The moment she wakes up, Agnes reaches for her smartphone on the nightstand and begins scrolling through her Facebook feed. This is the way every morning in our Arlington, VA apartment has begun since last week when Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) made landfall in the Philippines; my wife anxiously thumbing through news reports and blog posts from her homeland.
It's a scene that's being repeated across the globe right now as Filipino expatriates begin to take stock of the devastation Supertyphoon Haiyan has brought to their country and the worsening humanitarian crisis that has followed its path. Like Agnes, about 11 percent (10.5 million) of the total Filipino population (98.6 million) resides overseas and amid the flood of news reports chronicling the disaster, many have never felt so far from home.
The Filipino expat community would normally be buzzing this time of year on social media over Ms. Philippines losing out to Ms. Venezuela this past weekend for the Miss Universe title. Instead, with communication still limited in many corners of the country, Facebook and other online forums have become a prime source of information among expats cut off from their loved ones. A Facebook page set up to share information about the storm now shows a constant stream of photographs and appeals for help in finding missing relatives, some seeking entire families in places like Tacloban and Cebu.
For Agnes, word came shortly after the storm hit that her family just outside Manila had been spared the worst of Haiyan. But it wasn't until Sunday night that we finally got news about a friend, a poet who had been visiting the Visayas region and disappeared for several days, saying he had resurfaced unscathed.
Many others were not so lucky.
But the response to the storm among Filipino expats has also been amazing to witness and serves as a heartening example of how people, even when they're spread over several continents, can make use of person-to-person connections to take on a large-scale crisis. Filipino expats across several countries have pulled together, using their creativity and spirit to get food and relief aid to people who need it. In London, a group of UK-based Filipino photographers used a photo shoot of models along Queen's Walk to raise relief funds. In Canada, a Filipina Tina Turner impersonator and other expats are organizing a benefit concert on Thursday. Meanwhile, across the U.S., Australia, the UAE and elsewhere, expats have rallied to send everything from canned goods, to money, to medical supplies back home.
To many, these efforts are a way to take action rather than survey the damage from afar or a way to help close the perceived gap some see between the aid that's needed in the Philippines and what the national government is doing to help those on the ground.
For our part, Agnes got in touch with a former college roommate who serves with a locally-led relief charity, the Citizens' Disaster Response Center (CDRC). We're now raising funds for the CDRC online to send food and relief supplies to people who need them. And people have stepped up to help us, even folks we've never met before, generously donating more than $5,000 in the first few days. We're hoping to raise more by the end of the campaign, money that will provide things like food, water, sleeping kits and other necessities to people in relief centers CRDC is organizing in Leyte province and Cebu, two of the hardest hit regions in the country.
Our small effort and the many others like it that have sprung up among Filipino expat communities around the world matter in a big way. While the world's attention will eventually shift away from the Philippines to the next major disaster or the next big news story, theirs never will and the steps expats are taking today will help their country chart the long, uncertain path to recovery.