Annie Bierbower
Annie Bierbower donated

The Philippines is a beautiful jumble of old and new, somehow progressive and ancient at the same time. An old man carries pails of tofu on a rod across his shoulders, people dance till 3 a.m., then run a marathon at 4 a.m. Motorcycle rides carry travelers through endless rice paddies, where a second before there was a colorful market. Whether you eat in a mall or grab street food, your taste buds will jump for joy with tastes of fresh ginger, garlic, and grilled fish. Forever a mystery, always a surprise – that is the Philippines. At the core of so many contradictions, there is also one constant: the warmth of the people and their endless desire to share.

I spent six weeks living and working in Tacloban City and not a day passed that I wasn’t offered a meal and endless smiles. My coworkers made me feel at home when I was nearly 7,700 miles from anything familiar. At Cangumbang village, the chocolate brown eyes of the children gleamed with every visit even when I was asking them to brush their teeth. The pride they had in their homes resonated as they gave me a tour of bamboo nipa huts and offered up a fresh picked guava. A grandfather mended a net on the porch and gave a bright, but toothless greeting. Every pedicab driver smiled and nodded at the end of pedaling to the next destination – not out of breath even though three white people (each twice his size) filled his sidecar.

I keep picturing the surge of water washing over their homes and through their streets. I have images of them clinging to anything possible to survive, and babies being ripped from arms. These people need us and the price of a movie ticket can make a difference. It’s impossible to recognize the area, their fragile infrastructure all but gone, including Cangumbang village. One thing I can recognize is the image of a man rebuilding his home from rubble, children laughing despite playing in trash, and a woman handing a portion of all she has to someone else. They may have lost everything, but their character remains and now we can help them replace the rest.

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