This post was written in September 2015 by Niki Clark, a member of the American Red Cross’s international communications team who was deployed to Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in April.
I am boarding a plane to Tacloban—a city on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines. It’s one of those small aircraft that you have to walk out on the runway to embark. When I land, just an hour and a half later, I am overwhelmed by the colors, a setting sun on crystal blue waters. The airport is tiny, and we are welcomed by a band of greeters singing in the local dialect. The airport in Kathmandu, Nepal—from where I just arrived—is also small, filled with local characters. Like Tacloban, it also boasts an amazing view.
I have this unique opportunity to visit two countries that are in very different post-disaster stages: Nepal four months after an earthquake and the Philippines nearly two years after a Category 5 typhoon.
I’ve been gone most of the summer, leaving the hustle and bustle of D.C. for Nepal, where I was working in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes that struck there in April and May. Then, straight to the Philippines to gather stories about how people are recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, which struck nearly two years ago.
It’s a fascinating perspective to have, four months vs. two years. In Nepal, the emergency phase is now transitioning to recovery; long-term staff replacing emergency disaster specialists; Red Cross field hospitals handed over to the community health centers; plans shifting from emergency relief to rebuilding people’s way of earning income and communities’ infrastructure.
In the Philippines, the recovery phase is well underway. Schools have been repaired, many with new water pumps and infrastructure provided by the Red Cross. Many families are now living in transitional shelters, coco lumber and/or concrete structures that can withstand typhoon rains. Others have received cash grants, allowing them to repair or rebuild their homes and reestablish their livelihoods.
One woman I met, Adelina Rosialdas, lost all of her ducks—her sole source of income—during Typhoon Haiyan. Now, nearly two years later, she not only has enough ducks to accumulate savings and put her children through school, but she has been able to purchase a pig, which just the day before my visit, had given birth to six piglets. When asked if she has a message for people in America, she says, “The Red Cross has helped us to restore our livelihoods. Salamat. Thank you to those who have helped us to recover from Typhoon Yolanda [Haiyan].”
Another man we visited, Francisco T. Latoja III, works in the Red Cross warehouse that does prefabrication of shelter materials for those receiving new homes. The earnings he has made in his job have enabled his wife to go back to school and for him to build his family a new home. His wife isn’t far off from reaching her goal of becoming a teacher.
There are challenges in both countries when it comes to the speed of recovery. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will Nepal or Tacloban. In Nepal, monsoon season, which coincides with the annual harvest, means that actual rebuilding won’t get started until the end of the year. A lack of coco timber—a critical building material—on the island of Leyte in the Philippines has delayed a quicker scale up of reconstruction.
In both countries, people have gotten back to their daily lives; even the fiercest disaster can’t temper the resilience of human nature. While Nepal’s destruction is much fresher than the Philippines’, the impact Red Cross volunteers and programs are having on the people most affected is visibly apparent.
There’s another common thread that runs between the people of both Nepal and the Philippines: their resilience. Even in the toughest of times, I can never get over families’ ability to pick themselves up to recover, rebuild, and start anew.
To learn more about American Red Cross’s work with Typhoon Haiyan survivors, visit redcross.org/haiyan.