By Yadira Betances
---- — ANDOVER — Looking at the images of people living in the open, clamoring for food and water over fields of debris and toppled buildings, all Sierra Jamir could do is cry.
“It’s so shocking and there is so much devastation, it’s heartbreaking. You really can’t imagine it because you’re half (way) around the world,” said Jamir, whose parents are from the Philippines.
The multi-island nation was struck by Typhoon Yolanda or “Haiyan” on Friday, one of the deadliest in a decade. The cities of Tacloban, Cebu and Telye got hit the hardest, with wind gusts of 170 mph, waves as high as 45-feet and up to 15.75 inches of rain. The death toll has been estimated at 2,275 so far, with more than 11 million people affected by the storm.
With such devastation, many local people are doing what they can to raise money to help survivors displaced by the storm.
Marcy E. Yeager, a professor of natural sciences at Northern Essex Community College, explained that a typhoon is another word for hurricane. Both are types of cyclones, but these storms are called different things in different parts of the world.
Yeager, whose concentration is meteorology, said typhoons and earthquakes are common in the Philippines due to its proximity to the equator.
Last Saturday, Jamir was with a Filipino organization in Boston helping raise funds for the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked the country in October when they heard about Haiyan.
Jamir, a senior at Phillips Academy, and her fellow student, junior Alexandra Westfall, organized a fundraiser to help the typhoon victims through the school’s South East Asian Club, which Jamir started last year. Club members made fliers with the Filipino flag in the background and the message, “Save the Philippine Victims of Typhoon Haiyan.” Club members are selling pens and bracelets and have raised $600 in just a few days.
“It’s really great that so many people are willing to donate,” Jamir said.
Although Jamir was born in Oregon and has lived in the U.S. all her life, she has a soft spot for her parents’ homeland. She attends Filipino school and speaks Tagalog as well as English and Japanese, which she learned at Phillips.
Westfall, a native of Manila who came to study at Phillips Academy, was not aware of the typhoon until her father sent her an email. Since then, she has been watching videos and reading stories on the Internet.
“I was really nervous. I know from past experiences that when we got hit by a typhoon, all the windows would be flying because of the high wind,” Westfall said.
She lived through a typhoon in 2006 when she was in the fourth grade.
“We didn’t know that it was coming. When I woke up there was a lot of rain, the trees in our garden fell over and the wall separating the slums collapsed, “ Westfall recalls.
Next week, she will fly 25 hours with four stopovers to go to Manila for Thanksgiving break.
“It’s going to be sad, but I’m excited to see my family,” she said. She may even ask her mother’s permission to help with the disaster relief packing canned goods, clothing and toiletries.
“I’ve been through these disasters and hardships,” she said. “I should help because we’re one big family. But it is frustrating because in four months we’ll have another natural disaster.”
“We’re very saddened by it,” said Betsy Leeham, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Asian Center in Lawrence. “We feel terrible because they are facing such great tragedy. It’s a bad situation that’s getting worse because the country is fighting dengue fever and medicine is scarce.”
Phillips Exeter Academy has several Filipino students. Although the school is not collecting funds per se, school officials are encouraging students, staff members and alumni to donate to the Red Cross, said Robin Giampa, communications director at the school.
“We’re showing a video of the typhoon to raise awareness and inform the school community,” she said.
The school also has a large poster featuring the yellow sun and three stars which the school community can sign for Phillips Exeter alumni living and working in the Philippines.
“We’ve heard from our alumni who are fine. They’re asking for monetary donations because is a more effective way to give,” Giampa said.
Kat Powers, communications director at Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts agreed.
“Every little bit helps and financial donations are better for us because we don’t have to pay for shipping,” Powers said. The Red Cross made an initial donation of $6 million, she said.
The Marist brothers, who run Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, have schools in nine cities in the Philippines. All the brothers working there survived the typhoon, but many of its students have lost everything and their families displaced, said Dave DeFillippo, Director of Community Relations at Central Catholic.
“Our Campus ministry Office is planning a fund drive with students and faculty to collect monies to help replace shelter and bring much needed medical and sanitation supplies to the victims, DeFillippo said.
Funds will be sent to the Marist school communities in the Philippines.
Jamir and Westfall both believe Filipino will recover, albeit slowly.
“The Philippines is such a happy country. There is a saying “ ‘The Filipino spirit is water proof’ and even though we face all these disasters, there’s something about the Filipino people that they always find a bright side to everything,” Westfall said.
Jamir said, “They’ll recover, but it’ll take a long time. The people will be fine, because of their spirit and resilience, but the homes will not be restored completely,” Jamir said.
Donations for typhoon victims: American Red Cross, log on to redcross.org Southeast Asian Club at Phillips Academy, Andover Holy Cross Cathedral, 1400 Washington St., Boston: A Mass for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) will be held Saturday at 6:30 p.m. sponsored by the Filipino Apostolate of Boston. Donations will be accepted for the communities of Bohol, Leyte and nearby provinces who were severely affected by the typhoon. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley has asked churches throughout the Archdiocese of Boston to take a collection this weekend for the victims of the Filipino typhoon. The Pilipino-American Association of New England has joined the American Red Cross of Massachusetts to help with the relief efforts for the victims of Haiyan. Donations can be sent to "PAMAS Extend-A-Hand", PAMAS of New England, Typhoon Haiyan Relief, P.O. Box 170793, Boston, MA 02117. Write "Typhoon Haiyan" in the check memo field.