Stepping off the plane and onto a slippery tarmac the morning of November 8, no one could have foreseen the repercussions the day’s events would bring.
We were flying back in from a week’s vacation in Hong Kong, already delayed but expecting worse weather conditions. Upon arrival in Subic Bay, it wasn’t until evening that the sky burst, pouring out untold destruction as Haiyan swept across the country.
On our hillside home, the wind howled louder than usual, but we kept the shutters down, flashlights nearby, and slept through the night.
The next morning, my husband had a scheduled meeting in Manila to discuss our family’s business on one of the islands in Palawan.
“Are you still going?” I asked him, while stirring the day’s first coffee.
“No,” he said quietly. “There probably isn’t anything to discuss anymore.” His gaze was distraught; he’d been following the news online.
I flipped on the TV, and there it was.
Death. Destruction. The worst storm in history had left its mark.
The island we’d just finished construction for a new kitesurf camp on, lay in the direct path of the typhoon’s fury. As we watched bleak image after image of survivors in shock, as the news of a rising death toll spread across the globe, we could only hope that my brother and the 20 staff members on that tiny island in the middle of the South China Sea, were still okay.
It was to be three long days before we’d made any contact with them.
And during those days, I turned to social networks to follow the news, desperate for updates, for information, for hope.
Thankfully, and by nothing short of a miracle plus the boys’ disaster-preparation, there were no casualties, and no debilitating damage to the island. None of the native-bamboo structures had succumbed to the wind. We had never felt relief like this.
And so began a month that was probably the busiest of my 2013, besides March, when my daughter was born.
Suddenly, we found ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of activity. My brother got involved in hands-on relief to other islands nearby whose residents and villagers weren’t as lucky. Our team in Manila organized shipments and air supplies of relief for the outlying islands where the local government, even with its billions of donations, still wasn’t getting to.
People around the world who wanted to somehow help the victims of Haiyan were finding us online and giving from their own pockets. We began to work more closely with other individuals who were also active with relief efforts in Palawan, to send relief in a fast, efficient way, reaching hard-to-access areas. The ground teams, meeting shipments at port, would then go, sometimes with boats, sometimes on foot, hand-carrying supplies to the people.
The process and logistics were crazy at times, but things were happening. Help was getting to the islands. Medical missions were carried out; hundreds of families reached with food, water, and clothing.
You see, I went from being a busy mom in the kitchen to being a busy mom in the kitchen with a mission.
I still remember the feeling waking up with a million things on my mind–we’d just heard from my brother, that he was okay. I went to my husband and said, “Help me sort all these ideas in my head. We have ways to get to the islands, to reach the remote villages. My Facebook page is going crazy. People want to send help. We can’t not do anything!”
He looked at me with a, “It’s going to be a logistic-nightmare” face, but, being the level-headed man he is, told me what was needed, first and fast: Boats. Manpower. Fuel.
Suddenly, on the other end of my phone, were priests, doctors, medical workers, and people trying to connect with those who were suffering in the islands, asking us if we had a way to reach them with supplies.
And because we did, it became a team effort of complete strangers coming together in the most unique of ways. I was reminded of my youthful days in Thailand, and of the aftermath of the Tsunami, when I found myself on a beach in Hikkadduwa, Sri Lanka, listening to the stories of survivors, visiting the little school run by the Daughters of Charity sisters, and of the week I spent with hilltop tribes in Uganda.
It wasn’t about one person or one group being a hero; it was about teamwork, concerted efforts; compassion in action–not just talk.
These were the adventures and journeys that, though wrought with difficulty, opened my eyes to the reality of the world. As a teenager, I learned to cherish life, to know its value.
And now, in-between diaper changes, midnight feedings with my baby, and scheduling family activities, there was also scheduling of relief pickups, emailing sponsors from faraway countries and helping to connect them with the immediate need.
I don’t have the money, or the resources to make a difference. But what I have always had was the blessing of being surrounded by amazing people. And this last month has proven that vital connections one makes to another, and another, and another, when interwoven in that crucial time, are enough to make miracles happen.
I now find myself with just four days left in the country. So before we go back to Saxony with the kids, I’m enjoying my family and catching up with old friends over long, late night conversations. I’m taking my son around every day and showing him what it means to live an unconventional life.
To me, it continues to mean the same thing: that, sometimes, we don’t know where this journey takes us, what storms are ahead, what unforeseen events.
But we pray for pockets of peace; we trust the love and support of friends—and yes, sometimes even strangers.
It’s a crazy world we live in, and as my children grow, they will see that there is evil, and people with bad agendas, those power-hungry and money-hungry.
But they will also come to find that there is still so much good, so many who make the right choices, to live their lives in beautiful ways, and for humanity. I have met those kind of folks this month, connected with them, learned from them.
And if, at night, our loved ones are near, and we can still sleep in each others arms, and if our children are healthy and laughing, with a roof overhead, then we have a million reasons to be thankful.
Please watch this video posted on Youtube, with lyrics written by songwriter Armand TJ in Boracay–sung by children who were also victims of Haiyan, but they came together to sing for the world , the beautiful way Filipinos do despite the many storms.
(Relief photographs courtesy of 250k Kiteboarding Adventures)