STURGIS, Mich.- West Michigan woman Elsa Thomasma survived Typhoon Haiyan, then stayed to help with the recovery.
Thomasma, 24, has been volunteering in the Philippines since 2009 and says she felt a strong connection with helping the people there after Haiyan.
While building homes for families Elsa decided to take on a much larger project, an evacuation center big enough to hold the whole village.
“I just kept thinking that if I didn’t do anything else in my life I knew that I raised that money and that center would be built,” she said.
She says she knew the small village of Cangumbang needed help; the frequent flooding constantly destroyed the family’s homes and belongings.
With the help of Holy Angels Church in Sturgis, Elsa quickly raised more than $30,000, petitioning the government to build the center and filling out hundreds of documents to make the dream a reality.
She says the timing played out perfectly, with the evacuation center being complete in August before the storm.
Still, the strongest storm in recorded history was headed right for the tiny village and Elsa questioned whether the new center would be able to withstand the nearly 200 mph winds Haiyan brought.
“When I saw the center in the distance, literally it was the only thing standing in that area,” Elsa said after the typhoon hit.
The center withstood the powerful storm, saving the life of every single person in the village. Every home in the village was destroyed.
“All I could do was just cry because I was so happy that they were there,” Elsa said. “But, then looking out the center and seeing all of the devastation was horrifying thinking about how was I going to rebuild all of that.”
Elsa says she doesn’t think she can claim she saved the lives of those in the village, though most would disagree.
She now feeds 120 children on average each day and is looking to expand that number.
She says now is time to clean up and keep moving on.
Elsa is the Communications Coordinator for Volunteer for the Visayans. Donations to continue their projects and relief efforts can be made here: www.visayans.org/donate
Elsa says you can also donate to the relief effort here: https://www.causes.com/campaigns/64906-raise-funds-to-support-relief-efforts-in-tacloban-city
Elsa continues to update her blog on the relief efforts and her work in Cangumbang, it can be viewed here: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog/elsat/5/tpod.html