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From the W&M campus to the streets of Cebu


W&M Bayanihan continues typhoon recovery efforts

When Jenna Tan ‘16 thinks about her mother’s hometown in the Philippines, she remembers the smell of fish by the piers, the taste of a fresh coconut that was chopped opened right in front of her and the exhilaration of riding in a motorized tricycle through the bustling, coastal city. Those memories now stand in stark contrast to what Tan has seen of Tacloban on the news in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

“The ruins of buildings, muddy debris strewn with bodies did not match the memory of my mom’s lush and vibrant hometown,” Tan said during a vigil held at William & Mary Wednesday night. “People know Tacloban now and the general Visayas region as the place that was hit by the largest storm to make landfall. Statistics and a ravaged land are what’s associated with the place that my mom, grandparents, aunts and cousins called home. … Tacloban is not a big town, but it was a home to many and to see it affected like that, to see it totally demolished, it’s just blown my mind.”

As the Philippines continue to deal with the impact of the massive storm that struck in early November, William & Mary is also continuing its efforts to support that recovery process -- with work taking place on the Williamsburg campus, in the halls of Washington, D.C., and in the streets of Cebu.

A candle lit in the Wren Chapel during one of the vigils that was held for the people affected by Typhoon HaiyanFaculty, staff and students, including members of the Filipino-American Student Association, have held several fund-raising events on campus, including vigils and film screenings, over the last two weeks as part of the Bayanihan: Philippines Recovery Initiative. Bayanihan comes from the words Bayani (hero) and Bayan (nation) and is meant to promote the Filipino community spirit of being a hero for each other, said Francis Tanglao-Aguas.

Tanglao-Aguas, the Class of 2015 Associate Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies who helped launch the initiative is back in Washington, D.C., today to meet with Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America, and other leaders of the Filipino-American community. Tanglao-Aguas initially met with the ambassador last week to discuss efforts taking place at William & Mary – efforts which have raised more than $1,300.

On the ground in the Philippines, a William & Mary alumna is seeing some of those funds being put to good use. Christina Pinnell ’07, works for an international human-rights agency in Manila (its name is intentionally withheld here) where she works with the community to build awareness of sex-abuse and sex-trafficking cases.

As the storm approached, her office went on high alert and began preparing for its impact. However, when it finally hit, it barely even rained in Manila, Pinnell said. It wasn’t until a few days later that she realized what kind of destruction the storm had left in its path.

“I kept getting messages from home. People were so worried, and I was like, what is going on? It’s not even raining,” said the Yorktown, Va., native. “I just didn’t have any idea until a couple of days later because there just wasn’t the information.”

Pinnell traveled to Cebu last Thursday to help a scuba-diving friend of hers who is running a goods-distribution center out of his home.

“They have scuba-diving students from all over that come to dive here in Cebu; it’s one of the best places to dive in the Philippines,” she said. “People who have wanted to be involved directly have sent money to this group of divers, and then they buy the goods and assemble the food bags and then take them to drop-off points.”

Some of the bags packed with food and medicine by the group that Pinnell is working with in CebuPeople from across the Philippines and beyond have come together to help the grassroots aid operation, including members of the diving community and even a local ultimate Frisbee team. The group prepares about 300 to 500 bags a night, packing them with rice, canned sardines, water, noodles and even some medicine. The divers pick them up and then bring them to drop-off points in the community. In just its first four days, the operation was able to feed around 1,500 families, said Pinnell.

However, the effort is just one of many that are underway in communities across the country, Pinnell noted.

“I’ve been really impressed with the local efforts here,” said the W&M theatre graduate. “Everyone is involved. Everyone takes this seriously. The whole nation is in mourning here, and every activity is trying to organize relief efforts and raise money. People are just really united. … Even people who don’t have money to give, they still give their time, they still give what they can, sharing food and going to great lengths to help with the effort to rebuild. I think that’s been one of the most interesting things to be a part of.”

Although it’s unfortunate that the typhoon is what put the Philippines in the national news, Pinnell is glad that the country, its people and culture are getting some international attention.

“It’s a great country that I’ve really come to love,” she said.

Back on the William & Mary campus, those involved in the Bayanihan initiative say they have been impressed with the support they’ve received across campus to support efforts like Pinnell’s. FASA president Jasmin Green ‘15 and vice president Paul Atienza ’15 said that it’s not just people they know, but complete strangers, too, who are helping.

“Just having other people willing to help is great for an initiative that’s daunting in itself,” said Atienza.

“When these kinds of things happen, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from,” said Green.

Green and Atienza hope to extend their efforts well into the future, long after the typhoon story fades from the international headlines. They are currently working with the Student Assembly to host a additional support efforts in the spring.

As for Tan, she is balancing the concerns of her everyday life as a student with her continued concern for her family’s homeland. Today, she has an exam. However, she said at the vigil, the world has recently faced a different test.

“Life sometimes throws tests in our way, and mother nature just devastating a city is one of those tests,” she said. “I really hoped that the William & Mary community would rise to the most important test of all, the test of humanity. Can we reach out to those who have been affected by the storms even if we don’t have any relation to them at all? Can we reach out to each other’s hearts and help out? …

“I can now say that I believe that William & Mary is on the right path to the most important answer in making sure that we help our fellow brothers.”