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Typhoon devastation is sobering for local Filipino community

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at 1:47 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at 5:45 a.m.

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Local efforts are under way to aid typhoon victims in the Philippines or to help people reach relatives in that country.

The American Red Cross Midway-Kansas Chapter in Wichita is helping people fill out forms to help locate family members in the Philippines who are not U.S. citizens, said local American Red Cross spokeswoman Marena Assarsson. People needing to contact the local Red Cross should call 316-219-4000. Those needing help locating U.S. citizens should contact the State Department, Assarsson said.

She said people can donate to the aid effort by writing checks to the American Red Cross, with “Philippines relief” in the memo line. The checks should be mailed to:

American Red Cross Midway-Kansas Chapter, 1900 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67214.

To donate through Catholic Charities, checks with “Philippines” in the memo line can be sent to:

Catholic Charities Inc. – Diocese of Wichita, 437 N. Topeka St., Wichita, KS 67202-2413

The checks will be forwarded to Catholic Relief Services on the donors’ behalf, said Heather Welch, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities.

Gawad Kalinga is a non-profit charitable group that works in a number of countries, including the Philippines, to help the poor. For more information on the group, go to www.gk1world.com.

Before Typhoon Haiyan devastated a wide swath of the Philippines, Filipinos around the world joined in a “prayer brigade” for their native country. Marina Buan, who works in Wichita, was one of those praying.

After the typhoon hit, Buan, a financial reporting supervisor for Cargill and former president of the Wichita Asian Association, saw telling images of the destruction.

“I personally just sat down,” she said. “I had to sit down and digest.

“My goodness, the pictures we were seeing on the news and the Internet. … This is just horrible.”

Her family is OK. They live far to the north of the typhoon’s path. Still, she has been indirectly affected: On Monday, a friend called from Maryland to tell her about two of his cousins. Their beach home – in Tacloban, the city that took the brunt of the typhoon – had been swept away. The cousins, who had retired in the United States and gone back to the Philippines, are missing. The two women are feared dead.

Buan’s co-workers have been consoling, asking her if her family was OK. “Yes, thank you for asking,” she told them. “But keep praying for the rest of our country, because we need it.”

In Wichita, the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities have become involved in the international aid effort.

Emeline Abay, a Wichita orthodontist, said she has a message for anyone uncertain about helping the devastated people in her native country: “The message now is, every little thing counts. Don’t ever think that you can’t help. One blanket. If 10 people give blankets, it covers a lot of people.”

In places like Tacloban, many people don’t have even a blanket over their head. “People are wet. They’re all trying to get shelter at the airport,” or wherever they can find it, she said.

Her husband, just-retired neurosurgeon Eustaquio Abay, was on the last leg of his trip to the Philippines on Monday night. He is a volunteer consultant for Gawad Kalinga, a nonprofit charitable group that works in a number of countries to help the poor. He was already going to the Philippines as part of the group’s ongoing work, but the typhoon has made it a much larger job.

“Our goal really is to create a long-term rehabilitation,” building healthy communities, one home at a time, Eustaquio Abay said.

But the priority now in the storm-hit areas of the Philippines is survival, he said.

He’s heard of reports of so many bodies lying in the streets, rapidly decaying, because there aren’t enough body bags or facilities to handle them.

His wife said she told her husband: “Please, please, be safe.”

Meanwhile, three of their sons are planning concerts in California to benefit typhoon victims.

Antonio Barba is another immigrant from the Philippines who made his home in Wichita. He came to Wichita in 1976 and retired as an obstetrician in 2006, having delivered more than 6,000 babies in that span. Barba is 79 now and works as a volunteer chaplain, tending to the spiritual care of hospital patients.

Typhoons are part of life in the Philippines. But this is the worst he can remember.

“I believe that the Lord looks after us,” Barba said. “Why he allows these things to happen, I don’t know.

“Something good will come out of this.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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