APU to send emergency relief to the Philippines

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The Center For Student Action is sending out an Emergency Relief team to the Philippines in December. Courtesy: Center For Student Action

The Center for Student Action is sending a team to the Philippines next month to provide emergency relief in the wake of the recent typhoon that swept through the central Philippines and devastated the nation.

Supertyphoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) hit the Philippines Friday, Nov. 8 and ravaged the island, destroying homes and taking close to 4000 lives, according to the national disaster agency’s official death count of Monday, Nov. 18. Even more have been injured or displaced from their homes.

Although the death toll is rising as help covers more ground, the bigger issue will be the recovery stage.

“The bigger issue … is the number of displaced people, people with no homes, no electricity, no means to clean water, nothing like that. That is going to be a few years worth of projects to help them rebuild,” said Dr. Michael Bruner, assistant professor of theology, who was born and raised in the rural Philippines by missionary parents.

From Dec. 15-24, a team of six Azusa Pacific students will be working with a nonprofit organization called Friends and Family Community Connections to help provide clean water to those affected. Senior business economics major Sean Harris, an administrative assistant for CSA, is forming the team of students this week.

“We’re trying to go and bring about 1,000 water filters with us and go and actually install the filters there to kind of get ahead of the game and hopefully help out,” said Harris. “There is a water shortage there, but ideally with this kind of a filter, you could get maybe some gross or mucky water or something and put it in there.”

Although the filter will not take out salt, Filipinos using the filters would be able to collect rain water and sift it.

Harris’ father, Phil Harris, is the founder and director of the FFCC and will be accompanying the six students to the Philippines. Although the trip is not an official CSA Action Team, Harris said the office is helping ensure this is an effective trip that will contribute to relief in the Philippines, Harris said.

More than 24 students interviewed to become team members last week. Members were chosen Monday, Nov. 18.

Each water filter costs $45, according to Harris, which means that the team needs about $45,000 just for the filters. Additionally, members are looking to raise $15,000 to cover the cost of flight tickets for the five students.

Barber is working with other nonprofits to raise additional funds for the filters. APU students are encouraged to help out in any way they can, but fundraising will not come solely from the Azusa Pacific community.

Bruner, the theology professor who grew up in the Philippines until age 10, said he remembers the annual typhoons from when he was little.

“As a kid, they were just so amazing and so powerful and so strong. They would come every year and some typhoons obviously would be bigger than others,” Bruner said. “You could see the rain coming with the typhoon and we would often try to outrun the rain. I remember, I have distinct memories of a wall of rain; we were literally running in front of this wall of rain that was coming towards us.”

For Bruner, typhoons meant snuggling into his newly-built home with candles until the electricity came back on.

“It was just always – this is going to be strange to put it this way given what happened in the Philippines recently – there was this sense of coziness,” Bruner said.

The largest difference between the cozy storms Bruner remembers and the supertyphoon that just hit is geographic. Bruner and his family used to live inland on the west side of the island. Most storms hit the coastal east side, he said. However, with each year’s intake of storms, usually power and communication would go out.

“We’d run out of electricity, we’d have to boil water. We had friends whose roofs would be blown off,” Bruner said. “There were a couple particularly bad storms where trees that had been standing for 100 years would be knocked over and cars were tossed.”

Freshman biology major Carolyn Saba was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. in 2007. As of last week, Saba has yet to hear from family members who currently live in the Philippines.

“After the typhoon, there’s no Internet, no telephone lines and that’s how we connect to them,” Saba said. “We connect to them through Facebook. Now that it’s gone, we are left hanging here [wondering] what happened. My dad might go home in December just to see what happened.”

Bruner describes Filipinos as “incredibly warm, friendly people that are incredibly hard-working,” which could make them resilient through the aftermath.

“They are incredibly resourceful people and even now, if we could just see how resourceful they are being forced to be, [we would see] the Filipinos are survivors,” Bruner said.

The U.S. sent troops out after the storm’s end and an aircraft carrier traveled there a few days after.

“They’ve been some of our strongest allies for as long as we can remember. We used the Philippines as a base to fight in the Vietnam War. … The Philippines were our huge allies in World War II when we were fighting the Japanese, so they’ve been allies for a long time,” Bruner said.

Bruner encourages people who want to help to send money for aid.

“You don’t want to send canned goods or clothes over there because it often will cost more money to send it than the clothes and cans are actually worth,” Bruner said. “So you want to find a reputable non-governmental organization (NGO) like the Red Cross or UNICEF or something that specifically has been in the Philippines for a while and knows how to deal with the red tape, but money is what they need.”

Saba also believes connecting with the country is important.

“I feel like you don’t have to send people there, APU should connect with people like churches over there because we do have a lot of Christian families, a lot of Christian churches,” Saba said. “I think they should have a connection with them because that’s the strongest connection APU can have in the Philippines.”

The storm has finally died down, but the struggle for Filipinos is just beginning.

“Part of our 24-hour news cycle convinces us that once the news cycle is over, the situation is over,” Bruner said. “The drama in the Philippines is just beginning. Entire towns were literally wiped off the face of the earth.”

Students are encouraged to help the emergency relief team by donating money through CSA and specifying they would like to support the Philippines relief team. Contact Harris at sharris09@apu.edu for more ways to contribute.