“We may be homeless, but we're not hopeless,” was the statement of determination from Cherryl Desucatan about her family's plight after the deadly Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8. Out of 70 Filipinos who are living on Deer Island and working at Paturel International's lobster processing plant, Desucatan is one of two whose families were directly affected by the typhoon. As of November 18, Haiyan has left an estimated 1.9 million people homeless and over 4,000 dead, although that number could rise. In the wake of the disaster, the Deer Island community has rallied to provide support for the families of the Filipinos.
Desucatan, who is from the small island of Bantayan off Cebu, was finally able to speak with her family four days after the typhoon hit. She learned that her family is safe but their house was lost and two of her brothers also lost their homes. The family of Isibra Ypil, who is from Bogo in Cebu, also is safe, but her family's home was washed away, too. As of November 18, their families still did not have electricity, food or water.
Averosa Leslie, president of the Deer Island chapter of the Filipino Association of New Brunswick, comments that Desucatan and Ypil "felt okay. At least their families are safe. That's the good news for them."
It took 24 hours before Leslie was able to find out about her own family, after she posted on Facebook and her sister-in-law replied once power was restored. "She told me they were fine," says Leslie, who notes that "you're still scared," until word gets through.
The Filipino association has been organizing fundraisers for the survivors of the typhoon, with a benefit dinner on November 16 raising over $2,400, with more funds still coming in. Over 100 people, including many islanders, attended the dinner. Leslie says the association is grateful to Paturel for being so helpful and to the Deer Island community and the Filipinos living on the island for being so supportive in helping to organize the benefit.
"We couldn't just watch on television what's happening in our country," says Leslie. "It's very devastating on the news." Both the Filipinos living on Deer Island and the islanders have been very concerned and want to help the survivors, she says.
A second benefit fundraiser is being held on Sunday, November 24, at 7 p.m. at the Deer Island Community School. A concert featuring local talent will raise funds for the typhoon survivors through a $10 entrance fee. "I'm so glad and happy that the island community is offering to share their talents so we can gather some more donations," says Leslie.
All the funds being raised are going through the Lord's Cove Church of Christ to be given to the Red Cross in the Philippines, as the Canadian government, through December 8, will match disaster relief funds that are given through a recognized charity. Many of the Filipinos attend the Lord's Cove church, since there is no Catholic church on the island.
Deidre Richardson, the processing manager at Paturel, says that another fundraiser will be held after the holidays. She comments, "It makes you proud to be from the island that's giving all this support. It's one of the benefits of being from a small community."
Richardson says the bonds between the islanders and Filipinos have been strong since they first started coming to work at the lobster processing plant three years ago. "They couldn't get over how friendly people were, and they've been well accepted within the community."
Leslie has been away from the Philippines for five years, first working in Taiwan before moving to Canada and coming to Deer Island three years ago. She ended up marrying a Deer Island man. She says that some of the Filipinos living on Deer Island return to their homes during the slower season at Paturel, which extends from February to April. Others, though, decide to stay on the island because of the cost involved in traveling.
About her fellow Filipino workers, Richardson comments, "Their spirit -- they're so happy. It's contagious." That spirit is needed as they face the destruction in their homeland on the other side of the world.