By Lindsay Ducharme
In November 2013 the world watched as portions of the Philippines were torn apart by one of the worst typhoons on record. People around the world saw the heartbreaking photos of families searching for loved ones, bodies in the street and houses that had all but disappeared. While the images are sure to have touched the lives of millions; few believed they could make a difference in the lives of those affected on the other side of the world. Wesley Tse, a local engineer, knew he could make a difference, and less than two months after the typhoon hit, Tse travelled to the Philippines to provide what aid he could.
“There is a need and I happen to have a skill set that can fulfill that need. I think it’s natural to want to help,” Tse explained of his decision to get involved.
“I think awareness is a big issue, if people aren’t aware what the need is or how they can help, they won’t, but there is a position for any skill set out there, there’s a way to help serve those people who aren’t as privileged as us.”
Tse, a member of Engineering Ministries International, volunteered in partnership with a Samaritan’s Purse International Relief organization WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) team from January 1-23. He spent most of his time in the region of Tacloban, one of the areas hardest hit by the typhoon. During his stay Tse was involved in creating new temporary water systems, new permanent water systems and raising awareness on the importance of hygiene in new living conditions.
“After a disaster situation like that a lot of the water sources get wiped out, so they have no water. A lot of people were forced to leave their homes and get moved to places that are not developed, basically open plains, wherever they can settle and put up a tent. We set up temporary water systems and these are just systems that can treat and chlorinate dirty river water, so people can drink it. We can set these up anywhere, so that was the first thing that we did,” he explained.
“Some of these people are going to be in the places they are now for while, if not permanently. A lot of people who used to live right along the coast aren’t even allowed to live there anymore, that’s the law. The Filipino government said if you live along the coast and this happens again you are going to die, so those that used to live within 40 meters of the coast, no longer have a place to live, so they are probably going to settle where they are right now.”
“We also hand out hygiene kits which include basic hygiene items such as toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, laundry and dish detergent and women’s sanitary pads. Things that they used to have but they don’t have access to anymore. These items are critical because it’s your first line of defense against an epidemic. They don’t have proper living conditions, they don’t have proper water sources, it’s the rainy season right now so it’s very prone to breakouts of Cholera, they are very concerned about Dengue Fever right now. Proper hygiene in a way is more important than having clean water,” Tse continued.
In the midst of the destruction, Tse said his experience in the Philippines provided him with hope for the future. “It was encouraging. The Filipino people are incredibly warm. Their tenacity was pretty incredible.”
“I was there 50 days after the storm and the amount of work that they’ve done in 50 days, it may have taken Haiti a year to get to that point. We aren’t talking the same magnitude, a lot more people were affected in Haiti and they started off in a more desperate situation to begin with, but the Filipino people have just pulled together and they don’t sit back and wait for international help, if they see a need and they can work towards it, they do. It’s the easiest thing to help people when they are already helping themselves.”
Donations to eMi Canada’s relief efforts can be made through emicanada.org/donate.