By mid-November, I’m usually busy preparing for Christmas, but this year I’ve also been acutely aware of how the typhoon in the Philippines, one of the worst storms on record, has been overshadowed by news of inconvenienced Thanksgiving travelers and all the hoopla around Black Friday.
Over ten million people, as much as the combined populations of Belgium, Belarus and Hungary, or the cities of New York and Houston, were affected. As of this writing, 5632 parents, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children and babies were killed, at least 1600 are still missing, and an unknown number of people grieve their loss. The survivors now live in the rubble of the total destruction of life as they knew it and are dependent on government and multinational aid organizations for daily subsistence.
It’s very hard for me to connect so great a need for the basic necessities of life and shoppers standing in long lines or fighting over a large screen TV, Disney’s Infinity game or Bug Hug Elmo.
Is the quest to acquire really what the season of giving is about?
A better holiday message would be to hear more about how the generosity of international aid is alleviating the suffering of those who have lost everything.
I need to be regularly reminded, as I enjoy the luxury of a comfortable home, a full pantry and uninterrupted family and work life, of the hardships my fellow world citizens are enduring and the ways in which others are helping them maintain their physical health (e.g. mass vaccination campaigns against epidemics) and re-establish daily routines (aid workers setting up tents in the school yards so children can go to class).
But since the news media has moved on, information about the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and those who are rising to meet the challenge doesn’t come to me. I have to seek it out.
I found this a few days ago in Euronews.
Japanese troops have landed on a beach in the Philippines. The Self-Defense force went ashore less than ten kilometers from a memorial commemorating the World War Two landing of US troops who had arrived to liberate the islands from Japanese Forces. Now over sixty years later the battle is against the devastation and disease caused by a natural disaster, Typhoon Haiyan.
Japan has sent more than 1,000 personnel and three naval warships in one of the country’s largest overseas relief operations. Close to Tacloban the Self-Defense Unit went to war with pesticide.
Around 300 families have set up temporary home in the city’s convention centre and many more live in tents. Maintaining healthy sanitary conditions is a key part of the troops work. For some it is a personal mission.
“It really hit me that natural disasters are terrible things. Japan also experienced this during the Great East Japan Earthquake (the tsunami). So it would be wonderful for us Japanese if we could use that experience to help here,” said Lieutenant Hioshi Ito.
Among the rubble and remains of what were once people’s homes lie reminders that the islands were in the middle of preparing for Christmas, a season that stretches for four months in the Philippines.
Despite having no running water or electricity one family who are living in an old shop front is determined to have some Christmas cheer. “Three days after the typhoon my daughter saw a Christmas tree in the rubble. She picked it up and fixed it because it was broken and falling apart,” explained Josephine Llego.
The tree has become a small symbol of hope in a city which bore the brunt of one of the worst storms to hit landfall.
YouTube has a video of the Christmas tree being decorated by children in the rubble that use to be their neighborhood.
I intend to watch it every time I feel myself getting caught up in the worries of the season and forget that reconciliation, compassion and the capacity of a child to bring about the rebirth of hope is the real story.