Philippine Consul General Junever Mahilum-West believes faith is playing a critical role in rebuilding after Typhoon Haiyan hit more than six months ago. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Faith has sustained Filipinos in wake of Typhoon Haiyan

  • June 4, 2014

TORONTO - In the six months since Typhoon Haiyan stripped thousands of Filipinos of everything they have, there is one thing that it couldn’t destroy: the people’s hope and faith in God. 

“Without faith, the faith of the Philippines, I don’t think we could have surmounted the effects of the typhoon,” said Junever Mahilum-West, the Philippine Consul General in Toronto. “Those areas where the typhoon went through the devastation was 70 to 80 per cent and the amount of homes destroyed in the hardest hit areas was 90 per cent ... but the Filipinos never lost hope. We may be roofless and homeless but not hopeless.” 

Mahilum-West spoke at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute in Toronto on May 27 along with members from the Global Fire Toronto Team — a charitable organization that provides relief and training internationally. 

Although Tacloban City — the hardest hit region — is still showing many scars from the class three calamity, Mahilum-West considers the rate of rebuilding a success. 

“If you asked me what is the picture now I think the best way to describe it is that it is a picture that is of something that is not an unadulterated success,” she said. “The fact that people were helping even in the early days after the typhoon hit was a big morale booster for those who were affected by the typhoon.” 

She specifically praised Canadians and the Government of Canada, who ranked third overall for relief support among the international community, for their efforts. 

“Canada has met its commitments and more,” she said, noting that Canada has contributed more than $170 million in relief support so far. “It is not only the government here in Canada, not only the federal and provincial governments who were very active in giving assistance and fundraising, but also the NGOs, the religious organizations. We are just grateful that people are helping from all over. We do not set a quota on how much they should help, how much they should give us because everything should come from the heart.” 

Giving from the heart is why Brian McAlinden, a Toronto firefighter, volunteered with the Global Fire Toronto Team’s Philippines deployment this past March when a spot opened up at the last minute. Having only a few days to come up with several thousand dollars to pay for the trip McAlinden didn’t hesitate to finance it without fundraising because he wanted to live out his Catholic faith. 

“At first it was just an opportunity to you know kind of practice what I know and extend what I know,” said McAlinden, a parishioner of St. Leo the Great parish in Brooklin, Ont. “I wanted to extend an offer to help out. It is important to your faith ... that you are extending to help others out.” 

McAlinden and 11 others made the trip. Their focus was to provide safety and equipment training to the Tacloban firefighters while also bringing them donated equipment such as rescue jacks and bars, basic protective gear and even a fire extinguisher. 

What struck McAlinden more than the massive destruction was the faith of the Filipinos. 

“Their faith was so entrenched in them and that speaks volumes to how important their faith is and it kind of revitalized mine a little bit,” said McAlinden, 47. “I talked to firefighters whose family member died early that day and what really brought them around and was really important for them was the fact that they believed. Having that faith is what gives you the strength to move forward and you could clearly see it.” 

And it isn’t just Filipinos on the homefront leaning on their Christian faith to continue guiding them through the aftermath of Haiyan. 

“My faith helped me a lot because these things are happening now,” said Mahilum-West, a practising Catholic. 

“I am fairly confident that we can overcome this with the help of God. It might sound simple but if you really believe in it then you can do it.”

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