Each night after school, I would watch the news and stare at the faces of those grief-stricken parents who saw their children washed away by the 15-foot surge unleashed by the 200 miles-per-hour winds (reports say that the initial winds were over 300 mph). Or children wandering about in the debris looking for their parents who weren’t lucky enough to survive the rage of the super typhoon. My eyes welled-up each time. I knew those faces; I had been in one of those coastal villages in Tacloban as a teacher-trainer in the Philippines. We conducted trainings for teachers in remote areas in the Philippines as part of a teacher skills program between the Philippines and the United Kingdom. Back home, those of us who are a little more privileged than the rest are taught to give back to the less privileged.
However, the warm response from the faculty, staff, and students at Morningside High School to Project Change for Change was more than enough to lift my spirits. It goes beyond the cash donations: some teachers asking if I was okay; Dr. Sirls giving the approval to do the fundraising without hesitation; Miss Krystal Owens motivating and educating her Advisory class on the disaster and telling them how, in their own way, they could do their share even though the Philippines is on the other side of the globe. Her class and my ELD classes designed posters and made rounds of the other advisory classes, collecting donations and presenting facts on the damages of the typhoon. Two of my ELD students enthusiastically decorated canisters for the drive and one student, I noticed, dropped in a dollar every day that week. Miss Hang, the first teacher to approach me after the disaster, donated a very generous amount.
The support to a modest fundraising drive which I reluctantly launched in school helped me see the tremendous impact that community spirit can do even in the most terrible of human tragedies. And that is why I have no doubt that my Filipino brothers and sisters befallen by this tragedy will rebuild their lives, mostly inspired by the outpouring of support and aid from the international community. The Filipinos saw that the world cared.
It was a teaching moment for my students and for the students of Miss Owens. Not only did they learn some facts about typhoons and the destruction that this recent super typhoon had wrought, but I’m sure, they also learned a lesson about compassion. True, there were some nuisances, like some of the posters being torn down only a day after they were put on display, or one class heckling the group of presenters and asking why they should help a country who does not help the U.S. It could have been a very lively discussion if it was my class. I could have easily given a little lesson on international politics, global cooperation, and a little bit of U.S. – Philippine relations particularly during and post World War II.
We, as teachers, do have great challenges in educating our students on many issues. The good news, though, is that we simply have to grab opportunities afforded by disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan to teach them lessons that might not be in our curriculum.
“Maraming salamat” (“Thank you so much” in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines) from me and from the people of the Philippines.