By Susan Gately - 22 February, 2014
When Audrey Hallihan saw the images of super typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines in November 2013, she felt “horrified and helpless”.
At work in the family’s chemist in Dungarvan, they came up with the idea of getting a container, filling it with material and sending it to the Philippines.
Her family had connections to the Focolare movement who have many social projects there, and a Focolare social services centre in Cebu immediately said they would be delighted to accept the aid.
The top ten list of things needed included non perishable food, toiletries, hand sanitisers, antiseptic wipes, disposable gloves, towels, sheets, water, toys, baby bottles and clothing.
Audrey thought she could collect the goods and then send it through another established charity, but this proved not possible. She went to local papers and on the local radio, and the Déise Philippine Appeal was born.
“The response was overwhelming,” she said.
“Almost every national school, community groups far and wide organised collections and with the help of the local Town Council and Volunteers from the Men’s Shed Initiative, bags and bags of collections were gathered and collected in trailers, trucks and cars and brought to two storage containers that were on loan to me.”
By mid December, fifteen schools were involved, ten community groups and a number of pharmaceutical supply companies were donating materials.
“I really wasn’t working in the pharmacy,” says Audrey laughing. “I was lucky I worked for my family because otherwise I would have been fired.”
Their pharmacy became a regular drop off point for material with rows of black sacks continuously building up in the storage area and people dropping in donations to cover the cost of the containers and other administrative costs.
A local bar in Dungarvan ran a music and raffle night to raise money towards the cost of the container too.
Soon Audrey realised that she had enough material to fill a 40 foot container, but people were still contributing. A linen supplier heard of the project and donated 5,0000 bed sheets.
“People gave and gave and gave,” says Audrey. “They emptied their hearts and their homes. Everyone wanted to do something. People showed their humanity and their generosity of spirit.”
Problems on the ground in Dungarvan were overcome as they arose. But a huge obstacle appeared when Audrey was informed that sending “used clothes” to the Philippines was prohibited by law.
Emails went to and from a Filipino Government department, as she begged for an exemption, explaining that the Focolare was not going to sell the clothing, but distribute it to those in need.
Finally on 19 December 2013, Audrey heard that a solution had been found, and the clothes could go. “I cried with sheer delight,” she says.
The shipment was to leave on 6 January 2014, but another problem was causing sleepless nights.
A legal document, the Deed of Donation, which had to be authenticated in both the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Filipino Embassy in London, seemed to have been mislaid in the embassy.
Without it the consignment could not leave on 6 January.
Early in January Audrey rang the Filipino embassy. Everyone was on holidays.
Eventually she got through to a lady who dealt with lost passports. The lady explained this was not her area, but when she heard what Déise were doing, she began to cry.
“Thank you for helping my people,” she said, and undertook to find the document and get it back in time.
On 6 January, sixty volunteers helped to load two forty foot containers with a mountain of goods – boxes of non perishable food, toiletries, bedding, toys, torches, rosaries, clothing and footwear.
Everything wrapped in clear plastic bags and labelled. A local priest blessed the consignment and the two forty foot containers left – one completely full, the second half full.
“These containers are filled with love and hope for all of you to enjoy and bring some comfort from the people of Dungarvan, Waterford and beyond…” Audrey wrote in a mail to her contact in the Philippines as the containers left.
Unfortunately bad weather has lengthened the journey by sea from Ireland to the Philippines and the containers are not due to arrive until early March.
In the meantime, almost €2,000 raised in cash has been wired to the Bukas Palad Social Centre in Cebu and the money is already in use rebuilding houses.