Close to Home: A Story from a Member of Plan Philippines' Staff
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries on earth, and Plan has trained its staff to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. When Haiyan struck the Philippines on the 8th of November, Plan staff have not only drawn from their professional training—they’ve tapped into personal care, community commitment, and have been relying on the support of their fellow colleagues, families, and sometimes even complete strangers.
“Staff are working around the clock,” says Plan Philippines Country Director, Carin van der Hor. “Some of them have lost their own homes, friends, or relatives, but they keep pushing on.”
“We have systems to make sure that staff are taking care of themselves, and of each other. We are on the lookout for signs of stress and make sure that staff have the appropriate counseling, support and care they need,” she adds.
When Telesforo, a Plan Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist, heard that the Typhoon Haiyan had struck the city of Tacloban, his first thought was of his sister.
“I had to know whether my sister was still alive, I had to go and find her. I thought that if my sister is dead, I can’t do my job at Plan in this crisis,” he says. He then decided to make the 500-mile journey to see her.
The Journey to Tacloban
The journey from his home in Mindanao to his sister’s home in Tacloban was grueling.
After a bus ride to the airport, he caught a plane to the island of Cebu. From Cebu, Telesforo then traveled by shop and then by bus. When he was 19 miles from his sister's home, public transportation was unavailable and he had to walk the rest of the way.
His Sister's Story
Telesforo’s sister’s family live in Tacloban near the Leyte Gulf. When the typhoon struck, the storm surge flooded their home with water. Thinking fast, her family climbed on top of a small dish cabinet that was barely 3 feet wide to avoid the flood water.
“There are five people in my sister’s family,” says Telesforo. “But only four people could fit on the top of the small cupboard. So they took turns, with four people crouched on top of the cupboard and the fifth having to swim.”
As some point, the height of the flood water had nearly reached their ceiling. Telesforo’s sister attempted to bang on the tin roof to signal for help, but no one came to their rescue. After sometime, the water subsided leaving debris and mud in its wake. But, the good news was that her family had survived.
After being reunited with his sister and her family, Telesforo returned back to work with Plan’s Disaster Aid Coordination Team. “For the first days, we didn’t sleep,” he remembers. “We worked around the clock."
Plan was the first aid organization that arrived to help many of the neighboring villages. "We have worked there for a long time, so we know the people and the area. Plan staff and volunteers could immediately begin surveying the needs of the people and helping the local communities,” he adds.