By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
When Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines a little over a week ago, the storm was a category 5 super typhoon.
The death toll has risen to more than 3,600, with an estimated 11.5 million people affected by the storm and more than 2.5 million people in need of food aid. The United Nations has put out an appeal for $300 million in aid and has released $25 million in emergency funds.
Countries around the world are sending aid, including the United States, which has donated tens of millions in humanitarian aid, 90 Marines, an aircraft carrier and logistic support.
Individuals in North Central West Virginia are also trying to help.
Rowena Tagalog Smith lives in Fairmont with her husband, Fairmont native Chris Smith, and their daughter Maggi.
Rowena Smith was born and grew up in the Philippines. She has family in the northern and southern part of the Philippines, so her family members were not in the central areas of the country that were directly impacted by the storm.
The Philippines is an island nation, made up of 7,107 islands and home to more than 98 million people. That’s made recovery from the typhoon more difficult.
So Smith and others in the community have been sending aid packages back home.
Her daughter Maggi is 9 years old and in the fourth grade at Fairmont Catholic Grade School. She wants to help, too, and is putting together a package of toys, food, canned goods, ramen noodles, clothing and toiletries, such as soap and shampoo.
Her school has also fundraised to send aid to the Philippines. Normally, they wear uniforms. On Friday, the kids were allowed to wear casual clothes as part of a “dress-down” day if they brought a $1 donation for aid to the Philippines.
“If every kid in the whole school brought $1, it would make $204. But they brought extra money, and got $714,” Maggi said.
Smith said that because the government doesn’t have a lot of resources for aid, help from other countries has made all the difference.
The situation is made even more difficult because most people in the Philippines were already living day-to-day. In the Philippines, there is no government assistance for the poor or unemployed, like there is in the United States, Smith said. All medical costs must also be paid out of pocket at the time of the appointment.
“Back home, it’s a different life. You work just to survive for that day,” Smith said.
In the Philippines, people are paid by the day instead of by the hour, Smith said. Forty-five percent of people in the Philippines earn less than $2 a day, according to the U.N.
Now, Smith works as a dental assistant for a dentist in Fairmont. Her husband works for the Fairmont-Marion County Transit Authority.
Chris said that even though they sometimes struggle financially, his wife is always generous with her family back home.
“Even though we struggle here, and we’re basically payday to payday, she still sends money every month to feed her family, to help them buy rice and buy medicine,” Chris said. “Because there, there is no health care. If you get sick or you get injured, you have to pay the doctor up front or they don’t see you.”
Smith’s parents are both deceased. She has four brothers and four sisters back home, as well as other relatives. She also has an aunt who suffers from hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Smith doesn’t feel resentful sending regular help to her family.
“For me, it’s a blessing that I can help them, because I am blessed enough that I have a job and a very supportive husband, and we have a happy family here,” Smith said.
Rowena and Chris met in the Philippines when Chris was vacationing there, meeting up with friends he knew through his time in the Air Force.
Many people in the Philippines speak English, something that aided in their courtship. They met in late 2005 and were married Aug. 27, 2006, in Cavite, Philippines. It took 2 1/2 years for her visa to the United States to come through so she and Maggi could finally join Chris in the United States.
Smith has been keeping in close touch with family and friends in the Philippines using Facebook.
Chris said he’s been amazed by Rowena’s friends’ gratitude for aid during this time of crisis.
“They are very thankful for even the little bit of help they get from other people,” Chris said. “Even though they have been devastated, they take the time to thank anyone who has helped them, and they still take the time to pray to God.”
Smith said that what people need most are things to cover their basic needs.
“They need water, food and candles,” Smith said. “They don’t have electricity.”
Smith said people in Marion County who want to help by sending aid packages can contact her at home at 304-816-4411 or by emailing her husband at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.