Violent winds swirl the dark, ominous thunderclouds overhead. The pounding waves crash onto the rocky shore and the roar of the Pacific Ocean makes its intention clear: thrash anything in its path.
With electricity in the air, I am oblivious to everything except the power coming my way as rain beats against my face, sucking me into the depths of the storm.
Ever since I was young, the powerful forces of storms, especially on the Oregon Coast, have held a rare type of electricity for me. Electricity that excites my soul and eliminates any trace of fear I may have.
Chasing the idea of becoming one with the storm. Not just to see the power unravel in front of me, but to physically feel this rare electricity.
The past three days I’ve experienced a different type of feeling.
Walking along the Tacloban city coastline watching the sunrise, I am beginning to understand the other side of this “rare electricity” I feel when Mother Nature unleashes her fury ~ the distress and chaos she creates.
Understanding why hearts quicken to a point of exhaustion when thunder clasps and wind and rain fill the sky.
Understanding why there is no glint of excitement in the eyes as a storm brews, instead only an endless sadness: a mix of memories and dread.
The eyes of the children of Tacloban carry terrifying memories and fear from last year; introduced to them on November 8, 2013.
This was the day when super-typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury on the quiet city of Tacloban in the Philippines. On that dark day, more than 6,000 people died. 11 million lives were directly affected, 5.9 million of those children.
As I stand here this morning on a beach outside the city, surrounded by a special kind of darkness found only within the hour of dawn, my mind drifts back to that day one year ago.
Thoughts drift to a stunned family, who sat in their makeshift home as the seawater entered and refused to retreat.
My mind trying to imagine the panic in the eyes of every family member, as the power of the current made the threat of the rising sea even more terrifying.
And as the hours passed, the surge of water would rise to over six feet, easily destroying homes and buildings… and well before then, the family would have been swept away by the sea.
These are the eyes that are now teaching me. Allowing me to see a side of nature that can bring the strongest spirit down to its knees.
These eyes also inspire. Having seen what the people of Tacloban have done over the past year brings to life the words of William Barclay:
“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory”
The people here have endured…
On this December morning, I find myself in Tacloban with Save the Children on one of those rare, magical experiences that life offers.
The visit has shown the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought upon this area and the great effort that Save the Children has made in rebuilding lives.
Trying to wrap my mind around what has happened here is almost futile, but I am learning.
The goal of this trip was to witness not just the rebuilding of structures, but also understand the post-recovery training programs. Programs to ensure lifelong change for the children, their families and communities.
And most important: teaching skills that can turn the hopes and dreams of children into reality.
The genuine smiles have tugged at the heartstrings throughout the past three days and seeing the recovery program has been brilliant. There is something special here, apart from the shared tragedy there is a kindred spirit that mirrors the beauty of the land ~ the people here are creating a paradise.
What has been done is incredible and with continued support it will become a miracle. I walk away from Tacloban inspired. The memory of sitting down and talking to these beautiful, young minds full of dreams is unforgettable.
This beautiful city along with Save the Children has made me believe there are such things as guardian angels.
Looking out toward the sea, I feel a touch of sadness as the sun rises on my last day in Tacloban. Turning and walking along the shore, I watch a man sitting in the bow of his boat working on a repair.
He gives me a nod along with a faint smile as I bring my camera up for a shot. He pauses, looks out into the distance and his lighthearted expression seems to take on a sense of melancholy.
I’ve learned that along this small section of the coast, everyone lost someone in the typhoon last year. Hunkering down in flimsy shelters with the belief that the waters that gave life would never be cruel enough to turn on them; to reach out and take life as it did.
Walking through town, there are heart-wrenching and strong memories everywhere.
Throughout Tacloban are gutted buildings, piles of rubble and stark reminders for all to see.
What is most painful and can seize the heart, are the small things that at first seem insignificant ~ until its significance hits. Another reminder of the lives lost during that dark day.
I try not to let my imagination and emotions get the best of me, but fail. I’ve read accounts of the struggles of the Tacloban community; families with wounds that will never be fully healed. Local photographer Orlando Uy captures many emotions of his city in his photo-blog “A Walk With My Camera”.
These memories are everywhere: pain multiplied by thousands, as loved ones were swept away. My admiration and respect goes out to the people here who live with these daily reminders.
The trauma and helplessness created by Yolanda now takes a back seat to the rebuilding of communities. The creation of a future for themselves and for their children.
It is stirring to see the locals understand the opportunity they have. To embrace organizations like Save the Children, helping lay the framework for a lifelong investment into their future.
The future of Tacloban is similar to the future of cities scattered all over the globe: it lies with the children.
During my stay, I learned the motto of Save the Children in times of emergency: “children can’t wait” as children are the one part of the population that are most vulnerable in times of turmoil.
Seeing the ability of both the people of Tacloban and the workers at Save the Children, there is no doubt that this area will quickly bloom with laughter and happiness.
Witnessing the effective use of donations, my faith in human compassion and spirit has grown even further. I’ve long believed that the greatest gift an adult can give a child is happiness.
In return, the greatest gift a child can give us all is a smile.
A special thanks to Save the Children ~ Hong Kong:
And Save the Children of the Eastern Leyte office in the Philippines:
And to all the volunteers and field staff that took the time to accompany and review all of the work done in the Tacloban area over the past year.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on one of the three sites listen below: