A personal relief mission to the Philippines

Josephine Fernandez is returning to her hometown in the Philippines for a month to help with typhoon relief efforts. (MPR photo/Dan Olson)

My conversation with Josephine Fernandez opened my eyes to the realities of travel in the tropical nation of the Philippines that’s made up of more than 7,000 islands. I’ll profile the 54-year-old Fridley resident in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices today as part of All Things Considered.

Fernandez has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, but despite the decades, her ties to her homeland are strong. When she heard about the damage inflicted on the area near her hometown, Fernandez knew she had to do something to help.

The 20-hour trip by plane to get from Minnesota to Manila is long, but about what I’d expect to cover a distance of 7,800 miles.  It’s the rest of her itinerary that paints a picture of the rawness of the archipelago nation.

Once Josephine arrives in Manila, she’ll board a bus for the trip to her home town of Borongan City near the middle of the country. It’s on the island of Samar just east of Leyte Island where the heaviest damage was done in Tacloban.

Josephine’s travel time is unknown, but likely it will be measured in days.

The reason, of course is because of the destruction caused by the typhoon. Josephine says travelers need to be self-contained and bring their own food and cooking oil.  And she’s hearing that travel times are so long that bus travelers are doing their laundry during stops and hanging the clothes from the bus to dry in tropical heat that can exceed 100 degrees.

The death toll from the typhoon is currently in the thousands.  Josephine has had no first-hand communication with family but has heard there were no deaths in her village. It’s about 40 miles as the crow flies from Tacloban. She plans to remain in the Philippines for a month to help.

Josephine was trained as a medical doctor in the Philippines, although she’s not licensed to practice here.

She’s assembling a team of folks in Manila to join her in the month-long relief mission in Samar to deal the diseases that are inevitable after a big tropical storm.  Her oldest daughter, a stem cell researcher in this country, will join her later.