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'I stood there thinking that most Irish people will never set eyes on this place to see the good they have done'

I dreaded returning to the Philippines. I dreaded witnessing the awful poverty that would assault my comfortable western senses.

I dreaded seeing the barefoot children running around screaming with joy and laughter in their dirty clothes but most of all I dreaded having to see someone else's bleak hopeless future, again.

Four months on from Typhoon Haiyan and having been in the Philippines just after it struck, I found myself in the now famous city of Tacloban where bodies had once lined the streets, rotting in the hot midday sun, where little angels had begged for cups of water and where hope seemed like it would never return.

But it has.

Hammers bang away from the early hours, school children are dressed in their immaculate uniforms and the signs that once read "we have no water," now read "thank u for all ur help".

Irish Aid staff, with decades of experience in conflict and disaster zones, tell me they have never come across thank you signs anywhere before.


If we can give the Filipinos €11m in cash they can give us a lesson in getting on with it. One morning this week I took a walk down around the port in Tacloban where the huge cargo ship Cebu was washed ashore in the storm.

Luigi (3) and his dad Joel (27) are sitting outside their shop and home right next to the ship. "I swam all day, I am a survivor," said Joel. Two weeks after the typhoon his shop was rebuilt and him and his family were back with a roof over their heads.

His little boy Luigi held on to his dad's back for the 12-hour swim that saved their lives.

The Filipinos are a nation of improvisers. They use what's there and don't complain about what's not.

In Tacloban, an Italian restaurant was open two days after the typhoon, its owner Giuseppe saw an opportunity and it has thrived ever since. He had a hard time getting staff though, many locals had taken up work with the NGOs for higher wages.

I visited a school in Jaro helped by Goal, where they had rebuilt roofs and buildings. While I cursed my country's inability to move on from things without spending years apportioning blame first, my heart swelled with pride at the generosity of the Irish.

I went to a rice field that's just about ready to harvest. Our Department of Agriculture gave €500,000 through Irish Aid to plant this rice. It was a €5m project and will reap €84m worth of ready-to-trade grain.

I stood there in that field thinking most Irish people will never set eyes on this place in their lifetime and yet look at the good they have done.

We went to a little village, Alegria, miles away from Tacloban where dirt tracks act as roads and where we were met by tears of thanks. Plan Ireland was the first charity to reach them. "Nobody came to us, the Irish people were the first to come and help us," cried the female village chief.

In another village, children had made cards that said: "Thank you Irish, we love you," people rushed out from their homes to hold up cardboard signs reading "God bless you," but the most powerful sign of all was a little framed poster in one of the rebuilt classrooms.

"A bad attitude is a like a flat tyre. You can't go anywhere 'til you change it."

Irish people, I'm now convinced, are the most generous souls in the world, but maybe we could take something from the Filipinos and learn to move on from our own disaster.