It didn’t look like a typhoon was coming.
Not at least from the photos that Samantha Tinsay posted on Facebook the day before Typhoon Yolanda came hurtling through the central Philippines.
In one photo, Samantha poses on a catamaran, bikini-clad with a sarong tied about her waist. Sunlight falls across her shoulders and behind her, the water is still. The photo was taken on Malapascua Island, a paradise known for its white sand beaches and diving. A paradise, that is, before the typhoon struck.
Samantha had been living in Cebu City, Philippines for seven months before Yolanda came and changed everything. The 28-year old was born in Manila but moved to Orange County, CA as a child. Last year, she returned to the Philippines to study medicine.
Samantha and her friends were vacationing on Malapascua Island when they heard about the storm. The weather was placid, so they first thought the news stations were exaggerating Yolanda’s severity. Their instincts told them otherwise and the night before the typhoon made landfall, they took the last boat off the island.
“We escaped in a small fisherman’s boat,” Samantha remembered. “The rain was pouring hard while the waves entered our boat… the motor even died a few times. We were lucky that we got out because the next day when Yolanda hit, the island was almost completely wiped out.”
Samantha’s narrow escape inspired her to partner up with the Cebu Doctors’ University College of Medicine to found Heal the Hurting, a project dedicated to providing direct relief to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. This month, Samantha will begin registering Heal the Hurting as an official nonprofit.
“Lots of my friends from abroad messaged me and really wanted to help out financially but didn’t know who to donate to,” Samantha said. I saw an opportunity to link them with devastated communities and small organizations here that I knew could use the funds to provide supplies and shelter. “
“I decided to partner with other students, smaller organizations, and the communities themselves because I knew that the money and supplies would go directly to them. Donors wouldn’t have to wonder if their donations made it to the people, because they in fact did,” she said.
Typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan as it’s called in the West, is the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history. When it tore through the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, it left 11.2 million people affected and over 500,000 displaced. According to the Sun Star, a newspaper in Cebu, Philippines, many towns are still waiting for funds to arrive from the Filipino government.
Globally, when a natural disaster strikes, foundations and individual donors are ready to pour millions of dollars into the governments of the affected countries. But, relief doesn’t always reach the people who need it most. Think back in 2010, when the international community pledged over $9 billion to help Haiti recover from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Today, over 100,000 Haitians are still displaced and living in makeshift camps.