Filipinos in Korea help Haiyan survivors float

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 26, 2014 - 20:03
  • Updated : Feb 26, 2014 - 20:03
In the days before brick and mortar construction, villagers in the Philippines would help their neighbors by lifting and carrying entire houses from place to place. This tradition, known as bayanihan, is at the heart of the Filipino spirit of cooperation and community.

And this spirit, according to Eva Marie Wang, president of the student organization Pinoy Iskolars Sa Korea, made itself obvious in the weeks following Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, and affected some 11 million people, according to the U.N.

“Help kept pouring in. We had people wanting to donate, fundraise and just get involved. It was like a bayanihan here in Korea,” Wang told The Korea Herald.

Members of the 601 Habit stand next to boats they donated, along with the recipients, on Bayas Island, the Philippines. (The 601 Habit)
PIKO’s fundraising efforts began on Facebook: The social networking platform was instrumental in generating interest in PIKO’s fundraising events and activities, and for keeping the Filipino community informed of news from back home. “Social media was really, really important,” Wang said.

Constant communication and establishing a strong dialogue between students, sponsors and the wider community was a cornerstone of PIKO’s success. They were able to galvanize the community into action and set off a series of snowball effects that eventually saw them raise 36 million won ($33,500), 33 million won above their target.

Wang calls many of PIKO’s fundraising efforts serendipitous, and when she describes the “crazy November” of 2013, it’s easy to see what she means.

“We had plans to go caroling in Hongdae, but in the space of about 48 hours, the caroling turned into a street concert in Myeong-dong, with A-Prince and Eddie Chun Acoustic Unit performing.”

A number of Filipino women living in Korea who had been gathering informally for two to three years organized into a formal group, the 601 Habit, the day after Haiyan. While the group was not formed specifically to respond to the typhoon, the members soon sprang into action to help their brethren back home.

“I read an article in a Philippine newspaper that said that the fishermen prefer a job rather than aid,” said Wendy Palomo, president of 601 Habit. “The survivors of the typhoon wanted boats. That is how our boat project got started.”

On Nov. 16 the group held a fund-raising drive selling accessories at the Chungmu Art Hall. Through this and individual efforts by members, 601 Habit has delivered 88 boats so far. A Buddhist organization in Korea also donated 200 boats.

Costing between $175 to $180 each, the boats are built in the Philippines and distributed to the affected islands. The first 10 boats were delivered to Bayas Island in Iloilo province on Dec. 17.

While the group stopped taking donations for boats at the end of January, Palamo says the fishermen need more assistance. “We have only given a small number of boats that the survivors need to get around. The fishermen need more boats, motorized boats,” she said.

Wang of PIKO also points out the need for sustained interest. “We’re starting to look for long-term assistance that we can mete out to assist the ongoing process,” she said.

PIKO will be turning its gaze to learning and education in 2014, in keeping with its origins as a student organization.

“There’s a group called the Philippine Educational Theatre Association who are running art therapy sessions for children with post-traumatic stress. That’s something we’re looking to support because it is an undervalued aspect of natural disaster, and it gives us one thing to focus on this year,” said Wang.

By Kate Bolster, Intern reporter