By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING – When Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda, devastated the Philippines last month, Americans sprang into action.
Just not as many as expected, according to a national report.
Compared to other recent international disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2011 tsunami in Japan, fewer Americans paid attention to news of the typhoon and are donating to relief efforts, according to the Pew Research Center report.
At least over 55 percent of Americans reported “very closely” following the earthquake in Haiti and tsunamis in Japan and the Indian Ocean. Only 32 percent of Americans report following Typhoon Haiyan. That has translated into low numbers of donations – with only 14 percent of Americans reporting they have donated so far.
Distance may have an effect on interest, according to Allison Koenigbauer of the Southeastern Michigan Regional Chapter of the American Red Cross based in Detroit.
“I’ve been here for about five years – and for example, Haiti was closer to home and I think that has a lot to do with the press coverage and things like that,” she said.
Typhoon Haiyan struck more than 8,000 miles away from Michigan, while the Haiti earthquake took place only a little more than 1,000 miles away.
But here in Michigan, many of those who have donated time and money and followed news of relief efforts are from unlikely sources, Koenigebauer said.
“I’ve gotten quite a few calls from people who only have $10 or $20 in their checking account, but they insist on donating it to the victims,” she said. “You almost want to tell them to keep it.”
Although the holiday time can be especially difficult for residents of the cash-strapped Detroit area, Koenigbauer said even when tragedies are worlds apart, it can be easy to sympathize.
“A lot of people around here in Detroit and southeastern Michigan know hardship, and they identify with people struck by disaster,” she said. “Sometimes it’s absolutely amazing the generosity of people who have hardly anything.”
Nationally, the Red Cross has committed $11 million for typhoon relief efforts.
Generosity isn’t limited to large-scale operations, though. Some Michigan residents have taken their own steps, like Hollyann Powers of Lowell.
Days after the typhoon, Powers organized a dinner and raffle in Ionia, where she grew up. She raised about $1,000 by selling plates of home-cooked traditional Filipino dishes.
“My mom is from the Philippines and we have a lot of family over there,” she said. “Most of the efforts were geared towards bigger cities, and we wanted to do something for the rural areas that aren’t getting the help they need.”
Powers said that residents in her relatives’ small hometown of Ilihan in Bohol Province have said that relief supplies are not reaching their rural area and have blamed possible corruption.
“We heard about a truck that was supposed to donate 50 bags of rice – by the time it made it to Ilihan, it only had one bag of rice left,” she said. “They think maybe the politicians had something to do with it.”
Accounts like that are why Powers’ mother traveled to deliver the money personally and will be staying until March to assist with relief efforts.
And she’s not the only member of her family taking relief efforts into their own hands. Powers’ two nieces in Illinois have organized fundraising efforts – along with her 7-year-old stepson Aidan, who lives in Greenville.
“He decorated a coffee can with a bunch of glitter and he took it around his school and around the neighborhood, and he raised about $150,” she said. “He did it all on his own.”
Powers plans to hold another dinner and raffle in early January. She says she hopes people will still realize the importance of the relief efforts weeks or months down the line.
“There hasn’t been much coverage on the news, and that’s the thing. People should know that even if they’re just hearing about it, it’s not too late to donate,” she said. “There’s still a lot to do and people still need help.”
By BECKY McKENDRY