Christmas Amid Typhoon Haiyan's Ruins

A month after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing thousands and destroying many homes, rescue workers are helping the community to rebuild the area and get people back on their feet. But many celebrated this holiday season without gifts or electricity. NPR's Linda Wertheimer talks with Save the Children aid worker Katie Seaborne to get the latest on the rebuilding effort.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Scott Simon is away. A month after typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, we're reaching out to a relief worker, Katie Seaborne with Save the Children, to ask how the country is recovering. Katie joins us via Skype from Estancia on Panay Island. Towns on that north side of the island were directly in the path of the typhoon. Thanks so much for joining us, Katie.

KATIE SEABORNE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we were not at all sure we'd be able to talk to you because electricity apparently is still unreliable where you are. What can you tell us about the conditions under which people are living in Estancia? Are things improving?

SEABORNE: They are. People are really doing everything they can to get on their feet, trying to rebuild houses with what little materials they have left and trying to clear debris from the roads. There's signs all around saying thank you to everyone who helped. One signs says homeless, roofless, but not hopeless which really, I think, sums up the attitude around here.

But, you know, you talk about how the typhoon ripped through this town and it's so true. You can still see devastation everywhere, And the typhoon came and it really destroyed fishing boats and harvests and these coconut trees, which so many people rely on here for their livelihoods. It's often their only source of income.

WERTHEIMER: What about the government of the Philippines? Have you seen much of them in the past month?

SEABORNE: Absolutely. I mean, Save the Children is working with the government to repair schools, to repair health clinics that have been damaged by the typhoon, but frankly the devastation was such a massive scale that the government and the local people have been totally overwhelmed.

WERTHEIMER: What sorts of things have you been doing? What has Save The Children been doing?

SEABORNE: Well, obviously, we focus on children, but we're looking at livelihoods. You know, I was saying that fishing boats have been destroyed and people are now really struggling. So we'll be working with fishermen to try to support them to repair their boats. We're repairing schools that children can go - try and go back to school. Over 3,000 schools were damaged, meaning that over a million children are now not being able to go back to school.

So we are really still working around the clock to do what we can to make sure that families can get back on their feet.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this is a holiday week and the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country. Has there been any Christmas celebrating going on?

SEABORNE: Yeah. It's actually been really inspiring. I mean, I've spoken to many families. One woman called Rosalie who explained that, you know, any money they had that they would've spent maybe on buying some food or some presents for their children this year is really just being spent on recovering and rebuilding their houses. But it is amazing how people have found kind of low cost ways of celebrating Christmas with makeshift Christmas trees or makeshift decorations despite the fact that they obviously don't have much money this year.

WERTHEIMER: That is Katie Seaborne with Save the Children speaking to us from Panay Island in the Philippines. Katie, thank you very much.

SEABORNE: Thank you very much, Linda.

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