Area Filipino-Americans pray, wait, work to help after typhoon

Photo Caption: A woman holds a rosary as she waits to board a military evacuation flight from the typhoon-battered city of Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 13.

By: By Tom Dermody

As her mother half a world away told Eva Counsil how strongly the winds from Super Typhoon Haiyan were battering their home — two hours before landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8 — it was Eva who began to shake.

“She kept telling me ‘We’re going to be OK,'” recalls Counsil, a member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria. In the background, she could hear other families who had gathered at her parents’ single-story home in the coastal city of Abuyog praying the rosary.

An hour later, Counsil tried calling again. There was no answer.

She would not hear from her parents for three days, after her parents had driven for several hours using precious gas to get a cell phone signal. Later this week, a brother now living in Singapore was able to travel to them. The region is still without food, her mother is not well, and the family is arranging to take them to Cebu City by boat for medical treatment.

Grateful to God that her parents survived — their home is one of few spared serious damage in their neighborhood of hundreds of dwellings –Counsil is among many Filipino-Americans in the Diocese of Peoria with deeply personal reasons to remain concerned.

“It’s getting worse every day,” she told The Catholic Post, as survivors struggle for food, water, and other basics of life eight days after the typhoon. Abuyog is located in the Leyte province about 40 miles south of Tacloban, the hardest-hit city from the devastating storm that left thousands dead and 600,000 homeless or displaced.

Counsil, who left the Philippines on a working visa in 2004 and is now married with two small children, is taking action in addition to her constant prayers.

A “CONTAINER OF HOPE”
“I feel like I’ve been called by God to do something personal to help my town and other towns,” she said.

As providence would have it, Counsil and her Peoria family had planned a trip to visit her parents and other family members in the Philippines in the near future. The journey is now taking on added significance.

Eva and her husband, Jeff, are passing around a “container of hope” at their workplaces and elsewhere to raise money. Mindful of the many agencies such as Catholic Relief Services that are also seeking donations to offer immediate life-saving relief, the Counsils’ appeal is on a smaller, more personal scale.

“I want to do something for the children, so they understand they can still have hope,” said Eva. She would like to buy “tiny little things” to bring so the children “feel the love of God through us.” She also imagines being able to be able to distribute funds to neighbors to assist in rebuilding their homes.

“I’m just hoping and hoping it will be safe to go there,” said Counsil, whose children Nathan, 3, and Landon, 16 months, will stay with family in Manila as she and Jeff travel to the hard-hit Leyte province.

Meanwhile, she prays — frequently at an altar with the images of several saints that she has set up in the family’s spare bedroom. And she worries.

Counsil explained that a younger brother who lives in Singapore left for Abuyog to find their parents after the storm. He had simple supplies in his backpack.

“It’s dangerous,” said Counsil, noting that rebels in some locations are trying to stop deliveries of relief supplies. “He has to blend in.”

Counsil remembers a typhoon that hit her hometown when she was 7. Her father was trying to hold her as they crossed the street from their home as floodwaters rose around them.

“He lost his balance,” she recalled. “The current was too strong.”

But he was able to hold onto Eva, who now can’t wait to once again hold her father and mother.

HOW TO HELP
Persons wishing to donate to the Counsils’ “container of hope” are invited to call Eva Counsil at (417) 622-7359 for more information.

The Filipino-American Society of Central Illinois is holding a fundraising event this Saturday, Nov. 16, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Comfort Plus Hospice, 2400 N. Eighth St., Pekin. Proceeds will go to American Red Cross relief efforts.

Donations to Catholic Relief Services are being accepted online at crs.org. Contributions may also be sent to CRS, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Md., 21297-0303 or via phone by calling (877) 435-7277.

The Catholic Medical Mission Board is also active in relief efforts. Click here for details. Donations will help to underwrite the cost of shipping food, medicine and medical supplies to the Philippines.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Other persons in the Diocese of Peoria with family members in devastated areas of the Philippines are invited to share their stories by calling our newsroom at (309) 671-1550 or by emailing tdermody@cdop.org.

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