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Filipinos abroad seek news, rally aid after Haiyan

Posted: November 15, 2013 6:30 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2013 6:30 p.m.

They gather in California churches, in Hong Kong shopping malls, at prayer vigils in Bahrain and on hastily launched Facebook pages.

Philippine overseas workers, cut off from home after a super-typhoon killed thousands, are coming together to pray, swap information and launch aid drives.

Some of those efforts are seen in the Santa Clarita Valley, where members of the local Filipino community are pulling together a series of events in the coming weeks to raise money for those affected by the storm.

Fred Bertulfo, president of the Filipino American Association of the Santa Clarita Valley, said members of the group have already donated around $5,000 for the cause.

“We reached into our pockets and we wrote checks,” he said Friday. “Everybody is willing to support the victims.”

Burtulfo said the group is finalizing plans for a series of fundraising activities in the near future, including a gathering at a private residence next Friday.

Above all, many of the more than 10.5 million Filipinos abroad — some 10 percent of the country’s population — are desperately dialing phone numbers that don’t answer in the typhoon zone, where aid is still only slowly trickling in and communication systems have been largely blown away.

“I call again, and I keep trying and trying and trying but no one answered,” said Princess Howard, a worker at a money transfer business in Hong Kong, of her attempts to reach her 62-year-old grandfather and nine other relatives in the Leyte region that was flattened when Typhoon Haiyan hit last week.

Sending $21.4 billion back home last year alone, Filipino overseas workers are a major part of their country’s economy, with their remittances equaling nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Spread out over more than 200 countries, they work as nurses in Europe, sugar cane laborers in Malaysia, housemaids in Hong Kong and construction workers in the oil-rich Middle East.

For Filipinos abroad, the price of earning a living for family back home has always been separation, and for many, that has never been felt so keenly as over the past week as they watched helplessly from afar as the typhoon ripped apart entire communities.

“If only I had magic, in one click I would be there,” said 30-year-old Jeff Ilagan, an assistant pastor at the Filipino Disciples Christian Church in Los Angeles, who is from Leyte and whose wife and three young children are still in their village.

As the storm hit, he endured a sleepless night worrying after receiving a text message from his wife saying, “Pray for us.”
Ilagan’s family survived and he is desperate to see them, but he can’t leave the U.S. for a full year or he will invalidate his religious worker visa. Instead, the young pastor is throwing himself into fundraising efforts at his adopted U.S. church, organizing special offerings and weekly rummage sales for typhoon relief.

“What I can do here to help them is to pray for them and participate in any efforts to help,” he said.



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