The Philippines: Emergency relief assistance to people on Siargao Island


The Philippines is located on the route where typhoons often pass. The typhoon season in the Philippines is from June to December, and there are on average 15-20 typhoons visiting the island. On December 16, 2021, Typhoon Rai devastated the Visayas region in the mid-section of the Philippines. According to the Central News Agency’s report on December 27, the death tolls climbed up to 388 people, as well as 60, went missing and hundreds injured.


Siargao Island, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Philippines, was the first area where Typhoon Rai landed. In 2 days, the island was as if being wiped out completely. The airport, city hall, and most of the residential buildings were destroyed. During this period, there was pouring rain which caused floods in multiple places on the island. On December 18, our TFCF Philippines Branch Office got in touch with the mayor of Del Carmen and learned that the island was out of electricity, and our partner elementary school, Espoir School of Life was impacted as well.


On December 20, the principal of the Espoir School of Life, Ms. Jerlyn, finally got in touch with us by using the limited WIFI at the local airport. In November, when the school building was opened, the local government appointed Espoir as one of the evacuation centers. The school was meant to take in 150 residents from Gawad Kalinga and Islan Village.


Even though the renovated school building was supposed to be the latest and safest place in the village, it still couldn’t withstand the strong wind and rain from the typhoon. The ceiling and roof of the classrooms were blown away and the parents, children, and teachers were all escaping from the school. During the evacuation, the grandfather of one of the students let other people run first and was, unfortunately, died during the process. The villagers who didn’t have anywhere to run ended up in the public restroom, but 15 of them were injured by the shattering glass.


Right before this tragedy had happened, the entire staff of the TFCF Philippines Branch Office accompanied the Ambassador and secretary of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines as well as journalists from Central News Agency to visit the island, to celebrate the grand opening of the solar panel water supply facility in the community. Within one week, the classrooms turned into rubbles, while the pipes of the water supply facility twisted and the solar panel discarded, almost half of the facility was destroyed.


We were all heartbroken after seeing this, and we tried to learn about the living situation of the residents whose houses were destroyed after the devastation. On December 20, right after we received the SOS message from the principal of the Espoir school, we immediately started the emergency relief plan. We amassed 150 headlights, mosquito nets, sleeping pads, drinking water, rice, medicine, and other emergency supplies.


The college students who received scholarships from us wanted to help and came to our office to assist with packing up the supplies. Parents who participated in our home-building project also came to help carry the bags of rice, one member even called his friends and families to assist in driving trucks to transport the supplies. Three days later, we successfully got through the customs of the Manila airport. Even though the operation was hurried, it fully represented the humanitarianism of our social workers as well as the families we are serving.


At the same time, the people on Siargao Island still lack safe places to stay and are still fighting for survival in an environment with no water, electricity, or food. Due to the lack of clean water, events of diarrhea are frequent. According to the local news, more than ten people are treated in the hospital for diarrhea. We even heard the terrible news of a student from the Espoir school who died of illness.


The importance of Christmas vacations to the people in the Philippines is like Chinese New Year to Asian people. It’s supposed to be a time for families and friends to gather, but now they could only use plastic tarps to prevent wind and rain from pouring in while relying on candles for lighting and waiting for the government to give out food and supplies.


On January 7, 2022, we asked the construction company to go to the school to check the damage to the water supply facility. According to the company’s consultation, the remaining undamaged solar panel could still provide electricity. The school decided to let the villagers use the generated electricity. Even though we are sad that the life of the water supply facility seemed extremely short, we were glad to hear that the facility was still able to help the community even after half of it was destroyed.


The social worker who’s responsible for the project shared that, “even though we are far away from the disaster, we could still contribute to alleviating the suffering of the residents on Siargao Island by contacting the companies, preparing supplies, coordinating human resources, and working with our partners at Espoir on arranging transportation, and we completed all of these in a short amount of time. During the process, I was grateful that the entire team helped and spent time and energy to work on this emergency relief. I felt their compassion, kindness, and generosity for the residents being impacted. For me, these people are the cornerstone of my life, and that relieves much of the tiredness.


On January 9, our supply finally reached the Espoir School of Life. During this period, TFCF Philippines Branch Office’s effort was in the spotlight of the local Asian community. We received donations of feminine hygiene products, diapers, toiletries, and instant beverages. Considering the need for mid to long-term recovery, we also bought seeds of vegetables and fruits as well as containers and portable water cleaning systems.


We thank our corporate partners in the Philippines as well as the effort by TECO in the Philippines to coordinate with shipping the second distribution to the Espoir school. The next stage of our project is accompanying the students and villagers on restoring the water supply facility and the school’s building. We will work there until the residents on the island can live safely and without any worry.

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