Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow had just arrived in the Philippines to teach for a month when Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban. A week after the storm, he visited some of the hardest hit areas with relief workers. See more of his images here. This blog post (originally posted here) was a reflection written before visiting Tacloban on the reaction he witnessed in the Philippines.
Do not get me wrong, in and around Tacloban, Leyte, one of the areas hit hardest by Typhoon Yolanda, there are reports of growing death counts, widespread looting and a breakdown in infrastructure.
It is bad there. Really bad.
But what the Philippines has shown, over and over again, is that their resilience and resolve in response to these kinds of tragedies is nothing short of breathtaking. Who knows why this is, but I suspect that after generations of tragedy and destruction both at the hands of humanity (Spanish, United States and Japanese occupations) as well as natural disasters, resilience and survival are just the norm.
I am already experiencing some of this.
Over the next few weeks I am tentatively planning on visiting Tacloban, Leyte to offer symbolic support to friends and church partners and yet, with those very same church folks and friends, I will be invited to celebrate local festivities and engage in activities of rest and relaxation. Already I have been invited to a local theater to see this month’s Manny Pacquiao fight, I am going scuba diving with some locals and the signs of the upcoming Dumaguete Festival are popping up all around.
And yet, just 300 kilometers away, a city has been destroyed, thousands have died, panic is taking hold…
Now some might see this as strange, callous or insensitive acts by those who have been so impacted by these tragedies both directly and as a country, but the more I am here, the more I am convinced that, in our well-intentioned need to save and rescue others, we expect those for whom we offer our support to behave in ways that we deem as acceptable — especially if we are going to help them heal.
Who am I to tell them how to respond,”You know, you really should be more . . .” or “How can you be doing x when x is happening in your country?”
We from the US must be careful not to judge as those who are looking in from the outside – and often only through the lens of mainstream media – and trying to find ways to appropriately support disaster relief. For what I have experienced from past disasters seen from afar and now being here in the middle of one, is that the people here understand and live the complexities of life in a way that we could all learn from.
Too often we compartmentalize the Philippines into rigid charity or tourism boxes where there is nothing but political corruption, human trafficking, and poverty at every turn OR it is a tropical and magical paradise where you live on the beach, everyone wants to serve you with a smile, and you wake to fresh mangoes every morning*. So when tragedy hits, we go into a kind of hyper-compartmentalization when it comes to how we think a people should act, respond, grieve and heal. To avoid this kind of fetishizing, patronizing and colonial mindset, we must remember that, like any people, in any country, there is complexity of life that occurs between the joys and the struggles, the tragedies and the celebrations, the destruction and the healing.
So . . . as you wander along with me and as you see people “moving on” in a way that makes you feel weird or uncomfortable, know that as diverse as any people in any country respond to and heal from tragedy beyond the imagination, that same complexity exists here.
The Philippines may just walk this journey our of tragedy a little differently — dare I say full of beauty and resilience.
* Truth be told, I do actually eat fresh mangoes every morning — and rambutan, lanzones, etc.
On Campus… The Center for Mission and Identity is collecting financial donations to help restore supplies and basic necessities for the millions of people who survived Typhoon Haiyan. The collection is in response to an appeal the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus through the AJCU. Checks only, not cash, can be made out to “Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan” for “Typhoon Relief” and dropped off through Nov. 25.
Online… there are many ways to give, but you can give directly to the Philippine Red Cross through PayPal here.
Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow is a motorcycle-riding, Oakland-A’s-loving Presbyterian pastor who lives in San Francisco. He was the moderator of the 218th General Assembly, the PC(USA)’s highest elected office. He also taught Abby King-Kaiser everything she knows about pastoring (well, almost everything). He is currently in the Philippines. If you are interested in further updates, follow his blog here.