The remarkable fighting spirit of the Philippines

Saturday, 30 November 2013 10:43 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dulag is a city in ruins. Four of every five houses are damaged, people drowned, livestock, crops, livelihoods—all destroyed in an instant. So why are people laughing in the streets today?

Dulag is a city in ruins. Four of every five houses are damaged; people drowned when the sea surged through the town; livestock, crops, livelihoods—all destroyed in an instant. So why is Dulag a hive of busy activity and not a place of mourning? Why are people laughing in the streets today?

At age 66, Simon is a father and grandfather many times over, a man who has lived in Dulag his whole life. I found him sitting on a bench with old friends, surrounded by the debris of his ruined city. He was smiling and laughing at the jokes and antics of a friend.

“Outside we are laughing,” said Simon. “But in our hearts we are crying. It is a miracle that we did not get completely washed away by the ocean. When we came outside after the storm, so many people were crying. My home has been totally damaged.”

That Simon and friends can smile at all in the midst of such tragedy is testament to the resilience and determination we have seen in so many Filipino communities during our assessment. “People here really have quite good ways of coping,” said Guido Krauss, Medair Shelter Advisor. “I know this is not the first disaster they’ve experienced, but this is the most devastating typhoon in their history. Just seeing how everybody is trying really hard to help each other is impressive.”


Fay is a prime example, an energetic Dulag woman in her 50s who has not stopped working since the typhoon. “We had heard on CNN that there was a super typhoon coming to hit us,” said Fay. “But we always have typhoons here, so many people did not realise how bad this was going to be. My roof blew right off. I have never seen anything like this. It was like life was ending.”

“If you had seen this place before, it was a quiet place. Very beautiful. Peaceful. But in just a few hours it was all gone. Horrible. We have to laugh, we have to smile. We have to help each other and move on.”

Fay took a car, ferry, and a plane to get to Manila where she could buy medicine and goods for those in need in Dulag. “All the pharmacies here have closed and there are no medicines available,” she said. “So I went to Manila and brought back medicine for the children. Medicine for asthma, cold medicine, and antibiotics. I just said, ‘Please come by my house and take what you need for your children.’ At least we are able to help in some way.”


The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines reports that Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 5,000 people, damaged more than one million homes, and left more than three million people displaced from their homes right now, at the height of the rainy season.

While a spirit of resiliency is strong, the region’s urgent needs are immense and frighteningly real. “It is a very practical thing that can be done to help, and a very high priority,” says Fay. “Build new shelters for the families who have lost their homes.”

With your generous support, Medair plans to provide emergency shelter materials to 6,000 of the most damaged homes in Dulag. We have already begun distributing materials to protect families from the rain, along with chainsaws, shovels, handsaws, wheelbarrows, and other tools to help people clear fallen trees and debris as they begin to rebuild. Medair will also build 600 semi-permanent disaster-resilient homes for the most vulnerable families whose homes were lost in the typhoon.

“The people who have stayed in Dulag are brave enough to face the challenges ahead,” said Samuel, 58. “We may be on our knees now but we will stand again.”

Please give the gift of shelter from the rain and a sturdier home to a Filipino family made homeless by Typhoon Haiyan.

Medair is a member of the global Integral Alliance, a network that is committed to increasing the capacity and quality of a united disaster response among partnering humanitarian organisations.

Medair helps people who are suffering in remote and devastated communities around the world survive crises, recover with dignity, and develop skills to build a better future.