people
8:37 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Kansas City Filipinos Slowly Make Contact With Loved Ones, Organize Support

The Kansas City area is home to a tight-knit community of several thousand Filipinos, and some of them have relatives living in or near the region devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

As their relatives back home struggle to find food, shelter, and water in the wake of last week’s disaster, Filipinos in the Kansas City area are relying on cell phones, social media, and the internet to stay in touch with loved ones.

Suyen Silvestri of Kansas City knows her mom is OK but hasn't yet heard her voice.
Credit Laura Ziegler

For 48 hours native Filipino and Kansas City resident, Suyen Silvestri, didn’t know if her mother was dead or alive.

Her mom lives on the Bantayan Island, in the northern town of Madridejos.

Silvestri saw pictures on TV and heard from Filipino news broadcasts that winds of up to 155 mph had leveled most of the houses.

Her brother lives in the city of Cebu to the south, and he went on a rescue mission to find their mother. Suyen was talking to him every half hour until he lost cell phone coverage.

Finally, she said, it was Sunday at 1:15 a.m when her brother called, but she didn't want to pick up the phone, fearing the worst.

“You get it,” Suyen told her husband.

“No” he said. “You need to get it ….you just need to be strong.”

Silvestri says she was prepared for whatever news she heard.

Over the hollow cell phone line her brother spoke quickly, not wasting a moment.

“They’re OK,” her brother told her. “ They’re all OK.”

Relief.

But Suyen says it’s awfully hard to be thousands of miles from the people most important to you at a time like this, and to know so little about their safety and well-being.

“I gotta be strong,” she says through tears. “I even did a TV interview in midst of all this anxiousness, just because I wanted to share to the people of KC that there is this island and they are so shut down and so isolated.

Edward Tumanut, with the Filipino Association of Greater Kansas City, says people are embracing social media – especially Facebook and Twitter to seek out or share  information.

“There is that sense of helplessness,” he says, “because a lot of communication cut off completely. A lot of people just trying to find anything they can.”

Monday night leaders of some of the local groups met to strategize how best to respond to the disaster.

Tumanut says for now, they’ve decided to establish a central fund for monetary donations and a site where people can drop off basic necessities at the Filipino Cultural Center in Overland Park, Kan. A list of what’s most needed is on the agency’s website.

Jerry Smith is Executive Director of the World Outreach Foundation, founded by a Kansas City Filipino physician. 

Smith says one of the challenges for local, national and international  groups is how to sustain interest in the impact of natural disasters after the cameras have left.

“It’s just human nature that big disaster comes up and fades from memory," says Smith. "This is gonna be effecting the region for months, if not years."

Smith says it’s too soon to know everything the local Filipino community will be doing.