Based in Sydney, 22-year-old Hannah Campbell was living in the island of Biliran when typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. What happened next changed her life forever. As told to Violi Calvert.
Almost a year on since typhoon Haiyan devastated much of Leyte and Samar, The Australian Filipina comes across heart-warming stories about volunteers, whether it's through their time, financial donations or for some, packing their bags and catching the flight to affected areas.
One of these generous souls is a young Australian who just happened to be living as a voluntary missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in Leyte when the typhoon struck. In this article, she shares her experiences and what she hopes to do next.
How did you get involved in the 'mission' over in the devastated areas?
I was a voluntary missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Or nicknamed as 'the Mormon church') and was living in my assigned area in the Philippines. While I was in my tenth month of service, typhoon Haiyan hit my assigned area. Immediately after it hit, we commenced in helping give humanitarian aid in any capacity we could.
However immediately, the circumstances became too dangerous for us to continue our missionary work (missionaries had no food or water, some had lost their apartments and all their possessions, and the people were very desperate and very violent), so we were evacuated to Manila.
After a week in Manila, we were reassigned to continue missionary work in other areas of the Philippines that were less affected and safer for us to work. However, as soon as areas were safe to return to, missionaries continued their work. I returned three months after the typhoon to Calbayog, Catarman and then finally, Ormoc, to assist.
Which group were you with?
I was assigned to the Tacloban mission which covers Leyte, Samar and Biliran Islands. At the time of the typhoon, I was living on Biliran Island, however I had many friends who were living on Leyte and Samar islands.
Which areas did you visit/helped in?
All my areas in which I lived and served in: Island Leyte - Ormoc & Matalom (near Maasin), Biliran Island, Negros Island - Binalbagan & San Carlos, Samar Island- Calbayog & Catarman.
Areas that I assisted for the typhoon: Ormoc, Biliran and Tacloban
How long were you there?
I lived in the Philippines for a total of 18 months (a year and a half)
What observations and experiences did you have from your involvement?
I honestly can't express all of my observations and experiences. It would be impossible to describe it all. But I will share the most poignant experiences.
We woke up Friday morning with no phone signal, and no electricity. We had no contact with any of our leaders, and couldn't receive any instructions regarding what to do. The typhoon had hit in the early hours of the morning. The rest of the morning was spent staying inside and under shelter as we watched the houses and trees around us slowly be taken apart piece by piece. Thanks to the grace of God, my missionary companion and I were protected. Our apartment was made of cement and well secured, but once the typhoon was over, and we took a step outside, that's when I really learnt how blessed we were.
Everything around us was a truly unbelievable sight. With the exception of cement houses, all the other houses were flattened and torn apart. Coconut trees were bare, or lying flat next to the other debris.
We went out the following day to try and assist the community. It was unrecognisable. There was so much destruction it was hard to know where to begin. We assisted by moving rubble away into piles so that the families could begin to evaluate the state of their houses. They needed materials, food, and water, but Biliran didn't have enough resources available for all that needed them. Supplies quickly ran out. Stores goods quickly ran out. I evacuated with my missionary companion who was sick with tuberculosis at the time and we went to Tacloban City with the hopes of being able to fly her to receive medical safety. Because the phone lines were out, we had no idea Tacloban was affected so badly. But while we were travelling by motorbike to Tacloban, that's when I really came to understand the devastation that took place.
Without any exaggeration, I saw what the end of the world will look like. People were everywhere. EVERYTHING in Tacloban was rubble. The air smelt of death, and the people looked like they'd just barely escaped death. I'd never seen hopelessness before, but I did when I saw a father, curled up crying like a little child in front of rubble that I assume was once his home. I saw it when I saw little children crying to young mothers who were alone for want of something the mother couldn't provide. I saw it when I saw an old lady crying out for help, to no one. I saw hopelessness when I saw a young mother crying into the shoulder of her husband with all of their belongings fitting into a single trolley. I saw hopelessness when I saw a man consider stealing the clothes off the back of the man I was travelling with. When we finally arrived at Tacloban, we found shelter at our Leaders home, which was a muddy mess. I didn't sleep for a moment that night. Two days later we escaped to Manila, and that was the last I saw of Tacloban for three months.
When I was finally allowed to return to my area, because it was safe enough to return and give service, I was overjoyed to see how much it had progressed because it didn't look like a war zone. However there was still so much work to do. I participated in cleaning away of rubble, helping in the distribution of materials needed to build homes, and of course visited, counselled and offered emotional support to the homes of the many affected families. The joy I felt while being able to assist these strangers and people I loved was overwhelming. I felt like finally I was able to express the love I had wanted to express for the last three months of being away from the affected areas.
The people who survived the typhoon were different. They had truly had a change of heart. The affected areas only began to recover once their faith and hope returned. Once their faith and hope returned, they had the determination to work and help themselves out of the devastation. Tacloban to date is still recovering from the devastation.
In your assessment, what are the greatest need of the people?
The greatest need of the people in the Philippines is firstly, faith in God, because without their faith in God, they are hopeless and have no reason or motivation to be successful, or ability to change for the better. Everything thing they do revolves around their faith in God. Without it, they regress.
Their second greatest need is assistance to receive an education because an education is what will enable them to become independent instead of dependent and change their life circumstances.
In regards to the Typhoon, the greatest need was materials for them to create a shelter.
So many were left with absolutely nothing except for the clothes on their back. They had no protection. They had no possessions. Families had nothing. Fathers had nothing to provide their children with. They needed basic needs: Firstly shelter. Then water. Then food. Then clothes. Then finally, employment and counselling.
Any plans of going back? If yes, when and which places to cover and what do you plan to do?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints constantly has full time missionaries from all over the world who live in the Philippines and assist in all kinds of humanitarian work because it is part of the fundamental principles and teachings of the Church to help and assist the poor and needy.
Yes, I will return individually, but not as a missionary at the end of 2015, to visit all of the families I had worked with, and to see how their circumstances now are, and to give any assistance I can.
About Hannah Campbell
"I speak fluent Cebuano and Waray-Waray as a result of living in the Philippines. I love the Philippines and its culture is apart of who I am now."
Born in Townsville but based in Sydney, Hannah is doing her third year in Primary Education at Wollongong University. She hopes to further her education into humanitarian studies, partly due to her experiences on her mission in the Philippines.
I love anything involving creativity. Dancing, painting, acting but especially singing and music performance. I speak fluent Cebuano and Waray-Waray as a result of living in the Philippines. I love the Philippines and its culture is apart of who I am now. I involve myself with anything that helps other people. I am excited by the opportunity to make a change in this world, big or small. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is exactly what helps me to fulfil that. I have many responsibilities at church which I love being involved in including working with the youth and young adults. I organise activities to support young adults and help them to fulfil their potential. These activities are open and intended for the public to attend as well as members of the church. I also volunteer my time to any service activities provided through the church.
To get the latest update on the Philippines and how Australia has provided aid to typhoon survivors, you can attend the #AlertAwareAwesome Forum to be held at Dooley's Club, Lidcombe (near Lidcombe station) on the 9th of November, from 11am - 3pm. The event is free and open to everyone. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.