A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
We might feel aggrieved when we’ve gone out of our way to do something for someone and receive no word of thanks afterwards. I’m sure most of us have felt that way and have been equally guilty of failing to say ‘thank you’ at some time. But working as part of Oxfam’s emergency response team my colleagues and I don’t expect to receive any thanks from the people we work with. It’s our job and it’s their right to receive help during the worst of times - when a disaster has devastated their lives, families, homes, communities, countries.
However, in the Philippines, post Typhoon Haiyan, people and communities have turned saying thank you into a whole art form. Soon after aid agencies responded to the crisis we started to see signs by the roadside, often these were signs saying ‘Please help with food and water’ but these were soon followed by signs saying, ‘Thank you for the food and water.’
As the weeks have gone by more and more signs have appeared by the side of the road. Some are hand written, some are printed banners, some are written on boards, some are written on houses.
Some list the agencies that have assisted that particular community or family but mostly they are thanking everyone who has come and offered assistance whether from other parts of the Philippines or other countries.
The signs haven’t just appeared in one location but have sprung up all over the areas that were hit by Typhoon Haiyan. Some included Christmas and New Year greetings. Others include messages with Bangon (‘rise up’) and Tindog (‘stand up’) to encourage and boost the morale of families, friends and neighbours. A Filipino colleague explained, ‘The ‘thank you’s are not just about the material things people have received but more about the sense of solidarity they’ve felt with and from the national and international community. It’s really from the heart.’
I’ve never been anywhere where this has been so spontaneous and widespread. I didn’t think we needed to be thanked but seeing all those signs and being thanked by so many people we have come to know and often by complete strangers whilst waiting at the airport, in the supermarket, checking into the hotel, has been very special.
To the people of Leyte, Samar and Cebu I would like to say ‘Maraming salamat po!’
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Oxfam's response: Philippines Typhoon Haiyan