected by the mega storm, one of the most powerful to hit the country.

There were second collections in parishes across the country for dioceses worst hit by the typhoon.

Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese, the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Prinsesa in Palawan, and Dumaguete Diocese were among the beneficiaries of Caritas’ attempt to cushion the storm’s blow.

Caritas’ executive secretary Father Antonio Labiao told the press in December that people needed shelter materials, food, water and medicines urgently.

Father Labiao described the plight of a mother of three children who lost their home that was made out of bamboo.

“Suffering yet fighting for survival for the sake of her children,” was how Father Labiao described the woman begging for food and water not for her but for her children.

Jesuit Father Manoling Francisco said people should rather donate goods than money because residents had nowhere to buy them. Stores were closed, banks were offline, markets were destroyed.

“We at the Jesuit Tanging Yaman Foundation have been gathering basic supplies like soap, water and canned goods because they need immediate supplies like these. Even if they have money, there’s nothing to buy because stores were closed or destroyed,” Father Francisco told UCA News.

God’s hand was at work when he called the rest of us, rich or poor, to share what we have with the needy. Truly, there is no one so poor that he cannot give

At the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, Catholics around Manila donated what they could before the Jesuits and volunteers packed them for shipment to the hardest-hit areas.

The Jesuits worked with the Philippine navy on the transport of relief aid. “We sent 30 tons of aid to victims. The navy picked it up and took it to the affected area,” Father Francisco added.

From there, the aid was then transported and distributed to people by members of the Philippine army.

Father Francisco said many of those who dropped by to give donations were ordinary, simple folk. They gave a few kilos of rice or several boxes of sardines.

God’s hand was at work when he called the rest of us, rich or poor, to share what we have with the needy. Truly, there is no one so poor that he cannot give. There is no one so rich that he cannot receive, the Jesuit said.

As for Anastasia, a young couple saw her video online. They picked her up in their family car and took her to that other town where she finally met her daughter. For Anastasia, Christmas came early.

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