Last week, Typhoon Haiyan carved a path of devastation through the scattered archipelago of the Visayas in the southern Philippines. Just weeks after an earthquake left dozens dead, tsunami-like storm surges and record high winds claimed the lives of thousands more and displaced millions. In a country that experiences as many as 10 typhoons a year — by far the most exposed nation in the world — word of impending storms is numbingly common.
Three months earlier I was in Manila en route to return to Yale when Typhoon “Maring” (Trami) struck the northern Philippines, turning streets into rivers and washing away homes. I hailed a cab during what I later learned was the worst of the storm. Approaching the airport, we faced before us an underpass just beginning to flood. Behind us stretched a line of cars idling for what seemed like miles. The only way out was to trudge forward. Slowly the taxi driver pressed on the accelerator, the engine of the tiny cab revving slowly, slowly, slowly … and then dying with a definitive clunk, the ignition clicking in vain as he tried restarting the engine. Instantly, water began to flood the cab.
We escaped out the windows to try to push the taxi out of the floods, but the ceaseless rain and the rising floodwaters only allowed us to move inches. I surveyed the surroundings to find a police officer, but there were none around. Then, as if by a miracle, the car began to roll easily onto the drier land that lay ahead.
I looked back in awe. With caring smirks on their faces and rubber slippers on their feet were four strangers. Seeing our struggle, they had left behind their rusty motorcycles to help us push our way out of the floodwaters. In my broken Tagalog I thanked them. “Walang anuman aking mga kababayan,” they replied — “it’s nothing, my fellow countryman.”
As Typhoon Haiyan rumbled towards Cebu, my home, I prayed for my family, the families of friends, and all the Visayans. My family was kept safe. Some friends have yet to hear from their family. But I also thought back to the devastation I had witnessed just a few months before by a storm many times weaker.
Interspersed between the scenes of devastation after Haiyan are stories of sacrifice, of selflessness and of hope. Of an ABS-CBN reporter stationed in Tacloban, Atom Araullo, who helped children cross the floodwaters to the safety of another building. Of a British man, who kicked down doors in his devastated hotel and brought children and adults to safety. Of lives saved by rescue workers simply doing their jobs. Of the storm-battered doctors treating the injured in crumbling hospitals.
We have a word for this in Tagalog — bayanihan — that describes the spirit of community Filipinos share in helping one another, even strangers, that so defines the resilience of our people. Bayanihan traces back to an early Philippine tradition where community members helped families move by literally carrying their homes on bamboo poles to the new location. Bayanihan means even if you cannot do it alone, together with the help of others you surely can.
Today, that help can come from you. Whether that means checking up with a friend whose family might have been affected by the typhoon, or joining us in remembrance of the lives lost at Thursday evening’s benefit concert and vigil, or even pledging a donation to the relief efforts — that’s up to you to decide. In spite of the destruction, the global outpouring of support for the Philippines, coupled with the hope of the Philippine people, is more tangible than ever.
The rebuilding process after Haiyan may take many years, and the scars from such a devastating tragedy heal slowly — but with this global spirit of bayanihan, the Philippines will soon see a new day.
Christopher Marnell is a senior in Pierson College. Contact him at email@example.com.