West Michigan Woman Spending Thanksgiving Helping With Typhoon Haiyan Relief

Posted at 9:15 PM, Nov 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-27 22:54:31-05

PHILIPPINES –It’s been more than two weeks since Mother Nature wreaked havoc in the Philippines, and the clean up after Typhoon Haiyan is far from over. In one of the hardest hit areas, Tacloban City, recovery teams are still finding bodies buried in the rubble.

Twenty-four-year-old Elsa Thomasma, a Sturgis native, lived through the storm and is still there working to rebuild.

She moved to the Philippines in February, working for the ‘GoAbroad Foundation.’ She and Carter Brown, another Sturgis native, survived after helping people to safety when the Typhoon struck.

Now Elsa says she’s focused the relief effort, won’t be moving back to West Michigan anytime soon.

In the days following the storm the reality of just how extensive the devastation was started to sink in and Thomasma said she knew she couldn’t leave.

“When we finally learned there was a military plane to come pick some of us up I just decided I couldn’t,” she said.  “My heart could not leave.”

FOX spoke with Thomasma on Skype while she was in Manila for a few days coordinating with staff through the GoAbroad Foundation and the non-profit ‘Volunteer for the Visayans.’

The latter is a group dedicated to bettering the lives of the locals in and around Tacloban, now focused on rebuilding an entire community.

“Now I have multiple community centers that need repair and multiple evacuation centers that need to be built and thousands of homes that need to be restored. It’s defiantly changed my perspective on everything but I think this is where I’m supposed to be right now,” Thomasma said.

She is focused on fundraising efforts and bringing volunteers to the area, she says the people of Tacloban have shown great resilience and optimism and because of that she just can’t walk away.

“When I first moved here I was saying,  I’ll be here for a year or two but then after realizing it’s been almost a year and especially after the storm, two years would be an absolute minimum. I can’t imagine leaving here. I just have no reason to leave yet; 5 years, 10 years who knows,” she said.

If you would like to help with Typhoon Haiyan relief, visit Volunteer for the Visayans’ webpage.