| Jan 13, 2015
(This post has been updated)
A year after devastation befell the Philippines in the form of a catastrophic category-5 typhoon, the archipelago nation had planned for a blessed moment.
This month, Pope Francis made the first pastoral church trip to the Philippines since Pope John Paul visited the country in 1995. One of his destinations was Tacloban, the Southeastern Philippine city flattened by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. There, he meet with typhoon survivors and performed mass near the airport.
The city of Tacloban following the landfall of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Medical Teams volunteer Jay Sudario lives in Tacloban and said the city was abuzz with excitement and activity as Pope Francis arrived at the Tacloban airport, even as a new storm was brewing near the Philippines. “It was raining moderately,” Jay wrote in a message to MTI, “but the people here were so happy and feeling blessed.”
The resilient residents of Tacloban had been planning for the papal visit for months. Not even a typhoon in early December — known as Typhoon Hagupit — could put a damper on their collective excitement. Not even the intense weather the pope encountered on the day of his visit could do that. “Lots of people here are prepared and so excited,” Jay said.
It was a sign, not just that the hard-struck region wants to turn the page, but that it’s building the capacity to do so. Tacloban, in the Leyte province, is bouncing back – rebuilding and regaining confidence.
Your generous donations helped make that possible in the Philippines.
Emergency responders in Tacloban, like volunteer firefighter Mave Lim, say they’ve been putting into practice what Medical Teams International has taught them. He and many of the area's other first responders underwent preparedness training last year following Typhoon Haiyan, coordinated by MTI and conducted by paramedics from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.
"Before (Haiyan), we had prepared, and we thought we prepared well," Lim said. "But, unfortunately, we were overwhelmed."
Firefighter Mave Lim, center, says emergency preparedness training conducted by MTI volunteers has made Philippine first responders more confident in their abilities.
More than 7,300 lives were lost as a result of the typhoon, particularly after a storm surge unexpectedly flooded low-lying areas. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. Thousands still are.
But when Typhoon Hagupit was bearing down on the area in December, "we were much more prepared," Lim said.
Like Lim, the area's other first responders said MTI's training, made possible through your gifts, empowered them to feel more confident in their abilities to act. Those skills were put to use to plan for the pope’s visit, Lim said. An unprecedented number of people converged on Tacloban for the historic event, despite the stormy weather.
The pope’s visit comes at a time when the devastation wrought by Haiyan is still so visible throughout the city.
Lim said his firehouse, known as Delta Volunteer, is using what it learned from MTI to reach out to other areas affected by disaster and to become more self-sufficient. The volunteer firefighters there even delivered relief packages of food to displaced families during the holiday season. For Lim, a gesture of that sort had to be made.
Following the pope’s arrival — a celebratory day for millions of Filipinos — the message in the Philippines remains one of resiliency and resolve in an area that not so long ago was at the forefront of disaster.