School, students tackle typhoon relief

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has sent international aid agencies scrambling to assist the thousands of people ravaged in its wake, and here at Ryerson two students are doing all they can to help with relief efforts.

Many Filipino-Canadians, like fourth-year journalism student Marie Alcober, took to social media to come together and form communities of support and relief.

She had created a Facebook group in 2011 to gather support for those who were affected by Typhoon Sendong. Two years later, she has resurrected the group for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

“Philippines will always be home to me, so it’s hard not to take their pain personally,” Alcober said. “It’s important for me to use the resources that I have in Canada to directly affect them.”

Alcober may not live in the Philippines anymore, but the country is still home to 22 members of her family, who live in Tacloban City. She says they haven’t had access to food or clean water since Haiyan hit on Nov. 8.

Alcobar has spent the past week driving around the GTA with her dad, collecting donations from their network of friends in a desperate attempt to help her family get out of the wreckage.
She says one of her cousins is still missing in Haiyan’s wake.

It’s people like Alcobar’s cousin that Riana Feliciano wants to reach out to. Feliciano, studying nonprofit and voluntary sector management at Ryerson, said she feels compelled to help out, even if she can’t physically be there, sifting through the rubble herself.

“As much as I really want to go home, I can’t,” she said. “I have responsibilities here (in Toronto) and I just try to help out online as much as I can.”

Feliciano got in touch with her friends at the University of Philippines, where she used to be a member of the school’s Mountaineers Search and Rescue Team (UPM SAR). She said she knew they would be out there providing relief to the typhoon victims.

The UPM SAR is working in three areas where the waters of the western Pacific Ocean wreaked havoc: Guiuan; Eastern Samar; Culion Town, Palawan and Roxas City, Capiz.

From Toronto, Feliciano is expanding her outreach to her friends to gather resources to send back to her contacts at UPM SAR. She has also started an online group dedicated to sharing contact information of different local Filipino groups that want to band together to provide assistance.

“I don’t think there’s a central agency or group doing the co-ordination,” she said. “So, I’m constantly checking other organizations, just making sure that there is help coming from Toronto.”

But sometimes, in dire circumstances, help comes from unlikely sources.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said an anonymous donor has pledged to match the first $5,000 raised for aid by the university’s student groups.

While the school cannot donate to relief efforts as an institution, Levy said some members of the administration are making personal donations to help boost fundraising targets.
“I hope we do well on this,” he said. “A lot of help is needed.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 20, 2013.

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