Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) was such a large and destructive storm that it received a rare distinction: Super Typhoon. How could the resources of a small West Georgia college help in the face of Mother Nature’s fury?
With winds topping 225 mph, it may have packed the strongest punch of any storm anywhere. The luckless southern islands like Bohol in the Philippines bore the brunt of the devastation in November of 2013, which led to an estimated 10,000 deaths.
Just a few months later, a class of students from LaGrange College, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist church, went over. Most were biology and nursing majors.
“Some of us were there to study the environmental aspects,” said Kelly Moates, a LaGrange College undergraduate. “But there wasn’t much grass or trees in Manila, so we went to Mindoro, learning about the environment and the coral.”
Could they observe the effects of the Category 5 hurricane? “There was no direct evidence of the typhoon itself,” said Dave Hensley, a LaGrange College undergraduate. “But there were a lot of homeless people, and folks sleeping in the streets.”
Even though Manila, the capital, was spared the direct wrath of the storm, they met many refugees and those with family who did experience the worst.
“We asked people about the typhoon,” said Nathan Swanson, a LaGrange College undergraduate. “It came south of where we were, but the people we met knew friends and family there. While Manila was used to typhoons, the southern part of the Philippines wasn’t. They ran out of living spaces and drinkable water pretty quick.”
The biggest impact these students and their professors experienced was in helping the Gilead Center, described as “a residential shelter for street children, supported by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries,” according to Kathy L. Gilbert with UMNS.
“We met a child named Joshua at the Gilead Center whose parents were killed in the typhoon and was then orphaned by his grandfather,” said Nursing Professor Jayne Pauley. “We were able to see him get baptized. Poor guy didn’t even know when his birthday was…no birth certificate. So they gave him a birthday, December 25…a pretty special time.”
Poverty was pretty widespread throughout the islands, as was resourcefulness. “We were welcomed into a family’s home which was no bigger than my office; it’s located in a cemetery,” said Pauley. “It was lit by a light bulb that gets its energy from a car battery. I will never forget that.”
Despite the extreme poverty encountered, there were a lot of people who were, to use a biblical term from the Sermon on the Mount, “poor in spirit.” They showed incredible kindness to the American college students.
“The people were amazing,” said Amber Holmes, a LaGrange College undergraduate. “I was treated like I was a relative. While I was working on my journal, people would come up, talk to me, and ask if I was happy. Happiness seems to be the most important thing in the Philippines.”
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.