Brits in Yolanda rehab find strength in Filipino Smiles
by FFE PH News Staff
British Armed forces sailor and first time disaster response personnel James Walton was not prepared for what he saw when he landed in a village in Panay island after typhoon Yolanda left a trail of devastation in the Visayas: smiles on peoples’ faces.
Beyond the damage wrought by the typhoon, Walton was awestruck by the survivors. He said ‘Just the sheer strength of the communities on these small tiny islands that have withstood a wave that was 4 to 5 meters high, have lost everything and still wake up in the morning, smiling and getting on with their lives — that sheer strength of community I’ve never seen anywhere else, ever.
‘It was a rewarding experience … Probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in the Armed Forces.’
The same welcoming faces greeted captain Mike Utley of the UK’s HMS Illustrious. He said ‘I went ashore every single day, to the places that we were operating in, and everywhere I went, everyone smiles, despite the sometimes horrific destruction.
‘You know, 90 to 95% of their homes were destroyed. They still smile, they still want it to work, they were proud of the lifestyle they had and they wanted to get that back. You know, that’s inspiring for anybody.’
HMS Illustrious has since left Manila after two weeks of relief work. UK Joint Task Force commander commodore Clive Walker said ‘HMS Illustrious has done amazing work. She has found those remote island communities that other people have not seen.
‘So I think it is appropriate now to start our disengagement. Our work is done, it is now up to the longer-term agencies, civilian agencies to carry on that good work. But as a nation, our commitment is still toward the Philippines. And I believe this is the start of a very enduring relationship between our two countries.’
The 194-metre ship carried 900 soldiers and humanitarian workers and 400 tonnes of relief supplies when it was dispatched to the Philippines one week after typhoon Yolanda slammed the country. Aside from these, the ship brought helicopters and reconstruction support for public buildings like churches and schools.
Captain James Greswell recalled how he and his group were made to feel they belonged with a community they aided for two to three days. ‘Especially considering the circumstances, the experience, the trauma that the communities have had, it was overwhelming really how generous and gracious they were in accepting sort of strange people.’
Captain Utley said signs of recovery were already seen in the region. He added ‘As I say, these people are extremely resilient and all they need is that help, those tools, the equipment to start putting their life together. We gave them a lot of help with that, but they can help themselves and they want to rebuild their lives, rebuild their villages and get back to normal.’
The MHS Illustrious’ contributions topped the UK’s aid to the Philippines, which has already given the largest foreign assistance as per UN estimates. The British government donated ₤60m in cash while various British charities were able to raise an additional ₤73m.
UK Charge d’affaires Trevor Lewis promised Britain will continue to help the Philippines as it turns to long-term rehabilitation. He said ‘Our aid response so far has been first response, immediate to the relief of typhoon. What we now need to consider with the international community is our long-term commitment.’ He added that the UK is closely working with the Philippines to avoid overlaps and duplications in the relief distribution.