Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) brought widespread devastation and immense human suffering to thousands of people in the Philippines last November 2013. It was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded and devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, with strong winds, heavy rains, flooding and landslides. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing over 6,300 people there alone. 4.1 million people were displaced and 1.1 million houses were damaged or destroyed in the Philippines.
Our Filipino partner school, the Asian Theological Seminary (ATS), immediately responded by mobilizing trained volunteers to minister using a special kind of counseling (psycho-spiritual support) modeled after Jesus who was fully present, caring and compassionate. This kind of psychological first aid is most important in the immediate aftermath of disaster. Survivors usually experience emotional distress such as anxiety, depression, grief, trauma and other stress-related problems. They needed assistance to cope with the loss of loved ones, property, and most importantly, with the experience of trauma and despair.
Between November 2013 and January 2014, ATS deployed 10 teams consisting of 66 volunteer counselors from the faculty, staff and students. The teams of trained counselors gave primary importance to listening attentively and providing space for people to share their feelings. As a result, over 4,000 people were counseled and ministered to by the team. Here are some of the stories of the people they helped:
Stories of Pain
In between sobs, Rosa* whispered, “Thank you for coming over to listen to me. No one wants to listen here. All are hurting. I can’t believe someone will care to listen to me.”
Rosa, a young 22-year-old mother, was able to save her two children but witnessed how the treacherous sea waters swallowed up her grandparents. They thought they were safe on the roof of her grandparents’ two-story house, but the powerful waves, a rolling cargo van and a ship smashed their abode like a house of cards. She only had two hands to grasp her children and so was not able to protect the two other important people who took care of her in the absence of her parents. The words of her grandparents would forever ring in her head, “Take care of your children!” as she helplessly watched the waters engulf them.
After the typhoon, Neneng* finally found the courage to go back home but found her mother dead. “When will the grieving stop?” she wept. She blamed her aged father for not being able to save her mother. With anguish in heart, she resented that only her father remained alive. She then uttered, “We were too busy looking out for our children, we didn’t know who to save first,” pointing to her kids playing.
Stories of Hope
Someone said, “Here! They’re alive!” Gemma*, with heart pounding, immediately ran and found her family. Somehow they found their way atop a floating refrigerator through the ceiling vent, crawling on roof beams towards other houses on higher ground until Yolanda subsided.
Twelve-year-old Mina* held on amidst the storm surge while witnessing her father being hit by a metal roof sheet. Afraid for her own survival, she was more terrified not to see her father again.
When the storm subsided and seeing her father alive and the rest of the family survive the horrific experience, Mina managed to hope and look at the brighter side of life. “There’s no need to blame anyone. We just have to learn from it,” she said.
These stories of pain, hope and survival are among countless others in the devastated areas of Typhoon Haiyan. ATS’ unique counseling played a crucial role in working through people’s psychological, emotional and spiritual distress, instilling faith and hope in an otherwise dismal situation. In the midst of wrecked houses, wounded hearts and broken spirits, the volunteer counselors provided this ministry to the marginalized survivors of the typhoon, resulting in strengthened inner beings, hopeful outlooks and enriched lives.
*All survivors’ names have been changed.