On November 8, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan — one of the most catastrophic tropical storms in the country’s history. In the two weeks since the disaster, the death toll has risen above 5,000, and the number of people displaced is estimated to be in the millions. In response to the tragedy, members of the U of T community have rallied together to raise money and awareness for these victims.
Relief efforts were quickly mobilized by student groups across campus. Some who helped had personal ties with the Philippines, such as fourth-year global health student Camille Feir. Feir volunteered with the Red Cross in the Philippines this past summer in the Filipino province of Eastern Samar and city of Tacloban, Leyte — areas that were heavily affected by the typhoon. Though members of her family do not live in the area, Feir was worried for her close friend, whom she met while volunteering. “The last thing I heard from her was on Facebook, when she updated her status saying that, ‘The winds are so strong I can’t sleep.’ It was very sad. I didn’t hear from her again after that.” Feir has since heard from her friend and the group of volunteers she worked with, who are fortunately safe.
As an executive member of World Vision at U of T, Feir held a small seminar for her fellow executive members to raise awareness on the impact of the disaster. She also organized a bake sale in Sid Smith. Though she initially found it difficult to find a way to broach the subject, Feir decided to use photos to try and put a human face on the tragedy. “The most important thing, when you hear statistics like this, is to realize that they are people too,” said Feir, adding, “which is why I showed them the people… that they are just like us who have dreams and aspirations.”
The Filipino Students’ Association of Toronto (FSAT) at the St. George campus has also been active in raising funds. FSAT president, Liza Caringal stated: “We are devastated about what has happened in the Philippines, as many of our family and friends have been affected, though we know that the Filipino community is resilient and will persevere through this hardship.” On Friday evening, FSAT held a candlelit ceremony at Hart House Circle, where students took a moment to send thoughts and prayers to their loved ones overseas. FSAT hopes to continue to raise awareness and money through bake sales, t-shirt and pin sales, and an upcoming pub night.
Other students got creative when it came to raising money. The United Nations Society (UNSOC) president, Angelo Gio Mateo, collaborated with The Sound of Change, a local Toronto charity, and the Trinity College Volunteer Society to organize a coffeehouse show to raise relief money. “I really wanted to do this because I am Filipino and it does mean something personally to me,” said Mateo. The pay-what-you-can event included a range of musical acts — from more well-known Toronto acts to smaller ones from within the U of T community. The event raised over $1,000, which will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. Mateo hopes that the support shown this week will be long lasting, he urged students to “donate as much as possible and continue being supportive both emotionally in this time and financially, be supportive towards immigrants and Filipinos, even not in times of natural disasters.”
The university administration has also reached out to the Filipino community. On November 13, University of Toronto president Meric Gertler announced: “On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, I wish to extend our most profound sympathies to those suffering from this disaster.” Additionally, the university has planned an institutional observance event, in coordination with FSAT, to take place on November 27 at the Multi-Faith Centre. The event invites all members of the U of T community as: “an opportunity for our community to reflect on the devastating impact of the typhoon, and show our solidarity with those who have been directly and indirectly affected by these events.” Richard Chambers, director of the Multi-Faith Centre, calls the university’s ceremony a service of solidarity. The event is designed for people to acknowledge the tragedy, as well as to demonstrate the resilience of the Filipino community through music and dance. Both Gertler and a student representing the Filipino community will speak at the event.
Shortly after the disaster, the Government of Canada announced a Typhoon Haiyan relief fund, pledging to match every dollar individuals donate to Canadian registered charities for Typhoon Haiyan. This includes charities such as the Canadian Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. The governments matching program will run until December 9.