Like many of you, I've been watching in horror at the news coverage of Typhoon Yolanda as it ripped through the central Philippines this past weekend.
As I write this, casualties are estimated to be in the 10,000 range while hundreds of thousands of Filipinos scramble for food, water, and to locate missing loved ones. The scale of the calamity is beyond comprehension. Video images of the wreckage show bodies buried between layers of collapsed buildings, apartment houses, and local businesses.
The debris has been strewn so far and wide it's as if the ground has been paved with the possessions of hundreds of thousands of residents, topped off by layers of blown apart buildings.
At this time, aid agencies and the military are on the ground delivering first aid, rescue services, shelter, food, and medical supplies to the victims. One report claims that 90% of all housing in the central Philippines has been destroyed. Ninety percent. Imagine the impact of this for just a moment.
For the past three days, I have been holding my breath and praying for all of the victims, and for one family in particular. Since 2007--the year my son was born--I have been sponsoring a little boy from Manila. He was born one year earlier (almost to the day) than my son. Even though he is older than my little boy, we have always referred to him as "Baby Lilec" a nickname given to him by his own family. Childfund International has been providing news and updates round the clock as many of us waited to learn the fate of our special children who live there.
When the storm first hit on Friday, many believed that the Philippines narrowly escaped major loss of life and that casualties would likely be in the range of 1,200. Still far too many, but less than what was thought to be death on a catastrophic scale. But those early reports proved false: as most communications were down, reporters, the military, and humanitarian agencies on the ground were unable to assess the damage and report their findings.
As news coverage picked up and power was established, the death count mounted. Today, as I write this, an estimated 10,000 Filipinos have died.
Throughout these days, not a single word about Baby Lilec. Not a one.
I shared my fears with my mother, who remembers when I first told her about Lilec and his family back in 2007. Over the years, I have shared with her some of the letters I've received from Lilec's mother, with whom I correspond now and then. We talk about our family's, Lilec, of course, and our hopes for our children. She shared with me that she hopes that one day Lilec will become a seaman, like his father. No matter the miles or oceans between us, we share a common bond: dreams for our children. Health, happiness, prosperity.
My mother told me on Friday that as soon as she heard about the typhoon, she immediately thought of Lilec, his mother, and their extended family. There was nothing else to say or do expect wait. And pray.
Last night I remembered that Lilec has an older sister who attends college in Manila and that she once reached out to me via Facebook on behalf of her mother. Her brief note said that her mother wished to thank me for assisting their family. I was so touched by these words even though they were far too rewardig for the very little I am able to do. Sponsors cannot send gifts of money or clothes directly to their sponsored child. Sending items such as a book or toy or even a pair of pajamas could cause the family to be the victim of theft.
Imagine wanting to give so much to a little boy and not being able to do very much other than a monthly donation and the occasional gift of a special birthday or Christmas donation. I know these donations provide food, vitamins, and other important things for Lilec and am so grateful for the blessing of being able to help him in any way...but as I have three children who have far too many toys, clothes, things...it often strikes me as terribly cruel that while a sponsor might want to give so much to a child, they can only do so much.
But back to Facebook...
I logged in. By some miracle, the message from Lilec's sister was still there. It was dated 2011. I typed a fast and frantic note to her, sendind prayers and asking about her family. Were they safe? And then I waited.
This morning: a note back saying that they were unharmed. A thank you for our concern. A promise to send love to her mother from me.
A sigh of relief and some tears.
And so, in closing, some words I never thought I'd have a reason to write: Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.