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Relief efforts continue after disasters in the Pacific

on October 6, 2009

It’s been just over a week since Typhoon Ketsana hit Luzon, in the northern part of the Philippines, before storming through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  Amelia Desesto, 45, a masters student at Berkeley’s Franciscan School of Theology, has spent hours this week watching Filipino news on television, and checking for updates on the latest death counts, injuries, and cleanup efforts. She said that even her young nieces and nephews are reacting to the news.

“They feel devastated with what they see on the Filipino channel, though they were still young when they left the Philippines,” said Desesto, who lives with her sister’s family in Union City, where Filipinos make up 21 percent of the population.

Desesto is from the province of Mindanao, on the southern side of the Philippines, a region not affected by the typhoon. But she has friends who live in the flooded areas.  She’s worried about them and still can’t get through.

“They haven’t responded,” Desesto said in a telephone conversation late last week. “They don’t have communication because phone lines are down.” She spoke slowly, and in a soft voice that sounded drained after the week’s heavy news of not only the massive destruction created by Typhoon Ketsana, but also the tsunami that has killed 170 in the Samoan islands, the earthquake in Indonesia that has left over 715 people dead, and Typhoon Parma, which charged through the northeastern tip of the Philippines this weekend and sank a cargo ship off of Taiwan. According to the AP, one crew member is dead while ten others are still missing.

All week, relief efforts have sprung up across the Bay Area, as communities have mobilized to send goods back to the countries hit by natural disasters in the past ten days. “My sister and I will be sending some used clothes in a box,” said Desesto, who is coordinating a drop-off center at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union.

Typhoon Ketsana, known to Filipinos as Ondoy, is reported by the AP to have hit 25 provinces, and killed at least 288 people in the Philippines. The death toll is 107 in Vietnam, 17 in Cambodia, and 24 in Laos.  Homes are still underwater, families are displaced, and landslides have buried people alive. Many Bay Area residents have had to face great losses as they’ve heard about the deaths of loved ones, friends’ frightening experiences submerged underwater, and the loss of all personal belongings. E-mails, Facebook messages, videos on Youtube, and Filipino television have helped speed communication to and from the affected countries, and have rallied international support.

AnakBayan East Bay members have organized one of Oakland’s main drop-off locations for aid to the Philippines.  Their group, which works with poor and working-class Filipino communities, has members in Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, New York, and New Jersey. “There was an urgent call for resources from folks in the Philippines,” AnakBayan East Bay chair Armael Malinis, 30, said last week, in a conversation in an office they share with Asian Health Services on 8th Street.  He was dressed in a bright red t-shirt and baggy blue jeans, and wore a black necklace with a cowrie shell in the center.  He picked up plastic bags of clothing that people had dropped off at their office. “We recognized a need for a centralized and coordinated area for folks to give,” said Malinis.

Malinis’ office is small but bright with a window that looks out at the Chinese Community United Methodist Church. Colorful photos of their involved youth line the walls, and bags of donations are piled next to an office desk.

AnakBayan shares their portion of the office with Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership, an organization that works with Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Mien, Pacific Islander, and Vietnamese youth. Some of these teenagers, immigrants with family members in the Philippines, have been especially apprehensive, he said.

“We had a program with our Filipino youth this week,” said Malinis. “There were youth that have family directly impacted, but were unable to reach their relatives, aunties, and uncles.”

Malinis said the most important items people can donate include money, medical supplies, tents, non-perishable food, and clothing. “A lot of people are weary of the corruption in the Philippines,” said Malinis, adding that he’s concerned about donations reaching the people who need it most.  He doesn’t trust the Philippines government to distribute international aid fairly, he said. Members of Bayan U.S.A., the umbrella organization of AnakBayan, are flying to the Philippines next week to supervise the allocation of their collected donations.

Bayan U.S.A. is working with other service providers throughout the country to offer relief, including local organizations like the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco, United Methodist Churches in San Francisco, Daly City, and Sunnyvale, and The Filipino Youth Coalition in San Jose.

Back at Berkeley’s Franciscan School of Theology, Desesto has been an anchor of support for her Filipino colleagues whose families were caught in the middle of the floods. Her friend’s father had to climb to the roof of his house in order to stay above the rising waters. Another friend’s sister, trapped in a flood current, was saved by two men who were able to pull her out of the water. Another friend still can’t get through the disconnected phone lines to find out whether his family is safe. “He hasn’t been able to sleep for days,” Desesto said.

She said that in emergency situations like this, Filipinos like to use the word Bayanihan, a colloquial term in Tagalog which translates to coming together for a single purpose. “It means helping each other as a community,” Desesto said. “We’re trying to mobilize and get a hold of people around us by sending e-mails saying, if you want to donate, here are the links and organizations. These are the groups that can help you.”

If you want to donate, the groups below have organized drop-off locations:

Most important resources to send:

  • Monetary checks
  • Medical Supplies/Medicines
  • Tents
  • Non-perishable food: rice, canned goods, noodles, coffee
  • Blankets/towels
  • Clothing: New and used
  • Soap/toothbrushes/toothpaste


Typhoon Ketsana/Typhoon Parma

Anakbayan East Bay
Armael Malinis – (510) 869-6036
Asian Community Mental Health Center
310 8th Street Suite #215
Oakland, CA 94609
Update 10/14/2009: Only accepting medicines and monetary donations due to capacity issues.

Pagbabahagi: Graduate Theological Union Philippine Relief Operation
(Partnership with Tanging Yaman Foundation Inc.)
Franciscan School of Theology – (510) 848-5232
1712 Euclid Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709

Women for Genuine Security and Kaisa Ka in Mandaluyong, Philippines
Monetary Donations Only
Write checks to Women for Genuine Security. Memo line: Philippines Typhoon
1607 Sonoma Ave.
Albany, CA 94707

Indonesia – Earthquake

Gereja Kristen Indonesia Presbyterian Church
Rev. Deetje Tiwa – (415) 242-1437/(916) 716-6400
201 Eucalyptus
San Francisco, CA 94132

Samoan Islands – Tsunami

Samoan Community Development Center
(415) 851-1086
Call for information on monetary donations
2055 Sunnydale Ave, #100
San Francisco, CA 94134

Accepting Donations for all Emergencies

Catholic Relief Services
C/o Catholic Charities of the East Bay
Monetary Donations Only
Solomon Belette – (510) 768-3105
Write checks to Catholic Relief Services. Memo line: identify country and emergency
433 Jefferson Street
Oakland, CA 94607

United Methodist Committee on Relief
Online monetary donations can be made at the link above

Lead image: Armael Malinis is organizing a relief effort to help victims of Typhoon Ketsana.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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