You may not be aware that one of the strongest tropical cyclones to ever hit the Philippines, Typhoon Bopha, tore through the southern island of Mindanao in December 2012.
You may not know that it left over a thousand dead, a thousand more missing, and 1.2 million families displaced. In total, upwards of six million people were affected.
This news hits close to home, as I spent the better part of last spring living in Mindanao, working tirelessly to build shelters and clean up the damage from the last destructive super-storm—Tropical Storm Washi, that made landfall in late 2011.
My background in international humanitarian work coupled with a strong conviction that it is necessary, as a global citizen, to give everything I can to those in need, led me to seek out job opportunities in the field of disaster response. Next thing I knew, I found myself in the Philippines, working alongside a team of committed individuals to clean up a catastrophe that the rest of the world had already forgotten about.
I was there.
I walked the maze of narrow pathways through hundreds of tents—an entire city built by the displaced—that were never meant to last this long.
I learned how to pour cement and dig septic tanks, lay bricks and create plumbing systems from PVC pipes and Super Glue.
I stood alongside families as they received keys to their new
homes, and I bore witness to a community learning how to live after they had lost everything.
I was humbled and completely broken open by the reality of natural disaster.
How do we reconcile with this magnitude of destruction when there is no one to blame?
The breadth of Bopha’s devastation far surpassed any previous storm in the region, reaching areas that had been thought to be well outside of typhoon danger, and causing questions to be raised about the links between climate change and the increasingly brutal storms.
At the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, Filipino negotiator Naderev Saño made a speech that moved me to tears. In his appeal, he pleads with us to consider our impact in the face of such disasters.
I’m making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino.
I appeal to the whole world.
I appeal to the leaders all over the world, to open their eyes to the stark reality that we face….
The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by seven billion people.
I appeal to all, please no more delays, no more excuses….
I ask of all of us here: If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?
~ Naderev Saño
As we face the harsh reality of climate change, we must decide how we will respond in the wake of disaster.
We must learn how to stand alongside those who have experienced such immense devastation. Our hearts must go out unconditionally to the Filipinos who work yet again to rebuild their lives.
We cannot forget that natural disaster shows no preference between the rich or the poor, the black or the white, the educated or the illiterate, the conservative or the liberal.
Our world is changing rapidly; we cannot ignore it any longer.
(Look here for more information about All Hands, the incredible organization that I worked with in the Philippines)
Olivia does everything possible to disprove the theory that youth is wasted on the young. She is a world traveler, inspired by exotic places and new faces, unknown customs and foreign tongues. Her work has included fostering infants in West Africa, island-hopping across South-East Asia, developing rural healthcare in Madagascar, building homes in the Philippines, and sunbathing in South America. Visit her website at www.olivegray.com for a glimpse into her wanderlust.
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