Pain and Hope: An Aid Worker's Reflection From Typhoon Washi

12/29/2011 06:11 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015


by Crislyn Felisilda, World Vision Field Communications Officer

Over a week has passed since Typhoon Washi struck Northern Midanao -- my home. I feel I've had the busiest hours of my career as a worker with the non-profit organization World Vision. I knew there was a typhoon coming, and I was even monitoring our areas. But like the weather experts and forecasters, I was stunned by the aftermath of Washi's force and fury. It struck at the dead of night where many were caught asleep. As a humanitarian worker, I knew I should keep going. But, as a person living in this community, it was a difficult thing to do.

Although I've been responding to disasters for more than four years, this was by far the most difficult for me. It happened in my backyard, and that brought a whole new level of emotions seeing the tragedy unfold. Although my immediate family was spared from harm, I experienced what it was like to be one of the families who also lost their homes and loved ones. It was quite personal. It gave me all the reasons to be weak and to become passionate to work at the same time.

I thought I'd seen enough disaster already. But this time, I experienced the rawness of it all at the disaster site. I saw a father squatting and cradling his muddied baby, limp and lifeless. There were no tears in his eyes, no words from his lips, but on his mouth was a frozen scream. I also witnessed children crying while searching for their loved ones. They were all wet, weak, and muddied. Other kids just sat silent, staring into blank space from afar, wondering how they managed to survive the rampaging flood.

But the most heart-wrenching scene was how the dead bodies were being pulled out one after another from the floodwaters. People from different walks of life including children were all waiting for more bodies to be retrieved. I heard a girl sobbing at my back. Her name was Remy. I stood beside her, and asked why she was crying. She told me what happened and broke into more tears. Her mother was found dead but her father and two other siblings were still missing. I regret I asked because I felt helpless in the end. I didn't say anything anymore. I squeezed her shoulder and turned around to wipe my face.

Personally, it was challenging to capture stories and images of devastation while my heart was breaking. It was challenging to talk with the wailing and the weeping while I wailed and wept too. In that short span of time, I think I've seen too much -- dead people, dead animals, debris, mud, water, wreckage, decay, hunger, thirst and worst of all, immeasurable loss. However, after death and destruction stared in my face, my heart was awakened enough to immediately help. My channels are my stories and images. I realized how powerful they can become.

Despite the disaster, I see Bayanihan (a spirit of communal unity) among us. The government, non-government, private individuals and groups are rushing to respond. At World Vision we've been distributing food, water, and supplies to families. Child Friendly Spaces have been set up to help some of the typhoon's youngest victims. I see hope in their smiles and in their celebrations during the Christmas holiday.

Like the affected families, I also experienced an immeasurable pain this Christmas season.

I know many families who have drastically simplified their Noche Buena in order to share with those who were affected by Washi. At home, we offered prayers. I knew many who have also sacrificed Christmas parties. Few fireworks were bursting up in the sky. Indeed, it was not an ordinary Christmas. We experienced the true meaning of the season -- a time to share and to show love to those who are in crisis. And as New Year comes fast, I pray God will wash away the tearing grief and the despair.