Today (Saturday) we flew out of Tacloban, the coastal city where we’ve spent the last three days. We headed back to Manila where we’ll spend our last afternoon before flying back to the States on Sunday morning. I’m sorry I haven’t posted more these last few days but there has been too much to see and process. These days were the central purpose of our trip. It was in Tacloban that we talked to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, to the people who have helped them recover, and to the incredible community leaders who are taking steps to make their communities safer.
Driving now through the streets of Tacloban City, especially at night, there is bustling activity and life. Restaurants and street stands selling food are busy, everywhere there are vendors, people, pedicabs and “jeepneys” crowding the streets. It was a very different scene two years ago. Many of these streets were impassable with debris, piles of it, up to five or six feet high. Almost every building is new – most were completely destroyed in the storm. The human toll was even worse. As we drive through the surrounding countryside into neighboring towns we pass multiple common graves where the hundreds of bodies that filled the streets were carried in the horrific days following the storm.
It’s been only two years, not much time to recover from a disaster of this scale, but during our time here we spoke to family after family who has somehow managed to pull together the pieces of their lives again in that short time. Without fail, everyone I talked to would cry at some point remembering the disaster; the memories are still very fresh. But the majority of our conversations centered on their recovery. I spoke to business owners who are back and making higher profits, to families whose living situation is finally being regularized thanks to housing projects that have moved them off of “no dwell zone” land, to people who in the rebuild process finally have a toilet to call their own after a lifetime of little privacy.
At the moment, I am overwhelmed with all I have seen this week. I’m overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster itself, so much worse than I imagined when I put faces to the tragedy; the poverty, which is desperate; and the unfairness of the fact that a changing climate, which these people did the least to cause, will mean that these kinds of tragedies will, without doubt, continue. However I am also overwhelmed by the resilience of these people, by their kindness, their amazing sense of community, the stories of heroism and courage that I’ve heard this week. I am also so very impressed by the work of Catholic Relief Services here and proud to be a part of the U.S. Catholic Church. It’s a lot of conflicting emotions, and over the next few days it will be my job to somehow translate them into news stories that somehow do justice to what I’ve seen here.