Dateline: Snapshots from the Philippines

Adam Steinberg

Adam Steinberg, a medical doctor who is JDC’s Ralph I. Goldman Fellow and a member of JDC’s emergency response team in the Philippines, shares his observations from the ground.

Manila, Philippines

This morning we visited the National Resource Operations Center run by the Filipino government’s Department for Social Welfare and Development—the government’s major relief center in the Philippines that coordinates the collection, packaging, and distribution of food and supplies.

As we walked around, we were overwhelmed by a very special energy.

Elma, one of the technical officers, described the dire situation on her home island of Bohol and briefed us on the latest in Bogo city, in North Cebu where the IDF field hospital is located. Around us was constant activity, updating of information boards and coordination with regional offices and volunteers.

What was striking was the strong spirit of volunteerism at the center. Military, police, civil servants, students, locals, and visiting international guests are all helping. Many locals have been sent by the employers to help instead of performing their regular workplace duties. For them a deeper sense of duty takes precedent.

Here we helped pack and carry supplies. The Filipinos around us were extremely touched and appreciative — moved by the fact that an American Jewish organization cares enough to come so far to help. For us it is that same deep sense of duty that compels our presence here.

Daan Bantayan, Cebu Island, Philippines

Daan Bantayan, at the northern tip of Cebu Island, is one of the most affected towns. Some 20,000 of the town’s 65,000 residents were impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. Although there were only two confirmed deaths and 220 injured here, the township suffered serious physical damage.

Winds were so strong during the storm that the roof of the cultural center — one of the safe buildings to which 500 people were evacuated — blew off.

On the ground, we saw many flattened homes … homes without roofs … fallen trees and electric wires lying openly on the ground.

The mayor was hands-on, distributing food, clothes, and building materials. City hall was the center of activities, and there was a major mobilization of volunteers.

We proceeded to one of the major schools in the city, which was severely damaged by the storm. When we arrived there were working crews cutting down trees, removing the debris, and cleaning the school grounds with the help of the children and teachers. After a meaningful meeting with the principal, we distributed toys and school supplies to the children.

Bogo, Philippines

A Changing Treescape

Driving north from Cebu city toward Bogo, the treescape began to change. Here was a world turned upside down. Roots reached for the skies while branches were smashed towards the ground. Electricity cables that once lined the clouds now hem the earth precariously. Some people were on the streets clearing the debris, others sat looking emptily at the shell of their formers homes. All were trying to make sense of a world after a storm.

As we drove on the main street of Bogo you could see the Israeli flag adorning the IDF field hospital entrance. A young solider stopped our van to question us. Mike, the veteran on our emergency field team, said, “Anachnu M’Ha’Joint!” (“We are from the Joint)!” The solider broke out into the biggest grin and welcomed us in.

It was heartwarming to see how proud Mike was — proud to represent JDC and proud to see his country, Israel, on the ground so quickly alleviating suffering. He greeted each soldier like they were his best friends he hadn’t seen in years. It was hard not to feel proud and smile, too.

There we met various young Filipinos making a difference — a few friends who pooled their resources and energy and set in motion a relief and rebuilding effort for the islands they call home; a group of therapists and educators dedicated to community-based rehabilitation of children with disabilities, children who need additional emotional support through trying times like these.

These groups joined us on a tour of the hospital.

The field hospital is very impressive. A series of tents line the front garden of the pre-existing hospital. Within it is fully functioning with operating rooms, X-ray machine, and a laboratory. The doctors across all disciplines serve hundreds of patients each day and treat each with the utmost dignity. The first baby born there was named ‘Israel’ by his appreciative parents, fitting for a child representing a nation wrestling with its recovery.


The next day we visited three schools in Daan Bantayan and Bogo that had suffered considerable damage with roofs and classrooms blown away by the satanic winds. It was a chance to meet the teachers and children at the face of a storm. Somewhat surprisingly, the kids, with roofs and debris and fallen trees surrounding them still manage to laugh and play and just be kids. Their smiles act as reminders of the resilience of the Filipino people.

We delivered first aid stocks to the local ambulance service, all donated by pharmaceutical manufacturers in Melbourne. I was amazed that when I called customer service at one of the companies, the woman said to me, “Leave it to me, I’ll get it organized for you.” An afternoon later she called me back with a list of places that had boxes ready for collection. Those supplies now fill the shelves of an ambulance that was completely empty.

I explained to the ambulance drivers where the supplies had come from. Their reaction showed they were clearly moved. “People from all over the world care.”

“They do,” I responded. “We do.” And in that moment the world made just a little more sense.

Santa Rosario, Philippines

After Tremors of the Heart

Santa Rosario is a barangay (neighborhood) on the Island of Bohol, which has now been hit twice; first by an earthquake a month ago and now by the typhoon. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into this community at a moment it was particularly vulnerable, during a stress debriefing session. The session, much like the disasters themselves, crossed generations and spanned human emotions.

A shy lady, reserved and holding onto her dignity, shared the anguish of how a landslide swallowed her home. The stories she revealed described the centrality of her home to her relationship with her grandchildren. As I reflected on the universality of this concept, she continued to speak, resting her head on the shoulder of her neighbor. The significance of her memories could not be overcome by the weight of the mud.

That twinge of loneliness was palpable when an elderly gentleman, the wrinkles on his face nearly matching the years in his life, verbalized man’s greatest fear. No matter how proud he was of his children’s success and how he wished them fulfillment in life, when the walls around him shook, he was the only one within them.

With tremendous passion, a young woman reflected on how the community as a whole achieved some sense of happiness through the power of sharing. By opening their fresh wounds together, it allowed them to start the process of healing together. Through this they will be stronger, however uncertain their future.

The respected barangay captain struggled as she looked at her fractured home and the tent that had replaced it. She is trying to hold it together and be strong for her family and community but even in the saturating rain I could see a tear escape her eyes.

And a man clutched his heart as he described the anticipation of ongoing aftershocks that accompany an earthquake like a shadow even at night. It seems long after the final aftershock, the after tremors of the heart will remain.



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