IU 'teach-in' helps public understand typhoon's impact on Philippines

By Jon Blau | The Herald-Times

Thursday, November 21, 2013

As attendees of a "teach-in" supporting victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines grappled Wednesday with the magnitude of a storm that has left millions displaced, Bloomington resident Cindy Maceda-Berin recalled how it hadn’t even rained the day her cousin survived a mudslide by taking shelter inside a casket.

Years before the Nov. 8 storm, her cousin had been walking home from school in the town of Ormoc, two hours south of Tacloban on the island of Leyte. When he saw a mass of earth coming toward him, he ran into a nearby funeral home. When the water continued to rise inside the building, he found an unoccupied coffin and decided to "take a ride."

"Luckily enough, my cousin lived to tell another story," Maceda-Berin said, "and this time, his other story is this typhoon, Haiyan."

The Philippine Islands are a place that has been ravaged by natural disasters, so this wouldn’t be the first time anyone at Indiana University has asked for money on behalf of the Filipino people. This time, however, the teach-in at the Indiana Memorial Union featured a lineup of professors helping the audience reflect on the magnitude of the event while volunteers staffed tables with jars for donations to the American Red Cross.

James Wimbush, IU’s vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs, illustrated the sheer size of the storm by comparing it with his car trips with his dog from Indiana to New York. The typhoon that hit the Philippines would have covered a slightly bigger area, from Chicago to New York. Professor Michael Hamburger said the storm produced sustained winds of 120 miles per hour, created 15-foot waves and dropped 27 inches of rain. Mudslides should be expected in the days and weeks to come.

Pictures of the devastation have poured in, but Nick Cullather, a history professor at IU, had the opportunity to see Tacloban before it suffered its recent fate. A Fulbright Fellow to the Philippines, Cullather saw the monument depicting U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s triumphant World War II walk onto the beach before one of the bronze soldiers behind the iconic general bent to the winds of Haiyan Nov. 8.

While Tacloban has been a city hammered by Mother Nature, it has a long history. The area was colonized decades before the Mayflower arrived on America’s shore. The house where rebels plotted against their Spanish occupiers had stood all this time, until Haiyan. Pill boxes created by the Japanese during World War II had been frequent tourist attractions, but now they shelter survivors of the typhoon.

For so many years, Tacloban has withstood war and natural disaster, but it was different this time. He showed a photograph of broken trees in the background of the MacArthur statue; these trees, which had survived the bombardment of the largest naval battle in human history, didn’t survive Haiyan.

Disasters such as the one in the Philippines draw a response. According to Les Lenkowsky, a professor who has studied giving along with researchers at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, preliminary numbers show the effort after Typhoon Haiyan has brought in donations similar to the days following Hurricane Sandy and the 2011 earthquake in Japan. He encouraged people to help by finding local organizations in the Philippines that know the situation on the ground and giving them money rather than shipping commodities such as food and blankets. The best-case scenario, he said, is that those local groups work with international charities to pull even more money.

Patrick Santos, president of the Filipino Student Association at IU, pleaded with his cohorts at the university to rally and do their part.

"You might see pictures, on YouTube you might see videos, but sometimes they don’t get as in-depth as they should," Santos said. "The purpose of this forum is to educate and to inspire, to call the IU community to action."