The Endurance of Tacloban: Heart of the Philippines

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

  • Training teachers and leaders of communities
  • Supporting access to quality child care and development

And most important: teaching skills that can turn the hopes and dreams of children into reality.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A special thanks to Save the Children ~ Hong Kong:

  • Debe Cheung
  • Queenie Mak

And Save the Children of the Eastern Leyte office in the Philippines:

  • Joanna Watson
  • Heidi Anicete
  • Cielito Barceló

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.

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If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on one of the three sites listen below:

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391 Comments on “The Endurance of Tacloban: Heart of the Philippines

  1. I am so grateful for your passionate work and heart Randy! Have been MIA from WP… Missed ya 🙂 xox
    p.s. for whatever unexplainable reason got a sudden surge in FB likes (haven’t posted anything in months) and posted your link in hope that many more will get to see your blog

    • Hey there, I’ve missed you 🙂 Hope all is well ~ wishing you a golden and great year in ’15. Cheers!

  2. Thank you for showing us the smile and the children’s faces after this past trauma! Very beautiful photos, thank you

  3. Fabulous photo shoot Randy, I enjoyed it very much. Lovely people, lovely children with their smile. Very colorful photos. I ❤ it 🙂

    • Thank you ~ it was one of those times where it was impossible not to be swept up in the beauty of smiles and scenery. Such a magical place.

  4. Absolutely brilliant photos and such a heartfelt topic. You have a very special gift of communicating with the persons in front of your camera. The conversations has not yet ended and it continues with the viewer. I fell like I’m glued to your post, Randall. Excellent job!!
    Best regards, Dina

  5. Good to see the hope and life in their eyes. Even though typhoons and perhaps super-typhoons are not unexpected on a yearly basis.

    • A lot of hope and smiles. As for the storms, I think that was part of the problem with Yolanda, everyone had experienced typhoons in the past…just not a super-typhoon (once in a couple of centuries storm).

  6. Randall – such a beautiful post. Your images are so inspiring. You have a gift for capturing the essence of a soul through your portraits. And your landscapes are equally as gorgeous!

  7. I spent half of my life in Tacloban. I was saddened by what happened to the city last 2013. Haiyan hit the city 2 weeks after I arrived in Saudi Arabia. Never been backed yet since then, lost both my Godmother & her husband.

    • That must have been a very difficult time Jai ~ I hope all is well in Saudi Arabia…and cheers to your eventual return to the paradise that is Tacloban!

  8. I have the same feel of awe when faced with the power that Mother Nature can release. It’s indeed electric. But the same powers also have devastating effects on people and lives like you show here, in Tacloban. Thank you for making sure we don’t forget all those afflicted. And your photos adds depth to your words – beautiful as always.

    • Thank Otto, seeing the people unite as they have was heartening and I think you share similar feelings and stories with your work in Africa… Take care ~

  9. I am from Philippines, after the disgusting and so difficult trial we suffer from the typhoon Yolanda.😃 We people never forget to smile despite of the situation we experienced, Thank you for showing the world how beautiful our country is.😃

    • There is something so very special about the Filipino culture, and the beauty of Tacloban and its people will ensure a great future ~ thank you.

    • Thank you ~ could not believe the great life that was there, and the smiles show it well. Cheers!

  10. We, Filipinos are resilient people and you have shown it in your works…

    • Aren’t those smiles just the best… Nothing like happy & smiling children to understand how great life really is, and the importance of making sure those smiles get the opportunities to purse their dreams. 🙂

  11. Pingback: Passion, Purpose and an Ah-Ha Moment – Part 2 | HHC Blog

    • Thank you very much Crissy ~ one of the most eventful and fulfilling trips I’ve had. Wish you a great week!

  12. I can’t thank you enough for the kindness and inspiration you bring and spread in our community. Your heart exudes in all of your works; be in words or in pictures; they all embody excellence and beauty. My sincerest thanks, and I wish you all the best!

    • I often think about Tacloban and I am looking forward to the day I return ~ I was so impressed by the local population and culture there. An amazing place. The past couple days with typhoon Noul around was a little scary, but the community again showed its strength. Wish you a great week Aina ~

      • Wow, that is so cool ~ it is such a great area, and doing so much better now.

      • I barely have a recollection of the place. But I am impressed of your genuine concern and enthusiasm.

      • Met a Filipino-American there who had opened a small restaurant, and he said it best: this place may be a bit poor, but it is a slice of heaven on Earth… Maybe one day you’ll return (at least for another visit!) 🙂

  13. You would never think by looking at all those smiling young faces the tragedy and loss they have been through. Those things are wiser than us… they endured and survived and live their lives as if they have been given a second chance. We would just bemoan the loss and live in the past, forget to live. The young ones know there is still so much to look forward to. Those organisations do a wonderful job, and so do you, reminding us of the greater picture with the images you take.

    • This is what really hit me during my time there…after going through all they did, the spark of life that they had in their eyes. Reminds me just how valuable life is (even in frustration, how much good there is to be found). Thank you Ali ~

  14. Grow up in a ‘lil island near Tacloban and I went there in college. What happened there was heartbreaking and is still is. I remember when I went back a year ago, I could see the fear. Whenever it starts to rain people start running to hide. I saw parents grabbed their children and run. It was a terrible sight to see. I couldn’t imagine the fear they have. But the courage to start again and to continue to face their daily life is admirable. The thought of losing someone is unbearable but still they manage to smile.
    I remember sitting with my family and relatives and asked about their experience. Their feelings. I know right there and then that they will be okay because they were laughing about their experience. The fear they’re trying to hide is obvious but to find the courage to laugh is never is easy. And they did.

    Those photos you took, those smiles, those are precious. You captured them perfectly.

    Regards all the way from Sweden,
    //Pearly (waiting for your next adventure)

    • When I was in Tacloban it felt like it was a slice of heaven…such a beautiful place, so I imagine your ‘lil island nearby must have been something else. It was something special to see how the people have come together, but you are right the recovery is still going on and the memory of Yolanda will probably always provide fear in the hearts of many, but they still smile and focus on living life. It is something to see the courage from the people who lived through this incredible storm…and it is especially nice to see the smiles. An amazing place and what a great story you have. Wish you well in Sweden (quite a way from your tropical homeland…stay warm!).

  15. Moving portraits and images, Randall. Children can’t wait. So true. Informative and beautiful as always.

  16. Pingback: Featured Photographer: Randall Collis – indahs: dive, travel & photography

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