Member Helped Filipinos Rebuild After Typhoon

Laura Olson digs through cement rubble for the footings of the Foursquare Church in Matlang on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. "Everything was done by hand," Olson said. "The local workers did not even have gloves!"

Laura Olson digs through cement rubble for the footings of the Foursquare Church in Matlang on the island of Leyte in the Philippines.
“Everything was done by hand,” Olson said. “The local workers did not even have gloves!”

After Typhoon Haiyan leveled the Philippines late last year, SEA member Laura Olson knew she needed to help in some way. So when her church began planning a mission trip, she sprung into action.

This was the progress we made in less than  two weeks.  You can see the cement foundation walls beginning to take structure. "Remember, we carried bags of cement and dirt 1,000 yards, mixed the cement by hand, and carried the hand-made cement blocks 20 yards to the site," Olson said. "These are two of the local workers who were on the project with me.  You can see how cheerful they are by the time we left!"

This was the progress we made in less than two weeks. You can see the cement foundation walls beginning to take structure. “Remember, we carried bags of cement and dirt 1,000 yards, mixed the cement by hand, and carried the hand-made cement blocks 20 yards to the site,” Olson said. “These are two of the local workers who were on the project with me. You can see how cheerful they are by the time we left!”

Olson, who’s a labor inspector with the Department of Labor, put out an appeal to her fellow SEA members to help raise money so she could join the trip. With some hard work, her 15-member group from Grace Capital Church met and surpassed its goal of $45,000. The group completed its trip in March, and Olson said she continues to process her experience.

“I can tell you, it was the best experience of my lifetime, and I’m grateful to everyone who made it happen,” she said. “We were able to help rebuild four physical churches, and we were able to financially help 10 churches. But beyond the physical labor, we were helping to rebuild people, as well.”

The devastation, Olson said, was beyond description.

“They had no electricity when we were there,” she said. “The water was turned on between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m., and they had to gather water to last them 24 hours until it was on again.”

Olson said her group arrived eager to lend a hand, but their volunteer efforts weren’t immediately appreciated by the Filipinos laboring for $8 a day.

“What I learned in short order was that I needed to earn their respect in order to work alongside them,” she said. “In less than 38 hours, I was digging trenches, mixing cement and building walls with them.”

“When they saw we were there to help and not take away, and we learned their culture, everything changed,” Olson said.

A crucial takeaway, Olson noted, was becoming aware of how she and her fellow volunteers were watching the Filipinos as they tried to adapt to their culture.

“It made me sensitive to how people watch us, as state employees and leaders in the state of New Hampshire,” she said. “Because of that, we need to not only set the standard, but raise it.”

Olson said her experience in the state’s Bureau of Education and Training Certified Public Manager program came in handy on her trip.

“The skills I learned in that program, I applied in the Philippines,” she said. “And the skills I learned there, I’ve been able to apply to my work here. It’s amazing the value of service, whether we’re serving the people of New Hampshire or the world. Quality service and respect is what it’s all about.”

This won’t be her last mission trip, Olson said, though this one did take a bit of a toll on her.

“I think it was about my third week back before I truly realized I was back in 03301,” she said. “I was so healthy and strong the whole time over there, then when I came back I was so sick. The flight home was about 40 hours of travel time, because we had an 11 hour layover in Taipei.”

Now that she’s home and feeling better, though, she wanted to make sure she thanked everyone who helped make the trip possible.

“There were people I didn’t even know who donated,” Olson said. “They should know they made it possible to give someone hope to continue on. There were times we were not working on physical buildings, but rebuilding people so they could continue on.”

“I will be forever grateful,” she said.

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