James Calderwood is a registered nurse and health policy research associate from Washington D.C. He volunteered for Project HOPE in the Philippines immediately following Typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) in November 2013 and has now returned to the Philippines as a Project HOPE volunteer on Rotation 4 of Pacific Partnership 2014, the annual humanitarian mission led by the U.S. Navy to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
On November 8, 2014 Typhoon Yolanda hit land and destroyed much of the central Philippines. Tacloban, a town situated on the water, was dramatically affected by the winds and rain of the typhoon. And then real disaster struck when the storm surge - in some areas reaching 15 feet - rolled through town. Everyone was affected by the powerful wall of water; it is estimated that 6,000 people perished that day.
As a Project HOPE volunteer I arrived in the Philippines about a week after the typhoon. Though my primary assignment was in the rural Camotes Islands, I spent some time in Tacloban. Even the short time I was here, I recognized the sense of community – of teamwork – of people working together to help each other, which was truly remarkable amidst the death and devastation.
Now, July 8, 2014 – eight months later – I am in Tacloban as a Project HOPE volunteer, working with the U.S. Department of Defense as part of Pacific Partnership 2014. The Philippine military and the Japanese Maritime Self-defense Force are our partners. The work varies from medical care to reconstructing a local school.
Riding to and from our worksites, I see many changes since November. Instead of fallen trees and debris, the streets are crowded with pedicabs (bicycles with passenger side-cars), tricycles (motor cycles with passenger sidecars), and an occasional truck or van. People are selling food and various sundries from small carts or stalls. The large modern mall even reopened last week.
While overall, there are fewer blue tarps serving as roofs, laundry can be seen drying on sunny porches attached to structures that are missing roofs, windows, and often an outside wall or two. Several families are managing to survive together inside each structure. While some areas have electric power reconnected – others rely on generators for special activities; many are grateful for candlelight.
Nevertheless, the people continue to be positive and hopeful, and focused on the future. They take pride in their resiliency. It is mentioned in church sermons today, as it was back in November. The vision is to move forward, not to dwell on the past. There is an amazing thankfulness for the present. There is an appreciation for what they have – and never a complaint about what they don’t have. The human spirit is here.
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