A SHETLAND woman has paid tribute to the spirit and resolve of the people of the Philippines after witnessing at first hand the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
Jacqueline Harper, whose mother Winnie was born in the Philippines, returned to Scotland earlier this week having spent several days helping with the massive aid effort to get the country back on its feet again.
After putting out an appeal for donations to her friends on social media, she received more than £4,000 worth of pledges in just six days. She used the money to buy and directly distribute food and water to those most in need.
The 30 year old, who was brought up in the south mainland and then Lerwick before completing high school, now manages an Edinburgh-based travel operator.
She had already planned a trip to visit family in the Philippines when the worst typhoon on record struck earlier this month.
Winds of around 235mph tore through parts of the country when the typhoon – known as Yolanda locally – made land in early November.
More than 5,000 people died and several million, including an estimated 1.7 million children, were displaced.
Jacqueline had seen the “shocking” images on TV news and, despite the foreign office advising against travel, decided to make the journey east as it had been more than a year since she had seen her family.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly anxious,” she said.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but my family – who are based in other locations – assured me that everything was okay where they were so I decided to go anyway.
“I had already seen posts on Facebook warning of Typhoon Yolanda and its path a few days before it actually made landfall, and then it hit. Who could have ever expected the trail of destruction it was going to leave behind?”
She had only expected to receive a few small sums following her appeal, but was taken aback by the volume of generous pledges.
“I was completely overwhelmed at the response,” she said, “as well as a little stressed if I’m being completely honest.
“Suddenly I was faced with making hundreds of relief packs in a very short space of time which I couldn’t possibly have done on my own.”
The final total of roughly £4,500 raised by Jacqueline and her friends was enough to pay for around 2,000 survival packs – providing stricken families with vital access to food and water.
She flew into the country on 10 November, only a couple of days after the deadly winds had subsided. She spent the first few days making multiple cash withdrawals and waiting for all of the money to come through.
Her aunt works for the country’s department of education, which was involved in providing relief and shelter to some of the victims. She helped to arrange trucks to transport aid to some of the worst hit areas, including Tacloban.
“I have to say I was quite emotional when I saw their reaction when I explained what we had raised and wanted to do.
“They were completely astonished to see that a group of friends could raise so much money, and were grateful beyond belief.”
She and the team she worked with spent a great deal of time in the supermarkets buying as much rice, tinned goods, biscuits and water as their vehicles could carry.
On 18 November she was part of a convoy, which carried aid to the small city of Bogo in northern Cebu. She handed out relief packs to every child and teacher at the local school to take home to their families.
“We wanted to reach people as quickly as possible, particularly those that hadn’t yet received help or were in desperate need,” she said.
Jacqueline was struck by the courage with which locals faced up to the gruelling challenge of rebuilding their country.
“One thing I did notice is that you wouldn’t even know that one of the strongest typhoons had passed through there from the attitude of the people,” she said.
“They [were] still smiling and working damned hard to move on.”
Throughout her trip she felt extremes of emotion, overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge facing the local people.
“Although I wasn’t located in the directly affected areas, there were aid relief tents everywhere I looked, and everyone was talking about the typhoon and the victims constantly.
“Everything I saw on the news made me crumble. I went to northern Cebu and saw how entire homes had been destroyed and how hungry people were.
“There were so many children on the road begging for food and people cleaning up and rebuilding.
“The thing that amazed me the most was the smiles and positive spirit. With destruction and loss, I think people tend to think of sadness. That proves how strong the Filipino spirit is and their will to move on.”
She paid a heartfelt thanks for the “generosity and support” shown by her friends.
“We all had an aim to help people directly affected and ensure that 100 per cent of the monies was spent on relief packs,” Jacqueline said.
“The way we all came together in a situation like this was incredible. A prime example of solidarity.”
* You can make a donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s aid effort in the Philippines at www.dec.org.uk
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