Lessons from Yolanda Relief

What a life changing whirlwind.  I’m back in Portland after eight days across the Pacific, 35 hours of travel, three showers, 14 cups of rice, 16,000 KEENs distributed to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), countless new friends, and thousands and thousands of smiles and thank-you’s.  I knew I was going to return with a fresh perspective on life, but I couldn’t have predicted the impact it would leave on me.  I can say now more than ever that I really am proud to work at KEEN, and truly hope everyone in the KEEN community knows the difference we’ve made in the lives of our friends in the Philippines.  While delivering 1,600 pairs of shoes to all school children in the barangay of Mercedez in Eastern Samar, the major shook my hand and thanked me for delivering these “gifts of hope” to his children.

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Thankful for the lessons these kids taught me.

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A pile of KEENs waiting to be distributed.
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

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The Major of Mercedez helping out with the distribution.
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

I was lucky enough to be in the presence of incredible folks eager to give me brief Tagalog lessons, lessons of local government, inspirational memories highlighting how Team Patola was formed, and emotion-filled stories of what inspired our local partners to get involved with the relief effort after the storm.  I’ll try and summarize a bit of what happened as everything still swirls in my head — and my heart — even days after being back in the U.S.

Lessons from Yolanda Relief

Inspiration

Inspiring was the word of the trip.  There was never a moment on the trip when I didn’t question what I was doing with my life or how I measure what’s important.  I was constantly surrounded by people – either survivors of Yolanda, or volunteers – who were literally dedicating their entire lives to making a difference – regardless of their experiences or backgrounds.  Pablito, our local guide and point person, is a great example of the kind of selflessness I’m talking about.  Pablito spent the first half of his life in an orphanage outside of Tacloban, was adopted into a wonderful family, lost four family members to Yolanda, and has been volunteering with relief missions since the day after the storm.  Despite his hardships, he is completely committed to contributing all he can to help his people.

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Pablito took us to the orphanage where he grew up.
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

The Kids

The children are shining examples of Philippine culture.  Amongst destruction and devastation the children were smiling big, beautiful smiles, playing with friends, laughing, and embracing life.  They embody the essence of being alive.  If there hadn’t been destruction and debris everywhere (houses flattened, water towers thrown on the ground like beach balls, coconut trees snapped in half life match sticks) I never would have thought anything traumatic had happened.  They are beautiful, resilient, and thankful.

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New KEENs to replace broken slippers!
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

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KEENs for Everyone!
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

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After everyone had their feet measured, student government in Mercedez helped us organize younger kids into lines based on sizes.
Photo Credit: Meg Suk

Team Effort

Never in my life have I understood the importance of team work and collective impact more than on this trip.  Every single person has at least one unique skill, and added to a group of individuals with their own set of skills, a highly functional team is created.  Our team – made up of individuals from Primer, Team Patola, F2 Logistics, Samar and Visayas locals, and KEEN – put barriers and differences aside and worked together to distribute 16,000 pairs of shoes in five different organized distributions (the other half of the donation is being distributed by Team Patola as I type).  On a much larger scale,  thousands of NGO groups bounded together after the typhoon to deliver basic humanitarian needs as quickly as possible.

Benjo from Team Patola said it best during our mission briefing Day One: “You can never, ever prevent, control, or predict the exact impact of Mother Nature’s disasters, but you can control how humans respond to them.”  This theme kicked off the trip for me.  I was constantly amazed and inspired by how survivors were rebuilding together, and how international relief volunteers were completely selfless, dedicating themselves to helping others.  This world is made up of incredible people.

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Team Lunch on Day 3. A local family was so thankful we were there, they offered their home to us and cooked us traditional Philippine food.
Photo: Meg Suko Photography

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Each gaylord had 200 – 400 pairs of KEENs. We worked together to carry each box to our distribution sites.
Photo Credit: Meg Suko Photography

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In awe of all of the NGOs in the area working together. It was a true example of collective impact.
Photo Credit: Meg Suko

The trip was absolutely amazing and I will forever be grateful for the experience.

So many thanks to everyone that made it possible.  We never would have been able to pull this off without the dedication and hard work from: Primer – specifically Ruby and Tin, F2 Logistics and Bien, Team Patola, Pablito, Candy and Guiuan Disaster Relief Coordination, Naoji, Meg, Ikuto, Takashi, Chito and R.O.X, and everyone from KEEN.