By: Tammy Allison – THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Halfway around the world is a family with roots to the small town of Wauseon. In the tropical island nation of the Philippines, live Art and Emily Batilo and their two daughters Rosemarie and Abigail. As the new year dawns bright upon us and their former hometown is covered under a white blanket of snow, thousands in the Philippines are still rebuilding their lives shredded by the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines. One of the biggest international newsworthy events of 2013, thousands were killed, many more declared missing, and millions left homeless.
This event may seem far removed from our rural snow covered Northwest Ohio, but for the Batilos, they have had the opportunity to witness hope and healing firsthand. Emily shares, “When you move to a third world country, there is a certain amount of adjustment to dealing with poverty and hunger every day. But this kind of destruction and suffering comes along, and it humbles you in a profound way.”
Emily’s connection to the Philippines began in 1983 as a year-long Rotary Exchange Student in Bacolod, Philippines. Sponsored by the Wauseon Rotary, then Emily Hurst, was the daughter of Wauseon Rotarian David Hurst. Emily’s parents, Trudy a former nurse at Fulton County Health Center and her father David owner of the Hurst Company Department Store, former County Commissioner, and a 40 year Rotarian, provided her with a traditional small town upbringing.
While Emily was living in the Philippines, she met John Tronco, her future husband’s first cousin. Four years after she returned to the United States, Emily was contacted by John who was working in New York City with his Filipino cousin Arthur Batilo. (In 1980, Art had left his home in the Philippines to study computer science abroad in the Castro Valley, California). The two cousins were en route to visit an aunt in Chicago and asked Emily if they could stop for a visit in Ohio. Emily provided them with directions to Wauseon, and the guys stayed at the Chief Wauseon Motel. During their visit, Art asked Emily on their first date to the Star Drive-In to watch Crocodile Dundee. Emily reminisces, “Art felt right at home amid the cornfields of Ohio, as they resemble the vast sugarcane plantations of his boyhood days in Negros, Visayas. A whirlwind romance ensued and we were married the following January 15, 1988.”
For the first ten years of their marriage, they resided in the United States near Toledo and Chicago as they built their careers in banking and electrical design. In 1991, they welcomed their daughter Rosemarie. A few years later as they were enjoying a comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago, they decided to uproot the family. Emily says, “In October 1999, we announced to our then-second grader, that we had decided to give life a try in the Philippines.”
For the next two years in the Philippines, the couple worked with “Books for the Barrios,” in which Art taught computer and math skills to Grade 6 public school students on donated computers. These kids had never seen a computer or heard of the internet. Emily volunteered in a reading program the local library called “Reading for Rice.” This program was similar to the American Accelerated Reading program but instead of being rewarded with Mr. Burkholder’s ice cream parties, children received rice, a Filipino staple, as a reward. This time allowed their daughter Rosie to learn firsthand the customs and cultures of her father’s Filipino heritage.
In June 2001 and expecting their second child, the Batilos learned that Emily’s mother had had a serious stroke. The decision was made to return to Wauseon to be closer to her family and her soon newly widowed father. They reunited with friends and family, met the Villaruz family who became like a second family, and rebuilt their lives. Emily says, “Small town life agreed with the Batilos: 4-H, Softball, church, Bible School and Filipino-American friendships grew.”
In 2012, the health of parents once again changed the course of the Batilo family’s lives. It was Art’s mother who had the stroke this time. She was requiring more assistance than long distance phone calls could provide. Emily says, “So we sold our home in the Midwest and made the journey to the Fareast, this time with 20-year old Rosemarie and 10 year-old Abigail in tow .“
The Batilo family returned to Art’s roots once again settling in his hometown of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental in the Western Visayas Islands of the Philippines. Emily explains, “It is a bustling vibrant city; located about two hours north of Art’s mother’s ancestral home, Kabankalan.” As is customary in the Filipino culture, the Batilos reside with Art’s parents in the same home within a walled compound. The extended family is involved in a variety of businesses including education, catering, mining, farming, and hotel management. Art serves as the Vice President of Operations in the family business, or Masa, managing a John Deere tractor parts store and a machine shop supporting a large family-owned sugarcane operation, mining, and hotel operation. He also assists with the development of the family’s real estate division. Emily is learning the ropes of managing Filipino family life and household. She says, “There are many opportunities to practice the native dialect Illongoo while bartering for bananas and mangos at the local market.” Daughter Rosemarie is working towards her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of LaSalle, the same school Emily attended as an exchange student 30 years ago. Younger daughter Abigail is a 7th grader in St. Scholastica’s Academy where she was voted the captain of the softball team and plays guitar.
On November 8th, the Philippines experienced one of the strongest storms in recorded history. While the Batilos were not in the direct path of the storm, they were still affected. The region they live in, Bacolod, was shielded from the worst of the storm’s wrath. Emily explains, “It has been said that being a western port city, with several mountain ranges to our east helped in this regard. This is not to say we were unaffected… there was minor flooding, power outages, damaged trees and damage to infrastructure in our immediate area. There have been food shortages and price increases due to destruction of farmland, fruit trees and livestock, as well as shortages of goods due to the re-distribution of relief goods to the most affected areas. Construction materials such as nails are a rare commodity. Power outages continue to affect our banks, schools and public services.”
The area hardest hit area, Tacloban, is about an hour drive North of them. Emily says the suffering seen on TV is very real. Emily shares from an email, “So where to begin? Whether it’s the 12 year-old girl whose legs were crushed in the rubble and sponsored by Abigail’s school since her own family cannot provide the medical care, wheelchair assistance and basic needs she requires. Then there is the father of one of Rosie’s classmate, a United States Air Force Pilot stationed in Tokyo who met us for breakfast and recounted tales of his 48-hour rescue mission in the initial aftermath and destruction in Tacloban. He got emotional when mentioning this was the most difficult assignment he has faced in his 30 years in the service, including tours of duty in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. He struggled with having to fly away in his empty aircraft from the thousands of injured, pleading and suffering victims at the Tacloban airport, as authorities prioritized his mission for relief goods deployment …all the while knowing there were medical services that could be made available to the injured in Cebu or Manila if only he could let them aboard. Or our co-workers who couldn’t return home when the radio reports from their hometown just an hour away related stories of trees crashing through homes and complete devastation of power, water supply and roads. They felt so helpless, waiting by their cell phones for days trying to contact family members and determine if it was safe to go and assist them without being an additional burden.”
Two months later, the Filipinos, a traditionally strong people, have begun rebuilding their lives. Signs display messages of ““We are Roofless, Homeless, but Not Hopeless.” Locally, schools, cities, and community organizations have provided relief and support. The Batilo family has been involved in hands-on relief efforts as well. Recent visits by Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s to Tacloban highlighted the fact that the Visayas have a long way to go on the road to recovery. UN Secretary General said at a press briefing in Metro Manila on December 22 that the United Nations and partners have launched a one-year Strategic Response Plan for 791 million U.S. dollars. Emily believes that approximately half that amount has been reached as of the end of 2013.
Continued aid and support are needed and being accepted. Many agencies familiar to United States citizens are working towards relief efforts in the aftermath of the typhoon. If you are interested in assisting, some agencies that are involved include the United Nations World Food Programme, UNICEF, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and the American and Philippines Red Cross. Donations can be made online through the various agency websites.
Emily hopes people back home in her native country will be inspired and encouraged by their story. She shares, “This kind of destruction and suffering comes along and it humbles you in a profound way. In a world of violence and greed, the suffering in the Visayas has brought an opportunity to practice Charity and Kindness; to bring out the best in human hearts. The faithful people throughout the Visayas have shown the world that even in the most difficult situations, we can choose to Glorify God with resounding Gratitude and Faith.”
Tammy Allison may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org