Steve Charles—When Typhoon Yolanda [Haiyan] devastated the Philippines two weeks ago, the thoughts of many here at Wabash turned to Ray Jovanovich ’84. Ray’s wife, Belinda, is from the Philippines, and Ray spent many years working in Leyte with the Manila Fund. Leyte province and its capital, Tacloban City, took a direct hit.
So a few days after the storm, Ray and Belinda flew to the archipelago to check on family and friends and to volunteer for relief and recovery efforts.
And while Belinda’s family is safe—they live in southeastern Luzon, the northern edge of the storm’s intensity—what Ray saw at “Ground Zero,” the string of towns just south of Tacloben City, was horrendous.
“The sheer magnitude of the devastation was staggering,” Ray wrote by email over the weekend. “The tidal surge reached as high as 25 feet in the small towns of Tanauan and Teloso. Both were flattened; everything wiped out and the debris field stretching for miles on end.”
Ray and several friends were able to purchase or procure nearly half a ton of relief goods—family-sized mosquito nets, sleeping mats, heavy tarpulins for temporary shelters, hi energy biscuits/granola bars, graham crackers, small medical kits & isoprpyl alcohol—and distributed them in Tacloban City and nearby towns in Leyte Province.
“The people were upbeat and extremely pleased to see/meet/greet us, huge smiles everywhere; nearly unimagineable given the catastrophic events of just two weeks ago,” Ray writes. “The spirits and fortitude of these people who lost everything was high. They shared their stories and tears, plus fears for the future.
“I kept telling the folks and children we met along the way…’People around the world care about you, you will not be forgotten…tomorrow will bring a better day.’ My refrain elicited the same big smile response with thank yous resonating at every step of our path Their resilience is inspiring.
“It pressed us into further action.”
Ray and his friends are creating ‘The Yolanda Project Foundation—Leyte/Samar Initiative, ”a private non-profit effort to assist in the permanent relief, recovery and rebuilding.
When Ray took early retirement in 2011 from his work as an expert in international investment, he spoke to Wabash Magazine about his decision. Retirement was a move his father had encouraged.
“Dad stressed to me that the greatest measure of a man is his legacy: What have you improved in life for others? What have you done for those other than yourself?” Ray told us then. “I just want to reorganize my priorities, to make a contribution in a different way.”
Ray is returning to Leyte this weekend to “begin the next stage of our project.”
Ray’s dad, Robert, died in 2007, but his words were on his son’s mind like never before this past week. As Ray writes, “My father knew, before me, that there existed a higher purpose for my life. And being in this devastation, I find myself talking to him for strength.”