Desperation after typhoon leaves lasting mark

Kirsten Cheyne was prepared for the devastation she found when she volunteered to give aid in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

What she was not prepared for was the desperation of the people she met.

The 32-year-old Dunedin resident has just returned from Carigara in the Philippines where she spent most of the past two months as a volunteer.

She was in Manila when the typhoon struck. She had just submitted her PhD in psychology and had decided to take a break by volunteering for International Needs New Zealand.

''It was something I had wanted to do for years. I sponsor two children in the Philippines.

''I was expecting to do administration work in Manila.''

But two weeks after her arrival, the typhoon struck and she was dropped into doing ''real aid work''.

She was sent to help in Carigara, a town with a population of 50,000, near the direct path of the typhoon.

''I had already seen pictures of the damage on the 'net - I was prepared a little for it.

''What I wasn't prepared for was the signwriting on the walls from residents asking for food and help.

''The desperation was palpable. It was pretty full on.

''People queued for hours and hours for small amounts of rice, and the place looked like a rubbish tip.''

Miss Cheyne also met a family with 12 children living in a shack on a beach.

She said the father was a fisherman, but on some days he was not able to catch enough fish to feed his family.

''Often, all they would have to eat was a cup of coffee for the day.

''They were the poorest of the poor, and after the typhoon, they had to start over.

''The father didn't know where to start.

''It was heart-breaking.''

The upside of the harrowing experience was seeing humanity respond to a country in need.

''It was very hard and very sad, but it was also very rewarding.

''The people were just so grateful for our help.''

While she was glad to be back in Dunedin to spend time with family over Christmas, she continued to worry about the Filipinos.

She said there was still plenty of need for volunteers to help get the country back on its feet, and recommended other Dunedin residents consider volunteering.

''It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience,'' she said.

-john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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