In the Midst of Tragedy, Peace is Possible

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Recent typhoons have brought widespread human trauma and devastated agricultural lands:









REUTERS/Erik de Castro (see more poignant photos at boston.com)                       Source: NASA


Sometimes human nature and community solidarity can overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. One year after a violent breakdown of Christian-Muslim peace negotiations in the Philippines, a series of highly destructive typhoons have left more than 300,000 people in the capital area alone unable to return to their homes due to flooding, breakdown of sanitation facilities, and the threat of mudslides as overstressed dams begin to collapse. Faced with this mutual threat, diverse communities have been pulling together to support the common good.

At the outset of these ongoing regional calamities - including earthquakes and tsunamis - past experience suggests that already impoverished communities would languish with little hope of outside assistance. Asia America Initiative (AAI) has acted as a catalyst to help acquire supplies and coordinate delivery systems, which include Muslim and Christian volunteer organizations, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and local government agencies, in an unprecedented spirit of cooperation.
 
AAI Philippine Country Director Rohaniza Sumndad reflected on the attitude of seemingly rival communities in the refugee camps of central Mindanao where over 500,000 people are still displaced due to persistent warfare. "What impressed me most in working with refugees coming from competing tribal, ethnic, and religious communities was an attitude that emphasized working together for mutual survival," said Ms. Sumndad. "Enthusiastically supported by college and high school students, humanitarian support organizations were formed with the blessing of community elders. In a similar manner Muslim organizations such as the Imam Council of the Philippines and the League of Moro Youth worked long past midnight assisting AAI to deliver supplies to desperate Filipino Christian communities as well as Muslim neighborhoods of Manila."

Another more personal obstacle to add to AAI's sudden workload was the unexpected illness of AAI director Al Santoli. He underwent cancer surgery during the week when storms were at their height and humanitarian relief efforts were being coordinated between Washington and Manila with organizations such as U.S.-based AmeriCares and National Cancer Coalition, and Germany-based HFK Krebsallianz.
 
"When human lives are on the line, we should never give up hope," stated Mr. Santoli, currently in recovery. "It is especially fortunate that when young people are given the opportunity to transform their idealism into action, with proper mentorship by more senior leaders, mountains can be moved. During this relief effort in the Philippines, we have seen student organizations as well as young soldiers and Marines work countless hours without complaint. In Washington, the relief effort has been assisted by the hard work of AAI college interns from the United States, Korea, the Philippines, and Colombia."

At present AAI is working as part of the larger relief community to address the suffering caused by the latest storm. However, international weather bureaus predict that at least three more huge typhoons will strike the area within the next two months. We continue to need your help. If you have questions or wish to contribute please contact Asia America Initiative today.



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