As Typhoon Washi hit the Southern Philippines city of Iligan with heavy rains and strong winds on December 17, 2011, Paul Sylvia was in San Jose, Calif., watching videos of the devastation in the city his wife Liberty and 3-year-old son Ezekiel call home.
As the storm continued, Sylvia tried calling his wife, but because of downed communication lines, he could not get through.
Sylvia, a U.S. citizen, left his family in the Philippines two years ago to secure support for his volunteer work there helping local children. The 52-year-old has not returned to Iligan because of health issues related to two strokes, one of which left him in a coma for two weeks.
Almost daily calls to his family are the San Jose resident’s only way of connecting with his wife and son. Without the ability to contact his family during the storm that displaced more than 250,000 people, Sylvia panicked as he watched the floods wash away familiar streets, buildings, landmarks and a bridge he came to know well after working for five years as a volunteer at an Iligan church.
Not knowing how he could reach his family, Sylvia contacted his local Red Cross for help.
“I knew that the Red Cross does a lot of good work,” said Sylvia, who went to the San Jose office of the Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter to file a disaster tracing request to find his family.
Last year, 781 families in 99 countries were reconnected with the help of American Red Cross caseworkers.
Hawley Rising, a volunteer who has been working in International Services for the Silicon Valley Chapter since 2004, started the search process for Sylvia.
“You’re hoping the delivery of news will be good,” said Rising, a mathematician who is also a humanitarian law instructor and chair of the chapter’s International Services Committee.
Three days after filing the tracing paperwork, Rising received an email from Red Cross national headquarters saying Liberty and Ezekiel were found at a Red Cross shelter in Iligan.
Although his wife and son have not been able to return home, he said knowing they are safe and now staying with friends from their church gives him “comfort and assurance.”
“Thank god for the Red Cross,” said Sylvia. “If it wasn’t for the Red Cross, I would still be searching. It gives people hope when something bad happens.”
Learn more about the Restoring Family Links program and how you can support it.