Local universities lend aid, spread awareness for Philippines typhoon relief

When Joshua Brown initially approached fellow student Jeanine Reyes last spring about starting a Filipino club at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, he figured the group might hold an occasional social pot-luck dinner.

But then, on Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, killing more than 5,200 people and wiping out an estimated $5.8 billion in infrastructure. About Some 1,600 people are still missing and 4 million have been displaced.

The group, now called Bayanihan at Maryland, is raising money and awareness for those affected by the tragedy. An event Sunday afternoon at the university's Southern Management Corporation Campus Center downtown featured cultural food, songs and dances, as well as guest speakers from the Filipino community.

"We want to generate good discussion and activism that will have a greater impact than just a small group of people could," said Reyes, 24. She added that the group of more than 60 has a great platform at the university to use the skills they gain during their training to become doctors, lawyers or other professionals to help their community in the future.

However they do it, she said, "going forth and helping Filipinos is a good thing."

Luis Florendo, the president of Katipunan, the Filipino-American Association of Maryland, told the 40 or so students gathered that older Filipinos tend to underestimate the youths' interest in their culture and their willingness to get involved. He said the event was an encouraging reminder that students do care.

"You have the passion," he said. "You have the interest. You have the wherewithal. You have the heart."

He said young Filipino-Americans today have been raised with a "can-do" attitude, whether it be raising a million dollars for this month's disaster relief or starting a humanitarian effort in the future.

"You have so much to give," he said. "You have so much to show."

Members of the Filipino Cultural Association from the University of Maryland, College Park, sang the Filipino national anthem and performed a traditional "tinikling" dance, which Brown jokingly described as "hopscotch with big sticks."

While the event was intended as a fundraiser, the group said the money they raised Sunday will be insignificant compared to the Filipino-American community they're building and the activism they're hoping to spread, now and in the future.

"It's important in the short term and in the long term," said Dante de Tablan, a social work doctoral Ph.D. student in the club.

The World Bank has committed an aid package of $1 billion to assist with early rebuilding efforts. The Asian Development Bank also pledged a $523 million loan and grant package to the Philippines, as foreign governments and international aid agencies committed about $344 million in cash and relief goods.

The University of Maryland isn't the only local university taking action doing what it can to help those affected.

Christine Nielsen, a University of Baltimore professor, has run a nonprofit for several years that provides job skills training to poor women in the Philippines to help them to start their own businesses.

This month, Nielsen had to reevaluate a trip that had been months in the works — to visit with the 36 women in the program for a ceremony celebrating their graduation from the program. They were to become pig farmers, she said.

"I really expected that on the 30th [of November] I was going to be handing over baby piglets to women to start their business," Nielsen said via Skype from a hotel in Manila.

Nielsen arrived in the Philippines last week, but has been unable to get to the island of Samar, where the ceremony was to take place. The island was devastated by the typhoon, and Nielsen said she was told the water is contaminated and that it is generally unwise to visit there because of the destruction.

Nielsen has been unable to make contact with any of the women in the program, though she believes that is because they don't have cellphone service or other ways of communicating and that they are physically safe.

The professor, who hopes to continue her job skills program as rebuilding efforts get underway, said that many people in the Philippines already lead difficult lives in poverty and that she hopes international concern over the situation will be sustained.

"The eyes of the world are on the Philippines now because of this horrendous disaster, but it should have our attention all the time because there is a dramatic difference between what the very rich and the very poor have in their lives," Nielsen said.

Reuters contributed to this article.





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