Headwaters Relief Organization responds to disasters around the world with support for emotional loss and rebuilding.  Headwaters Relief believes that developing cultural competence is critical to serving those whose lives have been upended by disaster.  

Arceli Gerona-Diaz , a  native of the Philippines, responded to her nation’s call when disaster struck.  She returned to the Philippines with a team of volunteers from Headwaters Relief, assisting with translations and conveying his deep understanding of cultural norms. This is her story: 

I grew up in one of the northern provinces of the Philippines, the oldest of five sisters, but I had never been to the south of the country until I returned as part of a relief team going to Tacloban after the devastating typhoon.  This was my first trip with Headwaters, and I was asked to go along to help our volunteers overcome language barriers and understand Filipino culture.  I was also excited for the opportunity to go home after six years away.  I had talked to my family and knew they were fine, but I wanted to do what I could to help those whose lives were washed away.  We arrived on a Sunday morning, tired after 22 hours on planes, and went right to work.

Driving into the destruction, I saw that all of the towering palm trees, and the coconuts, were gone – blown away by the fierce winds that accompanied the typhoon. That was a major crop for local people, and the economic impact was likely to be crippling. I was surprised by the amount of damage, because the Philippines have 19 or 20 typhoons a year, but I had never seen anything like this devastation. We were assigned to medical teams, and worked with a lot of children who were having nightmares.  I helped to translate for the doctors and nurses.  I speak Filipino – Tagalog – but I had some initial challenges with local dialects that were unfamiliar to me.  I would ask if they could speak Tagalog so I could translate it to English!  Tagalog and English are the main languages taught in Filipino schools.  I fell into speaking Tagalog again quickly, though. In fact, at one point, I was talking to my colleague from America and she had to remind me to speak English.

There were so many people who were sick, and you could not see anything but rubble, but the spirit of the Filipino people is strong.  People were smiling, and were positive that they would get through this. I was proud of my countryman, and of the role Headwaters was playing in their recovery.  I kept a letter that we got from a local councilman who expressed his heartfelt thanks for our work.

It was great to see my Dad and sisters in person, but it was also so fulfilling to help people who need it.  I came back and told my children how lucky we are.  We take our homes, and the meals we eat three times a day, for granted.  Nothing will be normal in Tacloban for a long time.

Read about another Headwaters Relief volunteer, Jameson Leo, a native of Haiti, who also returned to his native country to work with Headwaters Relief.