Volunteers return from Philippine relief efforts

KODIAK — Last month, Kodiak resident Jun Belen was feeding kids at a school on the Philippine island of Leyte when he was struck by the kindness of one boy.

At one of the schools where he cooked and distributed food, Belen saw a boy holding onto his plate of chicken and spaghetti, not eating it. He asked the boy why he wasn’t eating his food, and was touched by the response: “I was surprised when he said, ‘This is for my brother,’” Belen said. “I’m so blessed to see a person, a brother like this. I’m so touched for this boy. I told him ‘It’s OK, just bring this to your brother and I will give you another piece.’”

Belen recently returned from Leyte, an area struck by Typhoon Haiyan in November, to donate relief funds raised in Kodiak.

With him he took around $6,000 from people in Kodiak and around $2,000 from churches in Alaska, including the Filipino Bible Church. Some of the churches helped fund his travel costs.

“It was sad,” Belen said. “They said the first three days after the typhoon reached, they all had no food, no shelter. They said it’s like they have a coma in their hearts. They don’t like experiencing it anymore.”

Belen said people were already working to repair their homes so life could return to normal.

Some were working as carpenters fixing the homes of wealthier people, and others were patching their own homes.

“They had houses but no roofs,” he said. “They cannot live there because it’s damaged. Some had tarps on the top of their homes.”

For the most part, he observed people helping each other, but Belen was warned about driving through certain areas where crime and looting were common.

“It’s dangerous to go some places because of the looting,” he said.

Overall, Belen estimated he shared the money with 300-400 people, giving them around 500 Philippine pesos, approximately $12, for food. Some of the money Belen brought with him was used to feed children.

Alvin Arboleda also recently returned from the Philippines after spending time with his family in Manila, where he was able to donate the $14,400 raised in Kodiak various fundraisers. Much of the money was raised by volunteers who made and sold thousands of egg rolls.

Manila was outside the affected area, so Arboleda had a completely different experience than Belen.

“It was great,” he said. “We dropped it (the money) off with the foundation.”

Arboleda donated the money to ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., an organization that works to make an impact in the Philippines in the areas of the environment, education, childcare and disaster management. The foundation will distribute it to affected areas.

“We were not in an area where the storm hit,” he said. “I believe in the providence where the typhoon hit is still feeling the effects.”

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