The Bayanihan Spirit in Action, Filipino Community Coming Together to Help the Maui Fires Victims

It’s encouraging and heartfelt that Filipino organizations across the state have risen to the challenge in the last two months by raising funds to help victims of the Maui wildfires. Some Filipino organizations are working with the Hawaii Community Foundation. Others are working directly with victims.

Our community knows that Maui Filipinos have been disproportionately affected by the disaster with Lahaina’s (hardest hit) population comprising nearly 40% Filipino.

What we’re hearing of what’s needed: 1) more guidance to access federal and state relief and 2) greater outreach to inform victims of what’s available. For some Filipino immigrants, there are language barriers that hopefully the state and bilingual Filipino volunteers can help with. Some of our older generation nanas and tatas not tech savvy also need help with internet navigation to access relief assistance.  In-person relief access workshops are perhaps needed.

The next and most critical is helping our English-challenged and low computer skilled older immigrants with their insurance claims. We know that there are many Filipinos who work for private insurers. We encourage them to volunteer and hold insurance claims workshops. The Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce (MFCC) should coordinate and lead multiple workshops on relief access and insurance claims.

We’d like to extend a big mahalo to our community’s organizations doing great charitable work, to name only a few, the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii (FCCH), Filipino Chambers in Lihue, Hilo and West Hawaii, the Honolulu Jaycees, the Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii (PMAH), Bayanihan Clinic Without Walls (BCWW), the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAAH) the Filipino Association of University Women (FAUW), and Filipino Mental Health Initiative in Hawai’i.

We are all realistic that rebuilding Maui will take years and continuous assistance will be needed. We encourage all organizations to keep the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle abreast of your relief efforts. Send us press releases and we’ll help to promote your events that benefit Maui’s victims and rebuilding.

Millennial Fil-Ams should know that Filipinos collaborating to benefit the community is a cultural custom called Bayanihan. The Bayanihan spirit refers to the communal desire of Filipinos to show acts of kindness to those in need. The Maui wildfires crisis is the perfect time to teach by example our children and younger generation this very old Filipino custom.

Putting locals first is listening to the people of Maui
Gov. Josh Green’s emphasis on getting input from Maui residents in the rebuilding process is smart and fair. Maui residents should have a powerful say in what they’d like their community to be like more than special interest groups solely interested in making a profit. 

Green also said the state will make every effort to use local workers and local companies to complete projects.

Arguably the Governor’s greatest advocacy for Maui locals is in protecting victims’ property. He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “I want to emphasize again, the land in Lahaina is reserved for its people as they return and rebuild, and I instructed the attorney general to impose enhanced criminal penalties, including up to a year in prison, on anyone who tries to take advantage of survivors by the unsolicited acquiring of property in affected areas of Maui.” Attorney General Anne Lopez said that her office receives complaints every day about no Hawaii attorneys soliciting for their clients.

Clearly, whether Maui residents choose to stay in Maui and rebuild or to leave is their choice. But during this critical period of shock and vulnerability, Maui wildfires victims should not be preyed upon and led into a decision they could possibly regret.

The governor already has in motion some worthy programs. But the full power of the state to advocate for Maui will come in the upcoming legislative session.

House Speaker Scott Saiki has created six House working groups looking at various aspects of the fire that Saiki expects will lead to legislation as the session begins. The groups will focus on wildfire prevention; cleaning up ground and ocean contamination; food, water and other supplies distributed to fire evacuees; jobs and business; strategies to educate Maui schoolchildren; and temporary and transitional shelter for evacuees.

Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, Maui residents in some disaster locations were allowed to see the rubble, or what’s left, of their homes for the first time. Authorities have been allowing residents to return in phases. Those who returned were able to utilize support services in the area, including shuttles, washing stations, portable toilets, and medical and mental health care.

Some residents say seeing the damage in person is something that just needs to be done. It’s not closure but can help in letting go and looking to the future. Most who returned to the fire zones stepped into roofless structures without walls. All their personal belongings carried away by the winds as ash.

At least they were able to make it out alive and say they are thankful for this. Others returning to their burnt down homes are also returning to the site of where their husband or wife, parent or child perished in the fire.

Let us keep moving forward with empathy and the bayanihan spirit and continue to do charitable work helping our Maui brothers and sisters.

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