A Vigil for the Philippines

The downpour of rain that hit UC Irvine on Nov. 21 didn’t dampen the spirits of those who gathered to partake in a candlelight vigil honoring those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

A category five typhoon with winds over two-hundred mph, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Southeast Asian country of the Philippines on Nov. 7. Being called one of the strongest storms to ever occur in history, this natural disaster ravaged much of the central Philippines, particularly Samar Island and Leyte. One of the few things this typhoon didn’t destroy, however, was the resilience and sheer will of its people and the support from UCI students.

Hosted by UC Irvine’s Alyansa ng mga Kababayan — along with the help of their subdivisions, Kababayan, Fusion, PASS and PUSO — this heartfelt event produced quite a turnout, for the Cross-Cultural Center was packed with students. Left and right there were candles being sold and masses of bodies clad in maroon T-shirts with the words, “Hope for the Philippines” stamped on the front.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of making final preparations for the ceremony, Brittney Sia, a third-year social ecology major and co-chair of Alyansa, provided insight into the motivations for the vigil.

“We wanted to create an open and safe environment for people to share stories about their families and to also educate everyone on the current situation in the Philippines,” Sia said.

“This isn’t about what ethnicity you are or where you come from, it’s about doing your part as a human being.”

Kababayan’s community advocacy coordinator Decerry Donato, a third-year literary journalism major, also shared what the primary goal was in organizing this event and what they want students to take away from it.

“Our goal is not just to commemorate the victims suffering in the Philippines, it’s to bring to light this issue and raise awareness as well as to equip students with resources to help those in the Philippines.”

The vigil began with the singing of the U.S national anthem as well as the national anthem of the Philippines. A presentation then ensued with statistics concerning the typhoon and the havoc it wreaked across the country. The logistics were more than informative, they were eye-opening; it helped all who were present to really grasp the gravity of the situation in the Philippines and the severity of what had happened just weeks prior. The images that flashed upon the screen were jarring to say the least and the short clips that played made the natural disaster a harsh reality, with footage of entire homes destroyed and thousands missing, injured or starving.

Following this was a brief message of gratitude from Edgar Dormitorio, chief of staff for the Division of Student Affairs. Also present were representatives of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, also known as NAFCON, who shared additional information as to how we, as students, can help with the recovery effort. Alyansa itself also shared how you can help, with events like the Balikbayan Box Drive, providing donation boxes during general meetings, and buying Hope for Philippines t-shirts. All these donations and proceeds go toward alleviating the suffering caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

What consumed most of the night’s events, however, was the storytelling segment of the vigil. Anyone who felt compelled to share about themselves, their family or their feelings on the typhoon were more than welcome to take the stage and pour out their heart. One by one, students went up to the mic and expressed their grief and loss through speeches and even through spoken word.

The raw emotion showcased by students who were affected by the typhoon was overwhelming and heartbreaking, taking many forms with some tearing up and sobbing throughout their address or others shouting at the top of their lungs with a call to action. The sense of camaraderie and community on display during the course of the vigil was what made this event truly inspiring.

With some students embracing one another and others silently crying together, UCI students epitomized what it means to be a college campus that respects, loves and supports one another. Even in times of heartache, it is our job as young people and students of UCI to band together and harness our power to make an impact. Whether it be through social media or donating money and supplies, you can always help. This vigil was not merely to commemorate and honor the victims of the typhoon, but it also serves as a reminder to us students that, no matter how small, we can make a difference.