Fr Richie Gomez MSC, community leader at the MSC Centre for the Poor, located in Butuan, updates us on the current situation in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette, which struck on December 16th, 2021. In a letter to Irish Provincial Superior Fr Carl Tranter MSC, Fr Richie writes of the deep gratitude of the Filipino MSC community for the support of our mission friends in the Irish Province. “I would like to thank you for your untiring support to the Philippine Province,” he writes. “We are your extended arms, feet, mind, and heart in reaching the poor, and now with our typhoon survivors.”
The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart – Social Initiative and Collaborative Action Project (MSC-SICAP) is a group of missionary volunteers “with a charismatic heart,” working as a dedicated disaster response and management team under the umbrella of the MSC Centre of the Poor and led by Fr Richie, the centre’s director.
In response to the devastating impact of Typhoon Odette, Fr Richie has gathered a group of community-based volunteers, including doctors, engineers, teachers, business people, artists, students, and many more. “When it made landfall, winds of up to 210 km per hour were uprooting coconut trees, ripping down electricity poles, and hurling slabs of corrugated tin and wood through the air,” reports the MSC-SICAP group. This group initiated an immediate active response to provide a basic relief kit of necessities including food, water, medicine, and hygiene products, to victims from both the mainland and islands of Surigao. “The group aims to amalgamate passionate and compassionate volunteers in the region, whose hearts are dedicated and committed in the service of humanitarian movements,” writes Fr Richie.
MSC Strategic Disaster Response Plan
The MSC-SICAP group, working with the MSC Centre for the Poor, have developed a strategic disaster response plan, detailing three recovery stages:
Stage 1: Bangon-Igsoon (In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon)
This stage has focused on answering the immediate and urgent needs of survivors, with the distribution of essentials such as food, water, medical aid, and clothes. All of these necessities have been issued directly to victims of the typhoon at designated distribution points, with a target reach of 10,000 households.
Stage 1 also includes the installation of water filtration stations in Siargao Island, which is currently suffering from a dangerous cholera outbreak. These water filtration stations cost 100,000 Philippine pesos, an equivalent of approximately €1,700.
Stage 2: Bahay-Buhay (Approximately one month after the typhoon)
Stage 2 involves helping to build simple houses for families who cannot afford to repair or rebuild homes that have been destroyed by the storm. The target goal is to build 500 houses, benefitting people from the communities of Siargao, Nonoc, Bayagnan, Dinagat, Loreto, and the Islands.
Stage 3: Heal-Surigao (Taking time to heal the island)
During Stage 3, MSCs around the islands will pray with local communities for cleansing and renewal of the land. This stage will also incorporate the arts as a vehicle for healing children and the wider community, through music, dance, storytelling, and more. Through the creative process, it is hoped that children and their families will be able to better process the impact of the typhoon and look with renewed hope towards the future.
“Faith based, love driven.”
The motto for the response plan is “Faith based, love driven”, as MSCs throughout affected areas work together with local communities to rebuild a ravaged land. The MSC-SICAP group are working to “react, respond, and rescue” the victims of natural disasters such as Typhoon Odette, providing fundamental needs, from the physical to the spiritual, and bringing the light of hope into the hearts of survivors.
As they continue in the implementation of their response plan, the MSC-SICAP group write of the impact of Typhoon Odette, and the power of faith and unity in the hope of renewal:
“‘Expect the unexpected’ – a classic line that could somehow happen to anybody at any moment in any place, just like the typhoon, Odette, that wrecked Surigao. It was once a haven of nature’s bounty, with exciting hullabaloo coming from different nationalities. Now, nothing but silence! December 16th 2021 was an unforgettable traumatic moment for every Surigaonon and tourists in the area, along with other areas where the typhoon made landfall. It was a nightmare…
Strong winds of 165 km/h near the centre, with gusts of up to 205 km/h and central pressure of 950 hPa, swept away houses, buildings, trees, and street posts, leaving the entire place destroyed. The roaring storm sounded horrid, bouncing back into each corner, frightening the children, the elders, and the weak, a miserable experience of anxiety and fear. The unthinkable orchestration of chaos, fear, hunger, and hopelessness has savaged and saddened our Surigaonon brethren.
Emotionally, the circumstances have been intensified because it was near Christmas season when the typhoon hit – supposedly a season of merry making and thanksgiving, to celebrate the most awaited Simbang Gabi, but this year, it turned out differently. Many have suffered and been broken, dreams have been shattered, smiles have been torn, and hearts have been wounded. That echoing feeling of devastation resonates in the whole island of Mindanao and to the heart of the world.
They need our HELP! They need our PRAYERS! They need US!
We, the Missionary of the Sacred Heart- Social Initiative and Collaborative Action Project (MSC-SICAP) volunteers, have initiated a massive calamity response from the very start, beginning with providing basic needs to over 5,000 families in several parts of Surigao. The operation runs under our own strategic organising and management system to accelerate the distribution of relief goods with the help of our partners. Hundreds of volunteers convene 24/7 at the district house of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Butuan City, and together we are working hand-in-hand to address the urgent necessities continuously.
Fr Richie Gomez is the captain of the project and keeps our vessel afloat amidst exhaustion and sleepless nights, for the sake of the wailing sacred land of Surigao that seeks our comfort. We will stand right beside them until they will rise back.
For us, this is an awakening journey and a profound reminder of what our hearts are made of – compassion and kindness. Together, we will rebuild the hopes and dreams of our fellow Surigaonons’ brothers and sisters, and with the provisions of God’s divine grace we shall rejoice back the victory of our loving and united place, Caraga.”