Saturday, December 7, 2013

Missionaries of Charity

December 7th, 2013
Missionaries of Charity
I woke up early on Friday morning and started off on a walk to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage. I wanted to walk the 6 or 7 km’s to get a close-up view of the storm’s aftermath. My first sight was a large boat over 100 meters from the Bay.
Boat landing
As I walked there was a constant stream of garbage trucks, hydro repair crews, military and foreign aid vehicles streaming along. Tacloban is rebuilding day by day despite no electricity, on the 28th day since the typhoon.
Here is a view of the waterfront area of Tacloban.
View of the waterfront
As I walked down the street I saw that not everyone who survived was lucky. This guy’s joy in living was short lived.
Talk about bad luck
One of the main landmarks of Tacloban is Sto Nino church and it was hit hard by the typhoon. Despite losing the roof the church hosted a number of the homeless families in the area in the immediate aftermath. They have now closed their doors to clean up and prepare for Christmas Mass.
Sto Nino Church
I was on my way to the Missionaries of Charity (MC) orphanage where I volunteered for 6 months back in 2011. The children I knew during my time are no longer there but I wanted to see if the new children were okay and to visit with the workers. I was excited and a little apprehensive when I had my first glimpse of the exterior of the building.
The outside of MC
Here are the gates that always brought a smile to my face.
My favorite sign in the world
I knocked on the door and noticed a familiar face and Jennifer came running to greet me. I recognized a few of the children as kids of the workers but Gemma and Bella the workers I was there to visit were out and would return in a few hours.
I had already heard the story of what happened but confirmed the details in my discussions with a few of those who lived through it. MC is composed of 3 buildings. The Sisters occupy one close to the main building. The children and workers live in the main building with the adults needing care living in a building across the road.
The typhoon hit about 6:00 am and the electricity was immediately knocked out. The children were in the area where the infants usually stay in their cribs and all the children and workers were all together in the same room, in anticipation of the storm. The Sisters were in their building across the driveway. At one point the water started rushing into the buildings and rose from ankle level to the level of my chest. The people I spoke with said it was like getting hit by a wave at the beach. The water reached a level over the heads of all the children. In MC there are water lines still visible and I took a picture that shows how high it would be on these kids. The girl is one of the tallest children there and with the speed of the in-flow, none would have survived if they were on the floor. None of the children or workers can swim.
Water line
The water rose so quickly that Gemma and Bella had to act fast. They gathered tables together and raced to put the kids on top. A few were put on Styrofoam pads that floated on top of the dark and muddy water. Gemma related how she thought they had no chance to survive but she refused to give up and kept working to save them. Gemma is a very strong woman but a month after the event cannot tell the story without breaking down.
Meanwhile, across the driveway the Sisters were trapped inside their building with the water crashing through the doors and filling the rooms. You can steel see the damage to the doors as the rushing water simply smashed through everything in it’s path. They were standing on the tables to survive. A young local boy raced in to make sure they were okay and helped them get on top of the tables until the water receded.
In the adults section across the road the people weren’t so lucky. Two of the adult patients drowned in their beds as the water rose too quickly for them to get up. One of the patients was blind and the other couldn’t get up fast enough. The blind lady would not even have seen what was coming.
Overall they were extremely blessed but the loss of one life is too many. The Sisters were so traumatized that a few were transferred to a different location to recover. They were trapped with their own lives in danger and not knowing the fate of the children in their care. It was an agonizing few hours until they were able to make their way back to the children, now standing in waist-deep mud.
I talked a while with Gemma and Bella and they are heroes for what they did to save those children’s lives. They are both parents to young children and acted as if the 16 kids in their care were their own. Both women lost their homes and are now staying at MC indefinitely. I have been in touch with a number of former volunteers that worked there and who know both of them and we are going to try and raise funds to provide them a home. Both of them spend their lives caring for others and now they need some help. They are single parents raising a family and do not even have a roof over their heads. They deserve better than that and without them, there is no way all of those kids would be alive today.
There were also stories of loss. I met a lady today who is 4 months pregnant and has 4 children. Her husband died in the typhoon and the Missionaries of Charity accepted her and her children to stay with them. She is the lady on the far right and I watched her sitting there in a very quiet daze like trance, simply going through the motions of eating to survive for her children.
Here is my brand new friend, one of the little kids now taking refuge at the Missionaries of Charity. He decided to join me for lunch and show me how to pose properly for photos.
My new friend
I have never eaten a meal at MC as I refuse to consume their food but they insisted this time. I think Gemma and Jennifer just wanted to see if I could eat rice and vegetables without utensils. I didn’t tell them that I spent 6 weeks in India doing this on a daily basis. Jennifer is on my right and Gemma is on my left.
All the stuffed toys are hanging out to dry.
Drying out time
As of today, all the children have been moved out of MC and relocated to different Missionaries of Charity orphanages in the nearby provinces while they rebuild. They are getting some food from the other orphanages and on the day I visited, the Sisters and staff were out in the small villages distributing relief goods to others. They personify the act of selfless giving as they rely on donations for food and then they continue to donate some of the goods they receive to help others. They just survived a typhoon with the loss of 2 lives and are already going out to the community to help others. It is very humbling to be there and see them in action.
I left the orphanage and walked to Barangay 64, the small village where I lived when I volunteered at MC. I stayed with a family of 13 people and wanted to make sure they were okay. I also wanted to visit the Volunteer for the Visayas (VFV) office building. VFV is the foundation that matches volunteers with the various projects in Tacloban. I worked with them to get a volunteer position with Missionaries of Charity.
I almost got lost trying to find the entrance to the village as most of my usual landmarks were destroyed. Here is a picture of one of the streets near the entrance.
Street near Barangay 64
The VFV building’s roof was destroyed but the main building is in relatively good shape.
VFV Office
The houses around the center basketball court were damaged extensively. Here is a view of the surrounding homes.
Basketball Court
I then met my homestay family. All of them survived as they live in a solid home. They also invited others in the area to stay in their home for safety. The water level here rose to about my chin level as they huddled on the second floor. I talked with the kids and they were also terrified, not knowing if the water would keep rising. The home is at least 2 km from the edge of the water and it just shows how destructive the storm surge and winds were to every home in the city.
The children haven’t changed through all of this, still smiling and more than happy to have their picture taken.
2 girls near VFV
I am currently staying at a hotel here and have booked for 1 week. The lady at my homestay said they have a room available in their home so next Thursday I will move here. It is a great opportunity, as they need the money I will give them and I need a place to stay.
Tomorrow I am going to a small town about 1 hour from Tacloban to search for the mother and children of a Filipina overseas worker desperately trying to confirm if they are okay. I reached out to people to offer assistance in finding people and Cristina replied. She is working in the Middle East and knows her family lived but she cannot confirm if they have enough food and water. I promised to make the trip and have rented a driver to take me there. I told him I only have a general idea of where they live and that I would also like to try and find some food and water to give to them. Tomorrow is another day to face the unknown.
I know many of you have given money to help some of the people here and I have told many here of the generosity of the people around the world. If you know of anyone looking to donate and who wants to ensure the money will be put to good use, please tell them about what is going on here and that the money will go directly into the hands of those who need help, with no administrative charges or government intervention. I pay for all the food and supplies myself to ensure it is spent wisely. The need here is simply overwhelming and I fear that as time passes the impact of the storm will be dropped from the news coverage and from people’s thoughts, particularly as people prepare for Christmas.


  1. Brenda_Schepper@kprdsb.caDecember 23, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Fred -
    I have shared your website/blog with a few people and I hope you will receive a response from some of my friends. I will continue to share the news of what you are doing.
    This is a heart-breaking story but what you are doing is so heart-warming.
    Thanks Fred!
    With love Brenda

  2. Hello, I recently volunteered at Sisters of Charity. I want to send the Sister in Charge (Sister Bernadette) a letter and some gifts however I have lost her address. Do you possibly know the address? Thank you! Sarah

    1. Hi,

      I don't know the Sisters of Charity. I volunteered for the Missionaries of Charity in Tacloban, Philippines.