Tessie Gonzales was shocked and dismayed by the images she saw of typhoon-ravaged Philippines, and, with the assistance of her church and the community, has taken it upon herself to raise money to help victims of the storm.
“After seeing those reports on TV, I couldn’t sit by,” she said. “The response I got was super encouraging.”
Assumption Roman Catholic Church will be hosting an international cuisine banquet on Nov. 30 to raise money for the relief effort in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Although the exact number of casualties is not yet known, there were an estimated 3,600 deaths as of last week and thousands remain without basic services.
The federal government has pledged to match donations made by Canadians before Dec. 9, adding impetus to fundraising efforts across the country.
“We’re aiming to serve about 200 people,” said Gonzales of the Nov. 30 fundraising event. “I asked people to not just make a little dish, but something that would be enough to feed lots of people, and they have been so generous. Everyone is bringing their own cuisine, not just Filipino.”
Gonzales said, as of Nov. 15, she already had people committed to fundraising, as well as assigned to banquet tasks. She also noted that businesses in town have been generous in their donations of both goods and services in support of the event.
“Everyone is throwing in their money, effort and time,” she said. “We’re calling it Operation Rescue Philippines. So many places have been destroyed, it will take a long time and a lot of help to get them on their feet there. If we can help, even only a little bit, we should do it.”
Other events are happening in Hay River on Nov. 30, noted Gonzales. “So we’re telling people they can come to the banquet and take food home to eat the next day if they want. Don’t let a full stomach stop you from helping.”
Tickets for the event cost $40 each for adults and $20 for children, and can be obtained at Ring’s Pharmacy, NorthMart and Super A. In addition, Super A will be running a round-up to raise money for the cause as of Nov. 18.
Travis Darling has extended family in the Philippines and spent the first few days after the typhoon anxiously waiting for news. He said that, while his relatives are all safe, the houses and streets he knew when he spent time there when he was 16 years old are all gone.
“It’s a surreal experience to see somewhere you know torn up like that on the international news,” he said. “I happened to be with my grandpa when we found out and it took three days to hear that everyone was safe. The people I know survived, but everything else is gone.”
Darling explained how the infrastructure in the Philippines is different from what Canadians are used to, with shacks lined up only inches away from the ocean. He said that when the water levels rise only a few feet – never mind the several metre swells brought on by Typhoon Haiyan – the destruction is widespread.
“Even those who have survived have done so with just the clothes on their backs,” he said. “They now face issues of food, water and shelter.”
Broken and overwhelmed telecommunication infrastructure is also making it difficult for families to connect across the Pacific Ocean. The Philippines is Canada’s largest source of immigrants, with a sector of the former’s economy relying on remittances from those who have left to seek work abroad. With money transfer wire services also struggling, the issues facing Filipinos both at home and abroad are hardly over, despite the sea’s relative quiet.
But people like Gonzales are not discouraged.
“I find people in Hay River have good hearts,” she said. “They really come together to help.”