By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Providing a light of hope in the Philippines — where floods, poverty, and despair combine to cause tremendous human suffering — is no easy task.
On Sept. 26, Tropical Storm Ketsana dumped record amounts of rain throughout Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, causing many deaths. In the Philippines, Ketsana, or Ondoy as it’s called there, caused the worst flooding in 40 years. Mother Nature wasn’t finished as Typhoon Parma followed on Oct. 3.
Child United (CU) founder and Q13 FOX web content producer Christine Umayam heard reports of the storms and decided “really quickly” that they needed to take action. Her Lynnwood-based nonprofit — with the help of 15 volunteers — filled 50 large boxes with emergency supplies at an all-day packing party on Oct. 25.
CU has filled a total of 151 boxes with relief aid.
The Filipino American will also travel to the typhoon-battered country in November before the relief aid — comprising mostly clothes, shoes, blankets, towels, and toiletries — arrives and is distributed to the victims. Bed sheets donated by the Fairmont Olympic Hotel are also ready to be handed out.
For the children, the volunteers in the Philippines will distribute school supplies and toys. The mission of CU is “to promote education to the poorest children in third-world countries.” The Philippines is the organization’s first country of choice. Other countries, she says, will be added in the future.
While visiting the hardest hit areas in the northern Luzon area, Umayam says she will see if schools and libraries need to be rebuilt.
“How am I supposed to help these children if their families are dying?” said Umayam about CU’s additional program of providing relief aid to typhoon victims. “How am I supposed to help our primary focus when they don’t have anything? Education will always be our number one objective.”
“There will be devastation and relief efforts for the next few months,” said Umayam.
She is there for every step of the way — packing boxes, filling out paperwork, and managing overseas transportation and shipment costs of all 151 boxes – and works with a group of volunteer directors. As for what makes CU unique, she said, “At least, [CU’s donors] know that we’re overseeing everything.” CU’s website states, “We pride ourselves in saying that 100 percent of your donations will go directly to people in need.”
She says she established CU because of the “turning point” of seeing malnourished children during a family vacation to the Philippines. “When I went on that trip, I saw myself in these children, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, if things didn’t happen the way that they happened, I could be one of those children, hoping for a chance, hoping for an education,’” she admitted.
“A lot of Asian families don’t believe that they can make that significant of a difference in people’s lives,” said Umayam. “No matter what person you are, you can make a difference in anyone’s life, even if it’s half way around the world.”
Maureen Francisco, CU’s media director and chief executive officer of MOProductions, folded clothes at the packing party. “The people are going to be so thankful,” she said. “It’s amazing how just a little bit of inspiration and hope that you can send to somebody across the world, what a difference it can make.”
On Oct. 23, Typhoon Lupit — a Filipino word for cruel — became the third typhoon to zigzag its way north of the island of Luzon before weakening into a tropical storm. The Philippines gets hit with approximately 20 typhoons a year during the rainy season from June to December, usually moving through the northern part of the country and exiting through the South China Sea.
According to the Associated Press, almost 100 Filipinos have died due to leptospirosis — a disease spread by floodwater contaminated with animal urine. On Oct. 26, United Nations World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran said the country could lose up to 1.1 million tons of rice as a result of the typhoons. ♦
For more information, visit www.childunited.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.