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Whistler's Filipinos to raise funds for flood victims

Death toll in Mindanao pushing 1,500, tens of thousands homeless



Whistler's burgeoning Filipino community is rallying to support the devastated area of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, crippled by flash flooding in the days before Christmas.

The death toll is now more than 1,200 and more than 60,000 remain homeless after Typhoon Washi (known locally as Typhoon Sendong) ripped through the region on the night of December 16.

More than a month's worth of rainfall fell in a 12-hour period and the ensuing flooding washed away entire villages.

Of the 400-strong Filipinos in Whistler, Rudy Bueno said he does not believe anyone lost a family member in the flooding, but some of their homes were damaged by the water.

A region of their homeland, however, is in crisis.

When asked why he is organizing the fundraiser he said simply:

"It's our responsibility as a person to help people who are in need. We are really very lucky we don't have these calamities in Canada."

After an initial appeal for $38 million to help deal with the crisis, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are now looking for an additional $28 million to help the displaced with an aim to provide clean water for drinking and bathing, food, emergency shelter and essential household items for the almost half a million worst-affected people for a period of three months.

In Whistler there will be a breakfast fundraiser on Saturday Jan. 7 from 7 to 10 a.m. at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church on Lorimer Road.

There is a minimum donation of $5.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier University), an organization spearheading relief efforts. The university has been housing typhoon victims in its gym and has donated 15 acres of land to the local government for resettlement efforts.

In a Boxing Day memo XU president Roberto Yap wrote:

"The outpouring of assistance and support from all sectors of our community has been really inspiring. Students and staff gave up their Christmas vacation in order to volunteer at our relief center (sic). Even those who were victims of the floods volunteered.

"XU's Tabang Sendong Relief and Evacuation Center will continue its operations... (and) will focus its work in receiving donations in cash and in kind and distribute relief goods to those who need them the most in different evacuation centers in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan."

Bueno said three years ago, in the wake of the devastating storm Ondoy (also known as Typhoon Ketsana) in Manila, Bueno organized another fundraiser that collected $4,800. That money benefited 200 to 300 families in the Philippines.

He knows that the fundraisers in Whistler can make a difference thousands of miles away, especially as Canadian funds go so far in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, on the ground in the Philippines President Benigno Aquino III who banned logging in February after experts said flooding deaths in the past were caused by deforestation and soil erosion, has ordered an investigation into the Typhoon Washi.

In Whistler all are welcome to attend the breakfast.