Filipino Americans and local organizations across the United States on Saturday were organizing relief efforts for friends and relatives at home after one of the strongest storms ever recorded swept over the Philippines early Friday.
Typhoon Haiyan flattened hundreds of homes and forced almost 800,000 residents to evacuate to emergency shelters when it stormed ashore, bringing wind gusts reaching 170 mph, mudslides and flashfloods.
“It’s so sad not knowing physically what to do, being far away from your loved ones and your country,” said Anne Naguit, campaign coordinator for the east coast branch of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), which has created a disaster relief fund for victims in the Philippines.
Naguit said one of the reasons NAFCON was founded was to bridge the geographical gap between Filipinos in the United States and those in their homeland. According to the 2010 Census, there are 3.4 million people of Filipino descent living in the United States, making them the second largest Asian American group in the nation.
“Most of them left their families behind and they’re just here to work,” said Naguit.
She said she had been worried for her own family after not hearing from her parents, who were visiting the Philippines, for two days. Last she heard, they were headed on a plane from the northern part of the archipelago due south.
“I couldn’t work properly yesterday, it was so difficult because we had been trying to get a hold of them,” she said. Finally at 10 p.m. Friday night, Naguit got the message she had been waiting for.
“My father was able to send me a message on Facebook, and let us know they were safe and were able to land,” she said.
In Chicago, NAFCON Midwest regional coordinator Nerissa Allegretti said the typhoon also hit close to home.
“It’s really hard for us because part of our heart is in the society in the U.S., we see ourselves as part of the American people, but part of my heart belongs in the Philippines,” she said.
Allegretti added that in Chicago, many Filipinos are originally from Bohol and Cebu provinces, areas hardest hit by the typhoon that are still recovering from a devastating storm in 2011 and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month.
“It’s really quite shocking because here’s another calamity that has hit us,” Allegretti said.
NAFCON is looking to raise enough funds to send at least $5,000 to the Philippines every two weeks. The group has been able to surpass its donation goals during past disasters and members are hopeful it can do so again, Naguit said, adding she has already seen great support from the community.
“They are doing what they can to the best of their ability to send support even if it’s not fund raising or giving goods, but sending prayers,” Naguit said. “It’s a beautiful thing that people will always find a way to contribute.”
Glenda Genio, executive director of the non-profit Gawad Kalinga USA, said trust was essential to Filipino communities in the United States in disaster relief efforts.
"Filipinos sometimes find it hard to trust organizations," Genio said. "That's the foundation of our work. It’s not just poverty alleviation ... but rather a relationship -- an organization has to build a relationship and trust with the community."
Gawad Kalinga USA is partnering with its parent association in the Philippines to collect donations that can be used to provide food and water to some of the 200,000 families in affected provinces in what Genio says are the crucial first days after a disaster.
"Usually it’s the first three days that are critical," she said. "There's no electricity, there's no water and no real plan to deal with the devastation." She added that each food pack costs only $5 and can feed a family for three of four days while they await assistance from the government.
But Genio said the goal of helping the Philippines rebuild goes beyond immediate disaster relief.
"Next is the reconstruction phase," she said. "We don’t just end with disaster relief, it's community building, the building of homes and provisions of livelihood. The hardest hit is always the poorest of the poor, we need to rebuild so that they can have a safe life."
Many other charities are collecting money for Philippine relief efforts, including: