Finding grace amid the storm

"No matter how many times you go to these disaster sites, you can't help getting affected... after seeing the devastation," Ms Doreen Tan said.

The 41-year-old manager with the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) was part of the Singapore Red Cross team sent to the Philippines to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

The Nov 8 typhoon has claimed nearly 4,000 lives. Another 18,200 people are injured and 1,600 are missing.

The team, which consisted of four people, arrived at Leyte island, one of the worst-hit areas, last Thursday.

After liaising with the Philippines Red Cross, they went to affected areas to distribute food rations.

"One of the villages we went to, Mahayahay, had many houses with roofs torn off. There were also uprooted trees," said team member Eileen Lew, a 35-year-old assistant director with SGH.

Ms Tan recounted that when they first reached Mahayahay, a village of about 160 people, the villagers cheered.

"What really strikes me is their resilience. Despite what had happened to them, they could still find it in them to smile and laugh," Ms Tan said. In the same vein, Ms Lew said the children there were seen happily playing.

"The atmosphere was not as intense as you would imagine," she recounted.

One of the villagers told Ms Tan that she used to sell coconuts, but could not do so anymore because all coconut trees in the area have been destroyed by the typhoon.

Ms Tan recounted: "Something she (the villager) said really struck me. She said, 'I'm not crying anymore as there're no more tears left to shed'."

Heartbroken by the villager's words, Ms Tan reached out to hug her and the villager burst into tears.

"At that point, I couldn't help myself, so I started crying too," she said. Another affected area the team visited was Malapascua, an island north of Cebu which has about 1,200 inhabitants.

"There, we could really feel the community spirit of the people affected," said Ms Tan.

Ms Lew said that people there would help their neighbours fill up ration cards which were given by the team when they could not do so themselves.

Ms Tan said: "They're very gracious. They're also honest. We split into teams to give out the cards, and when my team was at an area Doreen's had already visited, the people refused the cards, saying they already had them."

Ms Lew believes that situations like these show the resilience of the human spirit.

"The community spirit in the rural regions is very strong. When they hear that help is coming, they see hope," she maintained.

The team is back in Singapore after leaving the Philippines on Monday.

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