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Students Aid Filipino Recovery Effort

03/13/14
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Matthew Alonsozana '14 (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 13, 2014

Four months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of the Philippines, recovery is now underway in that nation – an effort supported with a recent donation of more than $10,000 from Boston College students.

Within days after the typhoon hit last Nov. 8, BC students had organized a number of fundraising events, including the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Concert, a dance showcase and a regional culture show. In addition, students worked with Dining Services and Volunteer and Service Learning Center Director Dan Ponsetto to hold a point drive that realized $7,000.

BC student organizers chose to donate the funds to Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency that had a strong preexisting presence in the Philippines and was instrumental in providing aid in the immediate aftermath of the storm. According to CRS, the Typhoon Haiyan – the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall – killed more than 6,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than a million homes. The nonprofit is now a leading force in the area’s long-term recovery and rebuilding.

“The focus in the Philippines is on rebuilding and resettlement. Many people are still lacking basics,” said UGBC Executive Vice President and Student Assembly President Matthew Alonsozana ’14. “It’s the local NGOs and nonprofits who are fulfilling the needs of the people there.”

Alonsozana, a Presidential Scholar of Philippine heritage, credited his experience in the Philippines during the summer after freshman year for his dedication to BC’s typhoon relief effort. With the aid of a BC Advanced Study Grant and the President Scholars Program, Alonsozana spent the summer of 2011 lecturing at Ateneo de Manila University, a Jesuit university in Manila, and conducting research at the Institute of Philippine Culture.

“The students at the university were part of the privileged class, yet right outside the university walls were naked people,” recalled Alonsozana, an economics and philosophy double major. The first-person perspective on the striking gap between the haves and have-nots deeply affected Alonsozana. “It changed my world view. It didn’t just make me see the needs clearly; it made me realize I had to own them.”

While in Manila, Alonsozana helped prepare a report on managing typhoon damage that was presented to high-ranking authorities, including members of the World Bank. Alonsozana is proud that one of the report’s recommendations is being enacted: In a policy change, the government is turning away from the precedent of moving displaced persons to shanty towns outside of Manila and will instead invest in rebuilding the damaged locale and returning people to their home region.

In addition to Alonsozana, BC student leaders in the effort to aid the Philippines are Gerome Paradela ’14, president of the Philippine Society of BC, and James Gallo ’14, vice president of the Residence Hall Association. Other partners include: Lemuel Lim ’16 and Yna Aggabao ’16 of the Philippine Society; AJ Ty ’16, Bianca Romero-Salas ’15, Maiki Del Rosario ’15 and Christine Park ’14 of UGBC; Chella Po ’14 of the International Club of Boston College; AJ Parayano of the Graduate Students Association; Asian Caucus; Asian Christian Fellowship; Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue, District 1; Synergy Dance Crew; The Heights; Southeast Asian Students Association and BC students participating in the Casa Bayanihan program.

The BC students say they know the road to recovery in the Philippines is a long one and are working to ensure the plight of the country and its people are not forgotten. Fundraising continues this semester with a musical event on March 22 featuring DJ Inferno, who has worked with Madonna and appeared on MTV. Proceeds from the event will go towards the relief fund. Donations continue to be accepted through the BC Typhoon Haiyan Relief Initiative’s ecommerce site: commerce.cashnet.com/bcSPO.