When tragedy happens halfway across the world, it can be difficult to relate to the suffering of those unfamiliar faces. We’re given fleeting, momentary glimpses into another nation’s pain through the images that flicker across our iPads and television screens, but when we’ve had enough of the visual onslaught, we can still step away and move onto happier things and distance ourselves from the tragedy, and as time passes, the enormity of the disaster is diminished.
But for Blaine resident Bessie Barredo, the typhoon that swept across the Philippines on November 8 isn’t so easily dismissed.
The places are familiar and it is her people and her family who are suffering in the wake of the most powerful (and second-deadliest) typhoon to ever hit the archipelago, and she’s determined to find a way to help.
Sitting at a table at the Pizza Factory on Peace Portal Drive, the 68-year-old Filipino woman wipes tears from her eyes as she
talks about the devastation that has befallen her home country. “It’s just awful,” she said. “The winds were so strong that houses were flattened, and sheared coconut trees in half – you can’t saw through a coconut tree. It’s hard to even think about.”
The typhoon, with winds raging at more than 200 miles per hour, left millions homeless as it tracked across the islands and at last count, 3,982 dead, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines. "Entire families are dead and people won’t leave the devastated areas because they are waiting for someone to come and take care of the dead. There has to be something I can do,” she said.
Barredo said that most of her family is safe in Manila, but three family members live farther south in Bohol, an area that bore the brunt of the storm. “The communication is really bad. I didn’t hear from my brother until Sunday,” she said, “and in the first days, the aid relief was so disorganized people couldn’t get help. They just weren’t prepared for the magnitude of this calamity.”
Though she moved to the U.S. from the Philippines with her children in 1995, she has many close ties to siblings and cousins who remain there. She has great hope that the country will rebound from the damage. “The resilience of the Filipinos is overwhelming and everybody is family there,” she said. “It’s just the way Filipinos are. I hope this tragedy will bring everyone together, but I want to help. But the question is, ‘what can you do when you’re so far away?’”
Barredo, a former actress who starred in dozens of Filipino movies in the 1960s, hopes that she can use her name to drum up support for the Phillipines on this side of the ocean. She’ll be speaking at a fundraiser for the Red Cross on Friday, November 22 in Surrey, B.C. at the Guilford Town Center and is encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross any way they can. “The Canadian government is matching donations dollar for dollar,” she said. “Governments are pouring out support for the Philippines and we are very thankful for that, but there’s more to be done.”
To donate to the Philippines disaster relief effort, go to redcross.org/donate or call 800-RED-CROSS. Designate the money to help those in the Philippines by noting that the donation is for “Typhoon Appeal.”