Disaster relief is being rushed to the Philippines by organizations large and small. Rough estimates suggest more than 10,000 people died when a powerful typhoon stuck on Friday.
Big, traditional relief organizations like the Red Cross are mobilizing. But there are also many smaller efforts.
The U.S. is home to some four million Filipino-Americans. The largest Filipino community is here in Los Angeles.
The disaster was personal for Alex Montances. His mother’s side of the family is from Tacloban, the city decimated by the typhoon.
“I have a lot of first cousins back there who we haven’t heard from since Friday. It’s a pretty scary situation,” says Montances, who works with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
A person can feel powerless sitting by the phone waiting. But Montances says Filipino-Americans are raising money for disaster relief at the grass-roots level. Churches are taking collections. To raise funds, one group held a 5k run.
“There’s one thing I can say about the Filipino community – there’s really a sense of ‘bayanihan’ spirit. ‘Bayanihan’ in Filipino really means like the whole community coming together to help each other out,” says Montances.
These small, ad hoc relief efforts have some advantages over the big international aid groups.
Gene Tempel is dean of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. He says local Filipino groups are best at raising money from that community.
“The advantage of these diaspora organizations is that they will know how to mobilize some people at the local level – people who may not think of giving to these larger relief organizations,” says Tempel.
Many Filipino-Americans could donate more than money.
“In this particular case, a lot of the immigrants are doctors and nurses. And you could perhaps see direct response from doctors and nurses to organize mission trips,” says Tempel.
Filipino groups here in the U.S. coordinate with their counterparts back in the Philippines who know how to navigate around the bureaucracy and corruption.
“Because these typhoons and disasters and earthquakes happen so frequently in the Philippines, they pretty much know the communities that they’re serving with medical or disaster relief,” says Montances.
Gene Tempel agrees.
“They know the local organizations with whom to work. And I think that’s a huge advantage for them.”
In fact, the big international aid groups will often partner with local nonprofits to distribute relief. So while they might be small, Tempel says, the contribution of local relief groups is vital.