The Varnett School- Northeast

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Filipino teachers coping with homeland tragedy

Teacher Eleanor L. Panganiban has spent plenty of sleepless nights worrying about family members in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan that has killed more than 5,200 people, displaced 4 million more and damaged 1 million homes.

Her hometown of Jaro, Leyte is about 45 minutes  to an hour away from Tacloban City, the worst hit city and the scene of one of the largest ever humanitarian efforts since the typhoon slammed the island nation on Nov. 8. That’s a lot to feel helpless about when your family is more than 8,500 miles away and communications are sporadic at best.

Ms. Panganiban, a kindergarten teacher from the Northeast Campus, said she finally talked to her father on Nov. 16. “He said they’re fine despite the fact that they are running out of food and they need clothing, medicine and shelter,” she said. “Our house was totally devastated and my family is homeless, literally.”

Husband, children not affected
She said her parents, brother and niece were still in Leyte but were planning to move to Manila as soon as possible. Her brother chose to stay so he can rebuild his small car wash business. Her uncle and aunt will accompany her parents to Manila, too, but some of her relatives have decided to stay because of financial reasons.  Thankfully, her husband, Jayr, and her two children, Alexandria, 8 and Francheska, 7, live in Manila and were not affected by the typhoon.

Two days after the massive destruction, Ms. Panganiban received a text from her brother that he was in Ormoc City, about an hour southwest of Jaro. Ormoc City, he said, was the only place where communication was feasible and he told Ms. Panganiban that everyone in the family survived.

Her brother, Eleazar O. Lastrilla, traveled more than three hours via motorcycle just to recharge the battery of his cell phone so he could send and receive text messages. But communication remains difficult because the cell sites were destroyed, too. “Email and Facebook are not even possible for now,” she said.  Ms. Panganiban still hasn’t been able to speak with her mother and niece because it’s not safe for them to travel by motorcycle.

Tense moment for family member
There have been some scary moments involving her family.  Her uncle, the eldest brother of her mother, was rushed to the hospital in Cebu City four days after the typhoon because his intestine erupted and his blood sugar rose.  He needed emergency surgery. “But glory to God, the operation was successful and he’s in recovery right now,” Ms. Panganiban said.

When Ms. Panganiban started teaching at Varnett in August, she had no idea what would come. Despite all the developments swirling around her through You-Tube and news broadcasts, Ms. Panganiban said she has been able to stay focused on her students.  “I’m glad to say that with God’s help, I was still able to focus on my work, go to school and keep my mind busy,” she said. “I really prayed because I know for a fact that I’m miles away from my family and I hope and pray that everything will be all right.”

She said she has received lots of support from Varnett and the other Filipino teachers in the district. “My fellow Filipino teachers and locals have been so supportive of me especially during the times that I was still waiting for updates from my parents,” she said. “They came to comfort me through prayers and words of encouragement that everything will be fine and that I don’t have to worry because God is in control of everything.”

Money sent to country lost
Meanwhile, Ms. Norma Ricarto, a 3rd grade teacher at Northeast, had concerns of her own. Her parents were without money, food and electricity in their home outside of Maasin, about 2 ½ hours south of Tacloban City, after the typhoon hit. Her two sisters and a brother also live near Maasin. Fortunately, her husband and 21-year-old daughter are safe in Manila.

Ms. Ricarto said she sent money to Maasin but it never reached her family. Someone else picked it up instead, she said. “I cried. I was really surprised because I know my parents could have bought a lot of food,” she said, adding that all the crops her parents rely on were destroyed in the typhoon.

“My father is sick and I don’t know what he will do.”

As did Ms. Panganiban, Ms. Ricardo started teaching at Varnett in August. She, too, has had to stay focused on teaching. “I set aside all those things when I’m in the classroom,” she said. “I don’t want my students affected in any way. I pray.” Neither teacher anticipates flying home to the Philippines during the upcoming holiday break.

Dr. M. Annette Cluff, Varnett’s superintendent, said the district will explore how people may contribute to disaster relief fund similar to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund established to aid the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to our teachers and their families,” Dr. Cluff said.

Top photo: Ms.Eleanor Panganiban focuses on her kindergarten class despite concerns about her family hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Center photo: Tacloban Airport is covered by debris after powerful Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban City on Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press. 

Bottom photo: Ms. Norma Ricarto in her 3rd grade classroom.

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