During the course of their service, many Peace Corps Volunteers find they make deep and long-lasting connections in their host communities. For the 8,680 Volunteers who have served in the Philippines, those ties have made the horrific images of Typhoon Haiyan and the devastation it has caused in communities where they once worked and lived even more disturbing. For Peace Corps Recruiter Kathryn Fidler, a presentation drawn from cherished memories of her service in the Philippines took on new meaning, and one picture has helped her share the story of a culture that no news coverage could ever communicate.
Malapascua Island, Philippines. Photo by Peace Corps Recruiter Kathryn Fidler
Memories of Malapascua
By Kathryn Fidler, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Philippines 2002-2004
As a Recruiter for the Peace Corps in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and central Massachusetts, I spend a considerable amount of time each fall standing in front of groups of people and telling them about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. I served there from 2002-04, first in Butuan City, Mindanao and then in Cebu City in the Central Visayas, as a Youth Development Volunteer with the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The final segment of the presentation I give to college students, community groups, and potential applicants consists of personal photographs of the people and places I grew to love over the course of my service. Unfortunately, several of the locations in the photos have suffered immense damage in the last month, and the hours I spent watching the news and hoping for the safety of my friends there have been heartbreaking. As I prepared to give my first campus presentation after Typhoon Haiyan, I considered removing my final photograph, of a lovely beach sunset on the island of Malapascua that I ordinarily describe as the type of everyday pleasure I miss the most. Malapascua was completely leveled by the storm, with preliminary reports indicating that 100 percent of the structures on the island were rendered uninhabitable.
Natural disasters are nothing new in the Philippines, and Volunteers who serve there are well trained and prepared to expect them. Nevertheless, the scope of destruction that the central islands of the Philippines have experienced this fall has been unprecedented. Last month, an earthquake caused major structural damage in Cebu and surrounding islands. The complex housing the children’s home where I worked was badly damaged, and my former colleagues were already working long hours in disaster relief before the typhoon hit. Now, Cebu City is one of the major staging areas for relief efforts in the region, and is accommodating evacuees from surrounding areas and donations of international aid.
I have known since 2002 that the Filipino people are uncommonly strong, caring, and resilient, and now the world is getting a glimpse of their incredible spirit as well. As soon as the power came back in Cebu City, before many of my friends had even had time to repair their own property and make contact with their relatives, they began posting calls for donations of food, clothing and volunteers on social media. Along with thousands of other ordinary citizens in the affected area, they have responded with grace and generosity, giving their own scarce time and resources to help those worst affected. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and as a lifelong friend, I am proud to know them and to have had the chance to serve in their communities.
In the end, I decided to leave the photo of Malapascua in my presentation, and to use the inspiring example of my friends and former colleagues to illustrate the bonds that can be formed between Volunteers and the communities where we serve. Volunteers who served in the Philippines are already active in seeking support for relief and rebuilding efforts, and in spreading awareness of the need for further efforts. Part of the Third Goal of Peace Corps is helping to make people at home aware of the situations that our host countries face, and the outpouring of support from the families and communities of current and former members of Peace Corps Philippines shows the appreciation that many of our loved ones have developed for the country that welcomed us. However, the need is still immense, and will continue for some time. If you are interested in contributing to relief efforts, here are some opportunities:
• The Peace Corps Philippines Country Fund helps fund Volunteer and community projects through the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP). Contributing to this fund supports long-term development efforts throughout the country. One hundred percent of all contributions to the Philippines Country Fund are allocated to approved PCPP development projects that meet Peace Corps small grants guidelines. While donations to this fund may not support immediate disaster relief efforts, donations received may contribute to longer-term rebuilding efforts. Donate to the Philippines Country Fund here.
• The Peace Corps Emergency Relief Fund, a Peace Corps-focused Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund that is managed externally, provides financial assistance to Peace Corps Volunteers and U.S. citizen-employees in the event of natural or man-made disasters and uninsured personal crises. In special circumstances such as widespread natural disasters, non-U.S. citizen employees and U.S.-citizen and non-citizen Personal Services Contractors may also be eligible for assistance if funding allows. Donate to the Peace Corps Emergency Relief Fund here, and be sure to note “Philippines” in the comment box when you donate.
• The U.S. Government is providing $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance that will deliver emergency shelter, food assistance, relief commodities, and water, sanitation and hygiene support to people affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has compiled a list of reputable organizations collecting donations to address the most immediate needs. See USAID’s recommendations here.
• Additional information about the relief efforts in the Philippines is available on the Peace Corps website at http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/media/press/2298/
Kathryn Fidler is a Peace Corps Recruiter for the Northeast Region. All Peace Corps Recruiters are eager to help guide men and women through the application process. Click here to connect with your local Peace Corps Recruiter now.