FIRST PERSON // SPRING 2014
Ryan Whisnant, MBA / Erb '10
As a native of the Midwest, my decision
to attend Michigan was driven in part
by a desire to move closer to home.
Little did I know that meeting my
wife, Aileen Payumo, MBA ’10, at
Ross would dramatically change and
expand what I define as home. And
neither of us could have predicted
the events that would unfold upon
returning to her native Philippines.
After school, we moved to New York
City, and were married in Bohol,
Philippines, in 2012. We decided that we
wanted to experience the tremendous
growth occurring in Asia, and all the
opportunities and challenges that come
with it, so in late 2013 we moved to
Manila. Building on my studies at the
Erb Institute, I maintain a consulting
practice focused on sustainable
development, and Aileen manages
several digital strategy projects and is
helping to build an ecotourism business.
Two months after arriving, a powerful
7.2-magnitude earthquake struck
Bohol, severely damaging several
centuries-old churches — including the
one where we were married. Not one
month later, Typhoon Haiyan (known
in the Philippines as Yolanda), rolled
across the country as the strongest
storm ever recorded to make landfall.
Sources estimate that the storm affected
more than 14 million people and cost
the Philippine economy a potential $13
billion. In a country where 45 percent of
the population earns less than $2 a day,
a calamity like this hits especially hard.
Aileen and I had the opportunity to join
the staff of the Presidential Advisor for
Environmental Protection to visit the
most heavily damaged area in and around
Tacloban, Leyte, three weeks after the
storm to help deliver relief goods and
assess recovery efforts. Approaching the
area from the air by military plane, it was
hard to comprehend the damage — as if
something had practically steamrolled
the landscape. Some say 80 percent of
the coconut trees were lost. Most were
knocked down; many were snapped in
half like matchsticks. Driving through
towns, families were waiting along the
sides of the road, holding signs reading
"Food" and "Help." After nightfall, it
became strangely dark, since there was
no power. We could only see along the
road in the path of our headlights, but
we could immediately tell when we
entered the area hit by the storm surge,
with piles of debris lining the roads.
Daylight the following morning
revealed the full extent of the damage,
particularly as we drove into Tacloban.
Many structures were still standing,
but few had intact roofs, and debris
was absolutely everywhere. People
were moving about, building makeshift
shelters, mending rooftops, salvaging what they could. Cars and boats
lodged in the second story of houses,
and even an upended semi-truck
resting nose-down on the side of the
road, hinted at the power of the water
that had surged from the ocean.
In an effort to help in some small way,
Aileen and I converted a crowdfunding
site that she had set up to gather
donations for the churches damaged
by the earthquake in Bohol, and asked
friends and family to also help typhoon
victims. We were blown away by the
response – the site raised over $18,000
to help victims of the earthquake
and Haiyan. The money went to buy
immediate relief packs with food,
water, and sanitation items, addressed
longer term needs through purchase
of building materials, and even helped
a few affected families to relocate.
While we were able to raise some funds,
the real work we saw firsthand was done
by the local community and members
of Santuario de San Antonio Parish
Church in Makati City. Volunteers
collected relief goods, packaged them,
and sent them by arranging truck,
boat, and plane freight through trusted
channels to ensure the goods made it into the hands of those in need. The
mobilization of volunteer effort by
the church was amazing, with dozens
more showing up every night.
We returned to Tacloban in January
to assess progress. The good news was
that certain things were improving:
There was electrification along some
of the main roadways; a lot of the
vegetation was returning; and there
was activity in the markets along
the main thoroughfares in the larger
municipalities. It was heartening to
see the resilience in people — salvaging
coconut lumber from the downed trees
for rebuilding, planting rice again,
smiling and laughing with each other.
They are grateful for the help from
the international community. We saw
multiple signs painted on the road and
banners saying "Thank You" to the world.
But this should not belie the tremendous
challenges that lay ahead for the region.
Basic goods are expensive and difficult
to come by. A tremendous amount of
infrastructure needs to be replaced. The
loss of coconut and fishing grounds has
disrupted livelihoods, and many men
are leaving the region in search of work.
How can communities in the Philippines, and elsewhere in the world, think about
climate resilience — infrastructure,
livelihoods, environmental integrity,
community relationships — in
the face of future storms?
Aileen and I were overwhelmed by the
generosity of donors, and the resolve of
the volunteers we saw at the church and
other relief centers — moving swiftly
and with purpose, as if it were their own
families they were helping. In the wake
of such a terrible tragedy, perhaps one
silver lining is being reminded that there
are so many good people in the world.
HOW TO HELP
There is a long and difficult road to recovery
ahead. The story of Typhoon Haiyan has faded
from the headlines, but support is still very much
needed. If you would like to help the people of the
Philippines affected by the typhoon, we suggest
supporting the efforts of Gawad Kalinga, a wellrespected
community development organization.
Donations can be made by visiting their website:
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Ryan Whisnant, MBA '10/ Erb '10
Ryan Whisnant and Aileen Payumo, both MBA '10, witnessed typhoon damage – and set out to help.