Monday 22 January 2018

Joyce Fegan: The stench of death and the beautiful three-year-old girl - I can never forget the Philippines

Homeless children in Tacloban in the Philippines wait for the first aid to arrive
Homeless children in Tacloban in the Philippines wait for the first aid to arrive
Typhoon victims in Tacloban have been the grateful recipients of Irish aid

Joyce Fegan in Tacloban

IF you've made it past the headline, well done. You're more than likely reading this from the comfort of your office chair, sipping on a take-away coffee and lamenting the loss of your weekend. Poor you.

You heard yet another news report on the car radio this morning about aid or something not getting into a place you can't pronounce in the Philippines and thought "ugh, boring. This again?" before moving the dial. An ad would even suffice at this stage, you say.

But if you'd had the hairs in your nostrils burnt by the horrific smell of decaying bodies or had the most beautiful little three-year-old girl look into your eyes with her huge hazel ones pleading for help you probably wouldn't be so indifferent.

Have I offended you? Good. I've offended me, too. Give or take a few causes, I'm a NIMBY kind of girl. Not in my back yard. Even the greatest of news stories loses traction after a week or two. Kay Burley moves on, we do too.

But let me assure you – it's not that we don't care, it's that we believe our little bit couldn't possibly count. The aid workers explained it to me: don't tell people at home just how dire it is. It'll overwhelm them and they won't donate. "How could my two euro possibly make any difference when all those people, all the way over there, have no food, no water, no home and no hope?" But believe me, last week I saw your two euro and a difference was most definitely made, a big one.

We're talking a week's supply of food here and a belief that "Jesus, some stranger from some far away place cares about me?". The gesture is sustenance in itself. I've never been to a disaster zone before. I've only ever watched the drama from the comfort of my flatscreen.

I'd never heard the following three words put together in a sentence before: begging, for, water. Last week I saw it, not in a Sky News clip, but with my own two eyes.

I also saw a grown man surrounded by his gaggle of children queuing for a bucket of rice.

I think of the humiliation some people feel standing in a dole line back home. There is after all, no greater shame than the inability to sustain one's self, let alone feed your babies. But I check his face. Nothing. He doesn't flinch or cringe. These Filipinos are a practical lot. Needs must.

They're rebuilding already, too. The aid workers also told me that of all the disaster zones they've worked in, they've come to realise one thing: people don't like hand-outs. Hand up, fine, but they want, they need to be self-sufficient again.

Maybe you don't have as much as a spare red cent. Maybe you help in some other way in some other place – or maybe you genuinely don't have time or space to care. All fine.

But there is no drop without a ripple and if you bung a load of coppers into the box in Tesco and Billy and Bob and Jack to do the same, then maybe Jericho out here will be able to get himself a boat again.

And maybe he'll be able to fish again and even be able to earn his crust and that of his family's, too. Just a thought.

Enjoy your coffee.

Irish Independent

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