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Serving in the Philippines: A Story of Hope

By Mormon.org
onlooker looks out over the devastation left by the tsunami

Hi, my name is Chantel. And yes, I am a Mormon. But today I want to talk about an experience I had responding to Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. It’s one that will stick with me forever.

Last November, a friend and I purchased last minute plane tickets to the Philippines to offer emergency relief to those who were affected by Typhoon Yolanda. Our primary objective was to provide relief and aid to the outskirts of Tacloban before larger relief groups were able to organize and get in. Our decision to go, book travel, raise funds, and jump on a plane all happened in only three days, raising nearly $11,000 of funds for relief goods.

Shortly after arriving in the Philippines, we miraculously met a team of six Filipino EMTs with the same objective. By joining together and combining resources and skills, we were able to prepare care packages, secure transportation to the island of Leyte, and then travel to the city of Tanauan. We were the first relief group to arrive in the area, arriving at 3 a.m., and then we immediately went to work, not returning back to our place of camp until after 10 p.m.

volunteers help organize relief efforts with supplies and care packages
volunteers help organize relief efforts with supplies and care packages

We administered medical relief to all that we could find in that area of the Philippines, walking up and down the streets, cleaning out wounds, bandaging people up, and laughing and joking with the people in the city. They were some of the most joyous people I’ve ever met, even as they were sitting on top of a pile of wreckage that used to be their home, even as they suffered from physical wounds and incredible loss. At one large gym facility, the people said they climbed to the top of the building to wait out the storm. When the flooding finally went down, the streets were full of dead bodies. So the remaining people in the town spent the next few days carrying each body to the burial ground.

a street in disarray after the typhoon subsided in the Philippines

Our group went to one final evacuation site to administer relief. I played with all the children while my EMT group disappeared. Two hours later, my energy to entertain 70 children was declining, and my group was nowhere to be found.

Chantel playing games and entertaining children in the Philippines while her crew was away

Finally they emerged, and my buddy told me they were giving surgery to a woman who had stepped on a nail and it had driven a hole through her entire foot. The bottom of the hole had become infected, and the team had to cut off her infected skin and swab out the area. That hard moment affected my friend for the rest of the trip. Long after the sun had gone down, we finally walked back to our place of camp.

The next day we did body retrieval. I’ll spare many details from this day, but we spent the day pulling the wreckage off of the bodies and loading them into body bags. The men carried the body bags to the back of an army truck. I rode in the truck, next to an army man and a pile of extremely mighty looking guns. We dropped 21 bodies off at a burial ground and proceeded on with medical relief.

The team works on body retrieval in the aftermath of the typhoon.

With a natural disaster of this scale, living conditions, understandably, were less than ideal. We slept in churches on wooden pews and tile floors, and we showered by filling a bucket with water from a pump down the street and carrying it back to pour water over our sunburned skin. We rationed ourselves to one small meal a day. Additionally, like most days at this time of year in the Philippines, temperatures reached over 90 degrees, but because of monsoon season, as we worked outside, we would have periods of scorching heat, followed by torrential downpours. After a day of travel, by the time we arrived back to our place of camp, I was sopping wet, freezing cold, and shivering terribly. But my skin was burning hot and sunburned all over, so I was unable to even wrap up in a blanket.

a street left in devastation after the typhoon subsided.

Overall, this trip absolutely blew me away—obviously with the devastation and graphic things that I saw, but I was also blown away from the kind and generous hearts of other people, as well as God’s extremely evident guidance and protection through our whole journey. Even though our skills, supplies, and strength were extremely limited compared to the work that needed to be done, and even though it was often discouraging to feel like we would never be able to do enough, deep inside I felt that my presence was enough—that while these Filipinos remained in their destroyed cities with nothing left, our presence gave them comfort and solace that people out in the world cared. If I hadn’t known of God’s existence and His consuming love before I went on this trip, I assuredly know it now. This was an experience I’ll never forget.

Chantel Ockerman smiling with children in the Philippines

Share this post on social media and talk about your own personal experiences serving others or providing relief in times of need.

Not everyone needs to travel halfway around the world to provide help to those in need. Click here for more on community service and humanitarian aid.

More about Chantel: 

I am a very balanced person. Pretty evenly passionate (blue), playful (yellow), peaceful (white), and progressive (red). Evenly introvert and extrovert. I'm a biiiiiig daydreamer. I went to college and got some degrees. And I have a grade-A career. And I travel around the world for humanitarian work. I've never had a cavity. I'm a minimalist, marathon runner, Mormon, CPA, and financial consultant. And I love chocolate chip cookies and pretzel M&M's. And well-written and witty TV series.  And fresh flowers. And back scratches. And balloons and giraffes, for absolutely no reason. 

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