Nov 172013

We all want to help. Many of us have done that by donating to major relief organizations.

For those of us overseas, there are other ways, smaller, more focused, more personal.

Social media makes this possible now. In my case, a Facebook message led to one path.

My friend Jane Po was asking if I knew of Bay Area relief organizations. That exchange led to a plan to take on specific needs in this crisis. And we decided to focus on one: water, safe drinking water.

Villagers stranded by last week’s Typhoon Yolanda scramble for aid from a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter from the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the coastal town of Tanawan, central Philippines Sunday, Nov. 17. 2013.

Jane’s sister, Jette Po-Major, is directly involved in the relief effort who was, in fact, helping organize a medical team from San Francisco. She told us, “All water purification tabs, ubos na.”

So we reached out to friends on Facebook to help address that need. It was a fairly simple plan: We asked for 50 friends willing to make a one-time donation of $50.

It turned out to be a far too modest goal. More than fifty were willing to pitch in.

In just 14 hours we raised enough money to send three big boxes of water purification tablets (called Aquatabs). We’ve gotten so much support that we will be sending more boxes next week.

This is an emotional time even for those of us far away from home. “Isang linggo na akong di nakakatulog.” Jane said to me and another member of our team, Lloyd Nebres, who is based in Hawaii.

This campaign is just a small effort. It will help some of the survivors. It will not fix the enormous need for clean water.

But I’m sharing this to stress a point that may already be obvious to many but still worth repeating: This is a time for big and small efforts. There are already many that have been launched.

The need is so great, and we’ve got a long way to go.

As another friend who is involved in the Manila relief work told me, “This is a marathon.” And in a marathon, you pace yourself. If you hurry, run too fast, push too hard, you burn out.

We can’t afford to burn out.

Social media now allows us to pace ourselves, to get involved more directly, through friends and people we trust, pinpointing small, specific needs: water for a specific neighborhood; food for a group of families; or, when the reconstruction begins, desks or even a door for that new classroom in that new school that will rise from the devastation.

Big relief groups and government will play bigger roles. But at a time when many are suspicious of government in the wake of the corruption scandals that have convinced even international agencies that coursing aid through politicians is a bad idea, waging these independent campaigns may even be necessary.

We call our small team Kaloob — gift  – and you can check it out here ( But we also encourage you to form your own small groups, work with friends and people you trust, focused on narrow, precise, but critical needs.

It may even help us deal with the despair and the anger.

That’s been brewing for more than a week now. Have the criticisms of the government response gone too far?

I agree with my friend Mars Estrada who argues in a Facebook post that criticism “has a very important role and function in correcting and calibrating what is not working, or what is not working well. And guess what? Because we are actively participating in these exchanges, something is finally happening, a lot of things have started to move, and a lot of changes are beginning to take effect.”

But I also agree with those who say: Let’s tone down the government bashing.

For there is also a need for precision in the criticisms.

Imagine the impact of a sweeping statement like, “I’m ashamed of this government” on the government and relief workers on the ground who have been working hard against enormous odds even before all the public uproar over the government’s response.

These are government workers who, when told by a Tacloban businessman of rising violence in the city, did not respond, “But you did not die right?”

These are public servants who did not pounce on the chance to campaign for higher office by pasting their names on relief good bags.

These are the staff members, the soldiers, the middle managers of government agencies who did not insist on an international cable network that not that many people died in the catastrophe and those who were speculating on astounding casualty figures were just emotionally traumatized.

And they did not make a sweeping dismissal of the efforts of people in local governments. In fact, they’re probably working with their counterparts in the cities and municipalities of Visayas.

So yes, let’s not go over the top when complaining when things aren’t moving fast enough or when there are shortages in the devastated areas.

We shouldn’t follow President Aquino’s example by making sweeping criticisms of everyone in his administration and the national government in the same way he appeared to make a sweeping negative judgment of everyone in the local government units dealing with this crisis.

The same can be said when it comes to criticisms of the media and the way local and international media outfits have covered this disaster. I agree with some of the complaints.

But while much of the attention has been focused on celebrities like Anderson Cooper and Korina Sanchez, let’s not forget Ronald Vinas and Alan Medinio of DYVL Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban, and Archie Globio and Malou Relino of DYBR Apple Radio Tacloban.

They were also part of media, though they were not celebrities. At a critical time, as Yolanda was approaching and time was running out, they were doing their jobs, trying their best to report and keep their communities informed about a devastating storm.

They didn’t make it, but as we continue to deal with this unfolding crisis, we should not forget them.

This Saturday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines will honor our four colleagues at a memorial also meant to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre.

I hope friends in southern California can join us on Nov. 23, from 2-5 p.m. at Carson Library at 151 E. Carson St., Carson, Calif.

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