Some call it the Black Wind. Each autumn it brings punishing storms to the Visayas, a handful of islands scattered around the eastern Philippines. The Black Wind carries torrential rain and intense gusts, and on Nov. 8, 2013, it barreled through the islands with the most powerful sustained winds ever recorded on land — nearly 200 miles an hour.
Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as “Yolanda” in the Philippines) killed more than 6,000 people, ripping a path of destruction across several islands. The storm surge rose an astounding 17 feet. An estimated 3 to 4 million people were displaced.
The death and devastation sparked a human instinct that is sometimes absent in a world where individuals can be simultaneously connected and utterly detached. The instinct is a basic desire to help those in need.
Patria Weston-Lee with students from Taloto-an Elementary School in Concepcion, Iloilo, in Western Visayas. Consuelo rebuilt this school.
Courtesy of AJ Halagao
People in Hawaii acted on that instinct and responded with generosity. AJ Halagao of the Hawaiian Electric Industries Charitable Foundation started the appeal with local banks. Within five business days, all had agreed to collect donations and to give further help. He also worked with other corporate and individual donors and the Filipino Community Center to put together the “Aloha for the Philippines” relief effort.
The Honolulu-based Consuelo Foundation pledged $2 million for the recovery, and appealed to the public through the Filipino Community Center for matching funds. Donations to the Filipino Community Center surpassed $750,000. Including other contributions, some $3.5 million was raised locally for relief and recovery operations in the Philippines.
Looking back a year later, Halagao calls the entire experience “a good model of cooperation in Hawaii.”
Equally impressive is the tracking of where those contributions have gone. As a country, the Philippines scores poorly when it comes to various measures of corruption. Transparency International ranks it 94th out of 177 countries and territories on its Corruption Perceptions Index.
A wrecked ship remains evidence of the storm’s destructiveness in Tacloban City, Philippines.
Consuelo Foundation CEO Jon Matsuoka says the group started its connections at the level of the president’s office, but moved quickly to work at the provincial and local level, where “they’re a bit more nimble.” The group has also been careful to direct its funding to very specific projects, such as re-establishing school classrooms that were wiped out, setting up daycare facilities, rebuilding farm land, and delivering fishing boats to local crews.
The emphasis for the Consuelo Foundation is not just on replacing items that were destroyed, but also on creating a sustainable economic model — a longer-term approach centered on jobs that will last. Nearly a year into the process, Matsuoka says “things are going very well — we’re on target with our objectives.”
A year after Haiyan, overall progress in some parts of the region is a mixed story. A recent visit to Tacloban City showed storm debris still littering pockets of the landscape. A ship tossed up from the harbor by the storm still rests on crushed houses. The mayor says 800 families still live in tents. But that’s down from 3,000 in the weeks after the storm. He also grumbles about a lack of coordination with the federal government.
Kris Van Orsdell is no stranger to the destruction of natural disasters, and to post-disaster politics. He worked on recovery efforts for the state of Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, and now works with the state of New York on the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. He calls the next year crucial for Tacloban City and the entire region of the Visaysas, as it moves “from recovery to stabilization.” He adds that political squabbling over relief efforts can carry a high cost.
More storm damage still awaiting cleanup last month in Tacloban City, Philippines.
“The coordination of NGO (nongovernmental organizations) efforts and government efforts on the local and national levels is critical,” Van Orsdell says.
Matsuoka of the Consuelo Foundation agrees with the concept, but leaves the politics to others. He says, “We don’t get embroiled in the political situation — we focus on the work.”
And there’s more than enough work to be done; everyone agrees this is an undertaking with a long time horizon.
Matsuoka and his colleagues at the Consuelo Foundation have laid out a two-and-a-half-year plan for the funding largely contributed by the people and businesses of Hawaii. While the replacement of certain essentials such as housing and fishing boats are part of the plan, so is re-imagination when confronted with certain grim realities.
Nearly 90 percent of the coconut trees around Tacloban City are gone. They were among the financial stars of the local agricultural economy. It can take six to 10 years for a coconut tree to reach maturity — time that local farmers can’t afford. Within this potential calamity, Matsuoka sees opportunity.
“It’s not just about repairing economies, it’s about reinventing economies,” Matsuoka says. “For example, there’s an opportunity for organic farming — a chance to rebuild better, and greener.”
Matsuoka and Halagao both marvel at the outpouring of support from Hawaii. Matsuoka says it’s not just a matter of financial contributions: “People came out of the woodwork with various skill sets” that have been put to good use in the field.
The Visayas in general and Tacloban City in particular are likely to see more publicity in the short term as the one-year anniversary of Haiyan approaches. The Pope is scheduled to visit Tacloban City in January. But the needs will linger after the television crews leave. Contributions from Hawaii will help to build a better future.
REPORTING ON HAWAII’S BIGGEST ISSUES
A good reason not to give
We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share.
But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.
Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.
Bill Dorman is News Director at Hawaii Public Radio. He lived and worked in Asia for 10 years, covering stories from more than a dozen countries and territories for CNN and Bloomberg News. His broadcast experience also includes work in New York and Washington, D.C. His “Asia Minute” feature can be heard weekday mornings on HPR.