Doong is a quaint little island off the northern coast of Cebu.
But, no, this is not another travel post.
This is what Doong looked like exactly a year ago, when Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Typhoon Yolanda) smashed into the Philippines and changed our lives forever. Haiyan was the strongest ever typhoon to make landfall in recorded history — not just in the history of the Philippines; in the recorded history of the world. And it showed.
There are worse — much worse — scenes from that day, from many other parts of our country. Tacloban. Ormoc. Guiuan. Others. The stories would break your heart. Even now, I can remember where I was and how I felt when I heard that an evacuation center — a place people had run to for safety — had itself collapsed from the winds and the storm surge, leaving countless people dead. Survivors scavenged for food along streets littered with corpses. There was no shelter, there was no water. The grief and desperation of those days…just too much for words.
The one good thing about Haiyan was how it brought us Filipinos together. Two days after the typhoon, I walked into a supermarket and found the shelves nearly empty — not because people had stocked up on emergency supplies for themselves, but because everybody, upon hearing of the extent of the disaster, had rushed in to buy canned goods, instant noodles, rice, and bottled water to give to the typhoon victims.
I remember, on a trip to another supermarket, looking for sardines and finding only a couple of cans left — and they were of the “hot and spicy” variety. We shared a tired chuckle as we imagined the survivors’ disgruntled reaction to receiving food that would actually require them to drink more water, when they had precious little of it. But believe it or not, we went ahead and bought those sardines anyway; there were no other options and we figured…they were protein. Better than nothing.
In the weeks that followed, ordinary life came to a halt as we spent our waking hours buying, packing, and distributing relief goods. My father’s garage became a makeshift relief operations center, as family, friends, and neighbors turned up to help pack the food we bought with funds that came from as far as halfway around the world. Friends in the US sold spring rolls and held charity volleyball games to raise money. My sister’s friend’s sister’s patients donated to our cause. Those who could not give money gave time. Everyone pitched in — laundrywomen, students, businessmen, moms with kids in tow. Everyone.
Today, like many days past, I will regale you with photos from my beloved island. Pictures full of color. Faces full of smiles. And I think you will agree: the generosity, kindness and resilience captured in these photos are more beautiful than all the white sand beaches in all the tropical paradises in the world. That is something no typhoon can take away.