Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and giving, yet during the past decade it has also been a time of great personal loss and tragedy for many. The tsunami that hit Thailand and Indonesia on Dec. 26, 1994, was of such magnitude that they are still struggling a decade later. Now, as most families are gearing up for Christmas there are those in the Philippines still trying to recover from typhoon Haiyan that hit on Nov. 8. It struck with such force and wrought such damage that the full effects will not be known for years.
The pictures seen around the world show a horrific story, and the numbers are worse. The most powerful super typhoon to ever reach landfall measured 370 miles at its width, winds gusted to 235 mph, and a 17 foot surge was recorded at Tacloban, one of the hardest hit cities in the typhoon’s path. The typhoon became the deadliest to hit the Philippines and left over 6,000 dead and in excess of four million people displaced. The numbers are staggering, but so too is the spirit of those that survived.
Then the aid began to arrive. It poured in from around the world. In addition to food and medical supplies, doctors and celebrities tried to make a difference. Doug Baldwin, wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, urged fans to donate to the Red Cross raising $12,000 that was matched by Seahawk’s owner Paul Allen. Justin Bieber took it a step further with his own fund-raising campaign. In that campaign fans that donate will be entered into a drawing. The winner will receive two tickets to Los Angeles in early 2014 and join the Biebs in studio while he records new music. The funds raised will go to UNICEF, the Philam Foundation and Action Against Hunger.
To some these gestures may seem almost inconsequential alongside the reality of what is happening on the ground there, but they are something, and sometimes something can mean a lot. As Christmas rolls toward us, the Filipinos will know that the world is thinking of them, that the global community cares and wants to help. Perhaps it is a story of Christmas spirit that shows society can become a single people. Even though there are differences, individuals and nations can put them aside when disaster strikes.
Most people will spend Christmas in the comfort of home with loved ones close by, as it should be. There will be movies, eggnog, caroling, fires, milk and cookies for Santa and oodles of presents for excited youngsters on Christmas morn. The backdrop of good fortune is a testament to the resilience of the Philippine people when the images of destruction are replaced by photos of young children smiling and laughing at receiving presents as Christmas nears. That they could bear such a horrific experience and still find it in themselves to feel the spirit of Christmas is the purest form of human good will that can be seen today.
The typhoon has passed but for those in the southern Philippines the job has just begun. Thankfully aid continues to arrive in many forms and Justin Bieber, Doug Baldwin, and company, have contributed to a story of Christmas spirit that shows what Christmas is all about.
By Scott Wilson