A mother of four children, left, talks with LWR's Mi-an Taglucop, center, and a staff member of LWR partner Habitat for Humanity, right, about the timeline for rebuilding the family's home on the island Leyte. Image: Liz O'Neill, Lutheran World Reli

US Faith-Based Organizations Answer the Philippines’ Prayers by Providing Aid for Disaster Relief


A little more than a year after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked devastation across the Philippines in 2013, Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) struck the Philippines in December 2014. Although the mortality rate was significantly lower than Yolanda - 27 confirmed deaths compared to over 7,300 deaths - thousands of buildings and livelihoods were destroyed during the storm. Many people had not yet fully recovered from Yolanda by the time Ruby hit, so the Philippines turned to other countries, including the United States, for assistance in relief efforts.

Among the first to answer the call for aid were US faith-based organizations. Asia Matters for America reached out to several faith-based organizations currently engaged in relief efforts in the Philippines, and heard back from three of them: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) based in New York, Samaritan’s Purse based in Boone, North Carolina, and Lutheran World Relief based in Baltimore, Maryland.

In the aftermath of Yolanda, JDC sprang into action. With the help of its local Filipino partners and fellow US organizations, it invested over $1.5 million in rebuilding schools, restoring livelihoods and teaching methods of disaster preparedness. Mr. Michael Geller, JDC’s Media Relations Director, told Asia Matters for America about a little known connection between the world’s Jewish community and the Philippines. Leading up to and during World War II, Filipino President Manuel Quezon recognized the danger that European Jews faced under the growing Nazi regime and decided to make a stand. Over the course of the war his actions saved over 1,000 Jews. In a perfect example of history coming full circle, one of JDC’s disaster relief surveyors discovered that his own grandparents and mother had taken refuge in the Philippines during World War II.

In recognition of the JDC’s work, Filipino President Benigno Aquino awarded it with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) award in December 2014. When asked about how efforts to deal with Ruby will proceed, Mr. Geller stated that the strong foundation that JDC has with its local Filipino partners, particularly in the form of educating the Filipino youth and disaster preparedness, would make all the difference as the rebuilding process continues.

Mr. Ken Isaacs, the Vice President of Programs and Government Relations at Samaritan’s Purse, expressed admiration for local partners and the Filipino government’s response to Ruby which helped save countless lives as the storm hit. He described that understanding the Philippines’ unique geography contributed to how Samaritan’s Purse has responded to Yolanda. When the airport was destroyed, barges were used to transport materials to the far-flung areas that had been most affected by the storm. Initially the focus was on providing emergency care for those injured by the storm. From there it moved to providing shelter, clean water, and food. Mr. Isaacs told Asia Matters for America that following Yolanda, Samaritan’s Purse used coca wood from trees damaged by the storm to form the skeletons of new houses, allowing for building and storm clean-up to occur almost simultaneously. To combat the spread of disease from waste, Samaritan’s Purse also set up a plant to build toilets in the Tacloban area.

When asked about the future of Samaritan’s Purse’s efforts in the Philippines, Mr. Isaacs said that Samaritan’s Purse is planning to make the Philippines its base of operations in Asia by opening a more permanent office there. This way, Samaritan’s Purse will be strategically positioned to better aid other countries in Asia and be able to respond immediately to the 3-5 storms that hit the Philippines annually.

Since the 1960s, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has provided disaster relief and long term development efforts in the Philippines and its Asian neighbors. According to Mr. Tim McCully, LWR’s Vice President of International Programs, the driving force behind LWR’s relief efforts in the Philippines is to reduce vulnerabilities, particularly when it comes to livelihoods.

Working with local partners and government officials, LWR’s volunteers and staff have been working with communities affected by Yolanda and Ruby to meet their immediate relief needs with shelter, water and sanitation, cash-for-work, nonfood relief items, and livelihood recovery programming.

LWR’s three year, $10 million Relief and Reconstruction Program for Yolanda has been supplemented with another $500,000 for victims of typhoon Ruby. What gave Mr. McCully hope for the future was the “movement away from pure charity-based approaches after the fact to more investment in vulnerabilities beforehand” by local businesses who now have the foresight to see that by protecting the livelihoods of smaller enterprises they will also be keeping their own businesses safe in the long-term. Mr. McCully told Asia Matters for America that integrating disaster relief and preparedness efforts with reviving the economy was integral not just to LWR’s efforts but to the Philippines’ success as a whole. He gave the example of the rehabilitation of mangroves in both Indonesia and the Philippines as both a natural storm barrier and a preserve for biological diversity that would support the fishing communities in both countries.

Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.