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 was in Philippines when Yolanda wreaked havoc in Tacloban. I have friends who lost loved ones, we were all crying watching the news. It was such a sad memory, yet you still can see the resilience of my fellowmen. This is such a well crafted and touching story. Your photos are very well-taken.

    • Thank you Gracey, appreciate your words. It must have been such a sad / difficult time, and you are so correct about the resiliency of the Filipinos. Such an amazing place, and it is great to see the Tacloban area being restored. Best wishes.

      • With the help of the compassionate and generous heart of people across the globe, the victims somehow felt comforted. Thank you for covering the story too.

  2. Fabulous photos to illustrate a poignant post. I too love to feel the electricity of an approaching storm; next time I will think on ….

  3. A beautiful witness account – so good to hear anout the rebuilding as well. There is always hope and in children this is embodied. Loved your photos too 😍

    • Thank you very much ~ it was amazing to see such smiles and how they touched all our hearts!

  4. Truly the Lord, despite everything that we cannot fully comprehend, from the beginning and before the huge typhoon came, the Lord has greater plans beyond what our eyes can see. He is definitely doing something to transform communities in His love, mercy and grace. And we will see hope rising, pained and devastated hearts healed, new love spreading and overcoming boundaries, and lives abundant and fulfilled! God bless Tacloban, God bless Philippines and more so to the people who reached out to give.

    Thank you for all the generosity of hearts!! May the Lord bless you more!!

      • Thank you too. I’m from the Philippines. The typhoon has been a tragic event for everyone here, and so I really appreciate your article especially the embedded images which showed the smiling faces of the Filipino children. I salute you sir, have a blessed new year.

      • You too Obriene ~ such a magical homeland you have 🙂 Wish you a special New Year!

  5. This is beautiful =) In time, we Filipinos are hoping that our resilience in the midst of this powerful storm will be far more remembered than the destruction it bought in our country. Happy New Year!

    • Such a great comment, and I too think that resiliency and strength will be the legacy of the Filipinos after Yolanda…if not already. The NGOs were so impressed by the people of Tacloban. Wish you a happy 2015!

  6. Thank you for posting this great article. Hope I could reblog this one, if you don’t mind.

  7. Reblogged this on the nook and commented:
    Good day, everyone! Let’s start the year with this awesome article from Dalo 2013’s blog. The article is inspiring and the photos are great. I hope everyone will have a great read!

  8. What beautiful faces of the people of the land. I love their smiles and the glow in their eyes. Thanks for sharing your inspiring photos and story. And thanks for the follow.

    • Their smiles and glow in their eyes ~ that is exactly the thing that makes Save the Children such a special organization…and in Tacloban the smiles were everywhere. Thank you very much!

  9. I was in Tacloban and Calbayog City in 1993. I can truly say not a day goes by that I do not remember the smiles of the children and the generosity and warmheartedness of all I met. When I heard that Tacloban was devastated, I wondered how many of those I had met lost their lives. How many would be homeless? But like many I have met on the mission field, they have perseverance. When troubles come, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start again (sometimes after burying the dead). In the western world we may complain when we cant get a decaf skinny latte, without thinking of those who cant get fresh water to drink. Thanks for sharing the story.

    • Dave, that must have been an absolutely amazing experience back in ’93… You really do say it all, just great people. It puts life into perspective; makes you appreciate the beautiful moments. Cheers!

    • Thank you ~ it was a sea of such smiles the whole time. A great, happy culture that even with the poverty of the area there was a sense of paradise with all.

    • Thank you Mark, Tacloban is such an incredible, inspiring area ~ made such a positive impact in my life. Cheers!

  10. Wow this was great and the portraits were beautiful (what kind of camera do you have ? ) Im going to the in May 2015 on a missions trip to Manila and im so excited to see and expirience the lives that will be changed ! Thanks for sharing this (:

    • Thank you ~ I shoot with a Canon Mark III. There is so much beauty there, that any camera will be able to take incredible shots 🙂 You will enjoy the area, so much to see and to learn…such a great sense of community and culture. Cheers!

  11. Had to re-tweed this
    beautiful post and amazing photos

  12. Such perfection in your post, the way it’s written and the clarity and beauty with which it’s presented in pictures. Thank you for letting us peek in!

  13. Thank you for this post. Despite all the unfortunate and heartbreaking things that we, Filipinos, see on the news everyday, I still can’t help but admire my kababayans for their endurance and strength. There is always hope, proven in the smiles of these children captured beautifully. We pray that this kind of hope remains ablaze.

    • Yes, it is so true to see the endurance and strength of people in times of hardship ~ its inspirational and makes it possible to see hope in the world. Thank you Marikit.

  14. ‘The Endurance of Tacloban’ is such a sweetish bitter article that swings moods from a low of the cataclysmic misfortunes of typhoon Yolanda to a high of the resilience of its victims and the solidarity of Save the Children. Thank you for such a picturesque and optimistic account of the situation in Tacloban. We must, by all means, never relent in reiterating to ourselves and to our policy-makers what the ramifications of climate change are, and what its unfortunate victims have suffered.

    • Very nice comments, thank you Desmond. It is always difficult to see others struggle, but can be heartwarming to see people pull together and do the right thing.

  15. Wonderful! Words and images…. I have very, very dear friends here and know the Philippines well~ I sometimes volunteer in Summer teaching art in an orphanage/school. They are BEAUTIFUL people — love their culture and AMAZING resilience! Beautiful post!

    • There is something amazing about the Philippines and its culture ~ and their positive outlook on life creates such a great atmosphere, and very cool to hear how you’ve experience it so well. Thank you and take care.

  16. Wow….Thank you for the beautiful writing and amazing photos.
    Like you I have always loved big powerful thunderstorms but for me this love of storms was always closely associated with the idea that we humans are nothing and that Nature is one huge powerful being. Its this feeling of human insignificance that I love. I think I relate it to how (for me) mankind has evolved into this nasty materialistic being that believes they can rule everything, so I love it when nature comes around and proves us we can’t control it.

    Yes, I realize that this huge manifestations usually mean too many humans die, and the ones that die are the ones that least deserve it but I still love them.

    As for resilience, I was in Chile when on Feb 27, 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake (the sixth largest earthquake ever recorded) struck the southern central region. For me it was 3 minutes of awe (I love earthquakes just as much as I love thunderstorms) and then a full day of cleaning and clearing away broken things, but luckily for me I was far enough from the epicenter that nothing major happened. Others were not so lucky… a tsunami ensued and thousands lost their homes (only reason they didn’t die too is because Chile has such a long history of earthquakes that everyone knew to run away from the coast and into the highlands ASAP). The following month I volunteered with the Chilean Voluntary psychologists and working with the fisherman that lost everything. I might have been the psychologist but they were the ones that taught me the meaning of the word resilience.

    • Thank you ~ there is something powerful that Mother Nature generates in some people, and its important never to forget its danger. What an experience you’ve had and great honesty with your last sentence: “…they were the ones that taught me the meaning of the word resilience.”

  17. What a noble trip you did! The Philippines suffers many typhoons…it was very sad to see what happened there. When a place is still struggling to cope with last year typhoon then another typhoon or tropical storms come.. 😦 When we were in Moalboal (Cebu) in late December 2014, Jangmi-Saniang tropical storm passed by and swapped away houses, it was reported 59 people died. No waters for days since the water pipes were broken down. Indeed the children can’t wait and losing their homes are terrible…Great post Randall to start year 2015, to make us aware of others despite where we live in 🙂

    • Thank you Indah, it was a bit sad that right when I was leaving another typhoon was on its way…although with the preparations, the impact of the storm was minimal. I hope your trip to Jangmi went well ~ and I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂 Take care!

  18. Such a perfectly worded write-up. The fear and pain and then the hope…
    Congratulations to Save the Children and the people of Tacloban for coming together and working towards a better future. I’ve always believed that hardships bring people closer, make their bonds stronger and Tacloban is the perfect example.
    Great post, Randall.

    • Meghna, such a true comments ~ hardship brings us closer and creates such strong bonds and while so sad, it is inspirational. Hope is such a great thing, especially when there is determination to back it up. Wish you well and thank you!

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