Last November, Typhoon Yolanda ripped through the Philippines, devastating a portion of the island nation and leaving wreckage in its path. The category 5 super typhoon impacted over 10 million people. As a global company, with operations in the Philippines, we immediately launched our Disaster Relief program, matching employee contributions through our partner organization GlobalGiving. Employees generously gave to a variety of projects, supporting over a dozen organizations that were on the ground helping those in need.

Locally, our employees in Manila banded together collecting products that were in demand by aid organizations and volunteering with organizations to pack relief baskets and packages for those impacted.

Rhoda Navarro, one of our team members in Manila, went above and beyond taking a “volunteer vacation” with a group of friends to help those impacted by Yolanda. We sat down with Rhoda to hear about her experience.

Erin Dieterich: You recently went on a volunteer vacation, where and when did you go?

Rhoda Navarro: Before Typhoon Yolanda happened, a group of my friends (who I know from volunteering with Hands On Manila) and I were planning a vacation to Tacloban, Leyte & Basey and Samar. Once we saw what had happened, we quickly changed our leisure trip to a volunteer trip. Two months after the typhoon struck, we were heading into the disaster zone to provide what help we could.

Dieterich: That’s incredible. Knowing that a disaster scene is a very complicated place, I imagine you partnered with a volunteer organization in order to provide support?

Navarro: Yes, it’s very important to have a plan when you want to help out in a disaster situation. There are NGOs and government organizations on the ground and it’s important to find the right people to work with. We are fortunate enough to work in tandem with M.Y. Rights (Mind Your Rights), led by Emanuel Bagual, a nonprofit group that aims to educate children and adults and lessen abuse and neglect of the children in society and in the world.

Dieterich: What did you do while you were in Tacloban?

Navarro: Thanks to the generosity of our friends, we were able to bring a large amount of supplies with us to distribute. These included items for goodie bags that we would make for the kids we would be spending time with. These kits included things like crayons, books, coloring books, raincoats/bag and some food items. We brought nearly 300 kilograms of items with us on the plane!

Upon arrival in Tacloban and settling into the Welcome Home Pension House - we headed to our first volunteer activity located in Barangay 52 where hundreds of kids were gathered underneath a makeshift tent to take shelter from the rain. We led a fun game with the kids about eating vegetables and distributed goodie (or loot) bags to almost 200 kids.

We returned to our pension house - where we repacked another set of loot bags for the households of Barangay 67 in Anibong, our second aid location. Anibong is a coastal area in Tacloban near the port. There were ships and containers that washed ashore and destroyed houses along the way. A large ship blocked the main road and became a landmark to locals and tourists.

The following day, we headed over the San Juanico Bridge into Eastern Samar to distribute another set of goodies to children at a third aid location in Basey.

We also had the opportunity to meet with other volunteers, both Filipino and foreign NGO workers and journalists who were there covering the disaster. We were able to share stories with each other, and really inspire one another with stories of the incredible survivors and humanitarian efforts.

It was humbling experience to play with the children and meet the parents who are survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

Dieterich: What were the biggest challenges you saw people still facing in this area?

Navarro: From what we could see, there is a need for support in rebuilding homes, schools and commercial infrastructures. The province needs cranes and building materials for reconstruction; drinking water is still a challenge and electricity was operating at less than 60 percent. People in Tacloban and Samar need psychological help, bunkhouses and construction materials to help them rebuild their lives and homes. There were thousand families still living in tents and evacuation centers.

Dieterich: How can people get involved in helping the victims of the storm?

Navarro: I highly recommend to exercise due diligence when donating to any disaster relief effort. You can get involved by donating to reputable organizations like Word Food Programme, GlobalGiving and UNICEF, to name a few.

Dieterich: Any other memory/story you’d like to share?

Navarro: Our group’s volunteering trip and immersion into the disaster zone was an eye opener – we cannot compare the joy of gratitude from the eyes of children and families who survived the disaster that we met. They wholeheartedly welcomed us into their community, and it was an unforgettable journey. We hope to plan future volunteer vacations together – this was such a powerful experience. We found ourselves in tears of joy and compassion as we left the province - this humbling experience taught us each to be more resilient, more thankful and more optimistic about life’s simple joys!

If you are interested in giving back to the ongoing disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in the Philippines, we encourage you to check out the projects posted through our partner, GlobalGiving.