You couldn’t blame the people of Ajuy, Philippines, if they simply gave up, packed up and moved on. Every year the 47,000 people who call this coastal district home bear the brunt of 20 typhoons as they whip west across the Pacific.
The island made international headlines following Typhoon Haiyan, which broke records for its strength and destruction in 2013—but this was simply the strongest in a perpetual cycle of destruction.
I noticed a green band tied around each of their arms. It simply read: "We will rise again".
If it was me, and my home and belongings were being destroyed on an almost annual basis, I would probably throw my hands in the air and walk away—or sit in the corner and cry.
But the people of Ajuy had a message for me late last year. In a very literal “wear your heart on your sleeve” moment I was taught a lesson about the strength and resilience found in communities.
The 34 communities that make up Ajuy had come together to collect life-saving and early-warning equipment as part of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency’s (ADRA) ongoing work following Haiyan. The community-elected leaders had come to ensure the people they represented were better prepared for and protected against future disasters.
As they entered I noticed a green band tied around each of their arms. It simply read: “We will rise again”.
A child receives an ADRA hygiene kit with joy. The kit includes a bucket, purifying tablets, soap and other items.
This message of stoic hope, exemplified by their smiles and “God bless yous”, demonstrated that more than just life-saving food and water, a renewed sense of confidence had grown in a population that was weary from continually being knocked down. Seeing the sea of green ribbons showed me how far these communities had come.
It wasn’t long after this, as my husband and I boarded up our windows in preparation for Typhoon Ruby, that my thoughts returned to the people of Ajuy and others like them. Almost exactly a year-to-the-day since Haiyan, Ruby’s driving rain was my first typhoon experience, but it was simply another disaster for these communities as they rebuild.
Shortly after Ruby had passed I flew with our team to Ajuy to assess and assist. It was here I spoke with Romulo.
In the middle of the storm, which was feared to match Haiyan in strength and destruction, Romulo crawled from his home towards the local evacuation centre. Forced to the ground by the wind, Romulo, who has previously lost an arm above the elbow, feared for his life. Stinging memories of Typhoon Haiyan returned—it was a storm that took his home and everything he owned.
By activating the community’s new emergency plans no lives were lost during Typhoon Ruby and destruction was minimised. Taking ADRA’s lessons on board Romulo had also secured the roof of his home by tying it onto nearby trees.
“When we returned from the evacuation centre it was a priceless feeling to see our house was still there,” he said.
Romulo passed on his sincere thanks to ADRA. “We are thankful because after the typhoon we know that we still have a secure house to live in. We are very happy because this is a durable house—not a single trace of destruction is visible.”
The immediate aftermath of disasters, and sometimes too the agencies that rush to the scene, grab the headlines. I can personally testify that the most amazing thing in these situations is not the destruction or millions of dollars spent but the incredible strength and resilience of the communities affected.
The most powerful work we can do is to build on this inherit strength so that future disasters can be avoided or at least their impact minimised.
In many ways this work, which we call disaster risk reduction and resilience, is a reflection of God’s character. He isn’t there just to pull us out of crises—He builds us up, teaches us and protects us so we can thrive despite the disasters that come. And He tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Beryl Hartmann with Romulo.
While many agencies have left the people of the Philippines—and certainly the world’s media has long gone—ADRA remains. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is only possible because people like you support our mission. ADRA is only able to respond immediately and continue to work long after the headlines are gone because there are thousands of Australians—and millions of others across the world—committed to helping others thrive.
Your support means that when they need us we’re already there.
ADRA’s disaster and famine relief offering is collected in churches this Sabbath, February 21. Gifts can also be given by calling 1800 242 372, online at <www.adra.org.au/disasteroffering> or by returning the donation slip on the back page of this edition of Record to ADRA Australia.
Beryl Hartmann is humanitarian program officer for ADRA Australia.