West Michigan Native Continues To Rebuild In the Philippines

Posted at 4:25 PM, May 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-23 20:09:36-04

10307424_10203858296958893_1604492567932575725_nPHILIPINES., (May 23, 2014)—Its been more than six months since Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines and while clean up is far from over, progress is being made.

Especially by one woman from West Michigan who is credited with saving hundreds of lives, but Elsa Thomasma’s work isn’t done and she is still there helping to re-build.

For the 24-year-old Sturgis native the village of Cangumbang has become her home away from home but she never imagined it would change her life like it has. Thomasma says it feels like she was meant to be there and cant leave anytime soon.

In fact, with the help from her community back home, Elsa helped build a community center there which is credited for saving upwards of 300 people when the Typhoon wiped out the village.

“The people of Sturgis did something that no one could have done, could have predicted was needed and they helped it happen and I think it was all meant to be. There’s just no way anyone could have survived if that building wasn’t there. It is still really overwhelming and I don’t think I have totally accepted it yet,” she said.

The building lost its roof and sustained other damage but yet again from those back home help came and this time the center that doubles as an evacuation center has a roof that is designed to better withstand extreme winds.

Elsa says through local fundraising efforts the community of Sturgis helped raise a lot of the funds needed to rebuild and earlier this month crews completed the roof.

“Just that sense of having a roof over your head again and when it started to echo like it used to, it started to really get me excited, she said.

Just last week there was also a re-blessing of the center. Elsa says she had the kids sign a survival wall, a reminder of what they’ve been through and still all that is to come.

“Just establishing their family is here and they survived and they’ll be a part of the community for years to come. I don’t know if they really realized what they were doing but for me it was really powerful to see all those family names that are still here today,” Thomasma said.

Elsa is the Communications Coordinator for Volunteer for the Visayans. Donations to continue their projects and relief efforts can be made here:
Elsa continues to update her blog on the relief efforts and her work in Cangumbang, it can be viewed here: