A mother of two left her home outside Tacloban in the Philippines to take a job in Kuwait to provide for her family. When she read about Typhoon Haiyan in the newspaper, she returned home as soon as possible. The tragedy that awaited her was unimaginable.
Randy Bishop is a staff writer with Samaritan’s Purse. He recently spent a week in the Philippines documenting the tragedy and the work that we’re doing.
Ofelia was standing still, downcast but resolute, at the edge of the road in Tanauan, a municipality about 45 minutes south of Tacloban City, along the east coast of Leyte Province. Everything behind her and in front of her was completely destroyed. Palm trees had been snapped in half. Waterlogged debris of all kinds lay matted together with coconuts here and there. Piles of wooden rubble were heaped up where small houses and retail shops once stood. Some concrete structures fared a little better—standing roofless with walls collapsed or knocked askew by the winds and waters of the Pacific.
This was almost two weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan brought its wrecking ball to this neighborhood. I can’t remember who spoke first—her or me—but I quickly realized Ofelia’s English was quite good and she had a tragedy to share with me. What she said is terrifying for any parent, and I am a father of two boys.
To provide for her family, particularly her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, Ofelia took a two-year job last month as a domestic helper in Kuwait. This is not an unusual career move in the Philippines. She sent back her first earnings on November 4. When, on that auspicious occasion, she talked to her son, Yuki, he mentioned getting a bike. It was Ofelia’s hope to buy one for him, perhaps with the next paycheck.
Then November 8 came, bringing one of the strongest storms ever recorded. Everyone expected winds and rain. Few, if any, expected an enormous wall of water to rush through their homes. It came suddenly, between 7 and 9 in the morning. It didn’t last long, but the storm surge killed thousands, ripping children from their parents and wives from their husbands.
Ofelia’s father tried to hold Yuki above the water, but it was not to be. Her sister-in-law also perished. Three hundred people died nearby, with 170 still missing, said a local official.
In the deserts of Kuwait, Ofelia read about the storm in a newspaper. After about a week, with her employer’s permission, she managed to return home. In the Santo Niño district, the cemetery was too full of victims to bury Yuki. So, his family placed him in a grave in the nearby hills.
Ofelia is thankful her daughter and parents are still alive. She cried as I prayed God would comfort her in her terrible loss. Honestly, I really didn’t know what to pray or say, but knew He was the only One worth turning to.
This grieving mother will return to Kuwait in December. For those she leaves behind this time, life will be difficult. Basic necessities are still not easy to come by. The good news, though, is that relief is arriving. Samaritan’s Purse is installing a new water filtration system near where her parents’ are rebuilding, for instance. The system can filter 10 gallons a minute (or 7,200 gallons in 12 hours) and include 6 faucet tap stands. We have also distributed more than 7,000 high-quality tarps in Tanauan along with blankets and mosquito netting.
The logistical challenges of providing relief to the Philippines right now are substantial. The nation is a chain of more than 7,000 islands. But I have witnessed Samaritan’s Purse staff working around the clock, around the world to deliver relief—medical care, food, clean water, shelter—in Jesus’ Name to families like Ofelia’s. This is a gleam of hope in a dark situation.
Please pray for Samaritan’s Purse workers to bring desperately needed physical and spiritual comfort to the people of the Philippines at this critical time. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, ESV).