Featured Storyteller

PHILIPPINES: We Can All Be Helpers in the Face of Disaster

maeann
Posted September 22, 2021 from Philippines
Photo of humanitarian relief distribution, courtesy Maeann Keske


Years after she survived a devastating earthquake, Maeann Keske became a humanitarian worker. As the climate crisis worsens, she shares five ways to help following natural disasters. 

“There will be more unprecedented catastrophes that we cannot yet fathom. We are facing uncertainty, but there is an opportunity to strengthen and support the most vulnerable communities.

I was 12 years old on July 16, 1990, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Northern and Central Luzon. Suddenly we felt the ground shake at our school. My classmates and I ran toward a nearby playground, taking shelter on the field. 

We felt an ominous rumble beneath us as the ground moved from left to right.  The earthquake continued for about a minute. “Mama!” we shouted through our frightened tears. When it ended, we felt relieved. Parents rushed to the school to fetch their kids while I searched for my cousin so we could walk home together. Still in shock, we awaited the comfort of being reunited with our family. 

The earthquake caused massive damage, with more than 1,500 casualties. In the days and weeks that followed, aftershocks left us fearful and traumatized. My faith helped me get through the scariest disaster I had experienced. 

Surviving the 1990 earthquake inspired me to become a humanitarian worker. In my work, I leave my comfort zone and risk my safety. The work seems more dangerous now as climate change has magnified the need for relief operations. 

My country is prone to earthquakes and typhoons. Just last November, five storms struck The Philippines in the course of three weeks. These kinds of disasters aren’t new to us. What is alarming is how climate change is making storms more destructive. 

The November 2020 storms resulted in flash floods, landslides, and submerged homes; 2.1 people were affected, and 517,000 were displaced. A study published in May found that hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones worldwide are becoming stronger and potentially more deadly.

Since I began my career in 2002, I’ve witnessed how organizations respond to disasters. My job as a logistician is to ensure that relief goods, equipment, and transportation are available at the right time and in the right place. During the disaster, there are many hurdles to overcome. If the road is impassable, we need to find another route. If we cannot bring it by land, we need to bring it by sea or air. 

There is no time for dilly-dallying. There is no break time, save for using the toilet. Running on little sleep, you must rouse yourself to dispatch a 10-wheeler truck loaded with relief goods for distribution.  

Climate change exacerbates our challenges. For example, disaster aid can become politicized, and a lack of disaster preparedness within communities can make it harder to help people. Another obstacle is the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, there’s a ground zero during a disaster. With the pandemic, there’s no safe hideaway –– we’re all vulnerable to the virus.

Amid a community's despair and fear because of these various disasters, I believe God sends hope through the help of humanitarian organizations working to save lives and bring relief. It takes donors giving and staff going beyond their regular work to make a difference. 

I’ve learned that we can all be helpers in the face of disaster.  All these efforts wouldn’t be successful without the help and support of local government agencies, volunteers, and partners. 

As humanitarian workers, it’s important that we remember who we serve: individuals and families who had lives before disaster struck, much like my family in 1990. For me, there’s nothing like seeing children smiling and laughing after surviving a disaster. There’s nothing like mothers and fathers shedding tears as they tell their story of survival. There’s nothing like witnessing lives restored. 

Climate change is here — and there will be more unprecedented catastrophes that we cannot yet fathom. We are facing uncertainty, but there is an opportunity to strengthen and support the most vulnerable communities through our work.

I encourage everyone around me to think of ways they can help survivors of disasters. If you are an individual compelled to help, you may wonder how you can support disaster victims today and into the future. Here are five of my suggestions:

  1. Donate money – Donating money is the most effective way to help victims and survivors. Make sure you choose a reputable organization that has its own expertise in emergency response. Here are some of the Philippines-based relief organizations I recommend: World Vision Philippines, Plan International Philippines, Unicef Philippines, Save the Children, and Samaritan Purse.
  2. Fundraise – You can organize a fundraiser within your community (classmates, churchmates, officemates, family, and friends). Use a crowdfunding platform to ensure your fundraising is safe and secure. You can invite your community to join fundraisers such as World Vision's Joy to Give and Save the Children.
  3. Contribute food or goods – If you have family members or friends affected by a disaster, ask what they need and work out the logistics of how to get items to them. If you’re donating to an organization, inquire whether they accept food, clothes, or other items before sending anything. Remember that donating goods versus money often requires sorting and storage logistics, and give items that you would feel grateful to receive. Be sure to donate items that do not degrade dignity. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask, “If someone receives these items, will they feel thankful, and will this be useful to them?”
  4. Volunteer – There are many ways to volunteer! Donate blood if you are able through the Red Cross Philippines and other affiliates. Locally, we have a list of volunteer organizations you can join. Always remember the purpose of why you are volunteering: to help and to serve. Some organizations have volunteer liability waivers. Read and understand these; your decision to volunteer is made of your free will, and you often assume full responsibility for any risk.
  5. Start or support a preparedness campaign – A campaign can help communities prepare for disasters and emergencies that especially affect children, women, and persons with disabilities. Campaigns are a great way to get people thinking about what to do and how to prepare, should a disaster strike. 

STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 26

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ruthibelle
Sep 22
Sep 22

Excellent pointers, Mae-Ann! Congrats on your story award!

maeann
Sep 24
Sep 24

Helo Ruthibelle, thank you.

Jill Langhus
Sep 24
Sep 24

Hi Mae Ann,

Congrats on getting the featured storyteller award!!! :-)

maeann
Sep 24
Sep 24

Helo Jill, thank you very much.

Jill Langhus
Sep 24
Sep 24

You're welcome!

Olanike Adesanya
Sep 24
Sep 24

Congratulations Maeann for your Awards,
Your Climate Change Story so pathetic.
Anyways, my conclusion is,
LIFE'S NOT FAIR, BUT IT'S STILL GOOD.

I pray we all are inspired and Blessed to be a source of Blessings unto others.

Good job Dear.

Olanike

maeann
Sep 25
Sep 25

Helo dear Olanike, thank you for reading this story. I agree to your conclusion, LIfe's not fair, but it's still good. There still good things in this world. Life is beautiful despite of so many things going on. It's a matter how we make it happen. Have a great day! And yah, let's be a source of blessings to others especially during disaster.

Olanike Adesanya
Sep 25
Sep 25

Exactly so, Maeann.
I seriously pray that God will protect us and keep us away from, and safe, during disaster.
And when and if it occurs, may God continue to inspire us to be a source of Blessings to victims.
I'll click on your suggested link for further possible reach out.
Already, I am a Red Cross volunteer in my locality.
Thank you.

Olanike Adesanya
Sep 25
Sep 25

Yeah
You're right.
May we all be inspired to be a source of Blessings to others, especially during disaster.
It's really good to be.
Above all, I pray, seriously, that God be with us and keep us all away from disasters.

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Hi Olanike, do you have disaster preparedness in your community? What kind of disaster you experienced there?

Olanike Adesanya
Sep 26
Sep 26

Thanks Maeann,
Disasters Preparedness? Not anyone I know of.
I cannot specifically say of any unavoidable disaster witnessed by me in the past. Let me say none.
Deadly natural Disasters are not common occurrences in Nigeria, other than flooding on farmlands, which, in most cases sweep our farm produce away, causing foods scarcities and period poverty experienced farmers.
It may interest you that up to 60% of our adult population are farmers (full time) with almost a quater of the the remaining population are known to engage themselves with part-time farming (gardening and arable).
In that case, preparedness for disasters aren't quite common in my community, for two reasons,
1) Unavailability of data to that effect, and
2) Unorganized nature of my community, compared with with that of Organized Western world.
Though, naturally, we would always expect the Government toake provisions for ecological disorders, which they try to do in the annual Budget Estimates.
It is quite disheartening to read it every now and then of monumental disasters like , Remarkable landslides, earthquakes and fire outbreaks occuring across the globe.
Giving helping hands is not a bad gesture, especially from developed Economy and Successful, better put, informed individuals.
My Dear Sister, I do wish and hope vulnerable communities found the help needed at times of trial and fatal natural disasters.
However, Induced Disasters like poverty and hunger are those commonly sighted. Even that too, we believe are avoidable with Good Leadership, Congruent Governance and Adequate Resources Management because, my community is so favoured that even with the Global Climate Change, not much Resources have suffered the loss.
We are so blessed as throw up a grain, it begins to germinate before it touches the ground.
That's Nigeria, North and South.
Though, a few cases of Slides and Tilts were reported of Ile-Ife in Osun State and Abeokuta in Ogun State a few years back.
Objects were observed to have tilted slightly and in minutes back to normal.

Thank you.

Olanike.

maeann
Sep 28
Sep 28

Thank you Olanike for sharing your thoughts. I am just wondering what kind of disaster preparedness that is needed in the part of Nigeria, North and South especially that climate change is abruptly changing. I hope this continued blessings of grain will continue.

RebeccaJohns
Sep 24
Sep 24

Congrats, on your award!

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Thank you Rebecca :)

megsmueller
Sep 24
Sep 24

Congratulations Mae Ann on your story Award. I love it! Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the link too. Was very interesting to read.. Please take care. God bless!

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Thank you Megsmueller. What can you say about the tips, do you think it would be helpful?

Regina Afanwi Young
Sep 24
Sep 24

.
Mighty congratulations on your award dear sister!!! I love he recommendations as they are applicable anywhere and anytime.
Looking forward to reading more from you dear sister.
Sending you hugs***
Regina

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Hi Madam Regina :) how are you. I'm just wondering do you have disaster preparedness in your community?

Elizabeth Francis
Sep 25
Sep 25

Congratulations on your story award, I have been an active volunteer for an NGO that response to natural disasters, one of our biggest accounts is Haiti up to today, since the 2010 earthquake, the points you make are indeed factual, it is sad to arrive in the midst of disaster, but its a joy to know you can do something to assist Yes indeed climate change is playing it s part in these situations. . Keep up the great work my sister

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Hi Elizabeth, I salute those active volunteers. They are a big help for humanitarian worker. I agree, that we can do something to assist and help even we are in the comfort of our home or if we can't volunteer. When you have a heart to help, you can extend a hand with your donation. Keep safe sister.

Paulina Nayra
Sep 25
Sep 25

Congratulations Mhe Ann! Fresh from the pressroom ang story mo. It is indeed true that our personal experiences shape who we are and what we become. Instead of feeling sorry because of the disaster, you made it an inspiration to help people, help people by being a humanitarian worker. A logistician is an adrenalin-filled job especially during the emergency phase. Thank you for humanitarian like you for helping us get back to our feet quickly. I speak as one of the survivors of supertyphoon Haiyan who is grateful of the support from humanitarian organizations and workers like you. Good tips you have here. Prepare and donate . Yes, all of us can be helpers.
Congratulations again dear sis!

maeann
Sep 26
Sep 26

Ate Pauline, I remember our conversation the last time we met. One thing that I carry with my heart is "donate items that do not degrade dignity" Do no harm to the community because before the disaster, they have a life. Logistics is a great task, saving lives ika nga ang tagline.

I praise God that you and your family survived the Super Typhoon Haiyan, now we can exchanges stories from a survivor and a responders.

Lia Ocampo
Sep 27
Sep 27

Maeann,
Thanks for sharing your story. I admire you. Keep writing and sharing your wisdom.
- Lia

maeann
Sep 28
Sep 28

Thanks Ms. Lia, I admire you and your advocacy for migrants.

malayapinas
Oct 04
Oct 04

Congrats Mae for this moving article ! Keep wrting

maeann
Oct 09
Oct 09

Thank you, sent you a message.