Rebuilding in a Disaster’s Wake

In 2013, the Philippines suffered two of the worst natural disasters in its history. On October 15, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shattered structures and claimed more than 200 lives in the central part of the Pacific nation. Just three weeks later, Typhoon Haiyan struck the same region, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving untold devastation in its wake.

Baldomero Olivera, an HHMI professor at the University of Utah, counts himself among the lucky: his parents and extended family—who live in the Philippines—were not directly affected by the earthquake or typhoon. Yet the devastation hit close to home for him. The dual disasters destroyed the Philippine Science High School, the hub of science education for the central Philippines and the partner school for Olivera’s Chemistry to Biodiversity project.

“The school was washed away except for a concrete shell,” Olivera says. “Everything—the furniture, the roof—was gone.”

In the face of this loss, Olivera has become a scavenger on a mission. In a July 2014 letter to his HHMI professor colleagues, Olivera described his efforts and the resources that are needed to help the school restart its science education efforts once the structure itself is rebuilt. He is collecting unwanted textbooks and other printed materials, old computers, and even pipettes, test tubes, and other lab supplies.

“I’m trying to corral whatever I can to help there,” he says. “I’m sending them everything I can think of to help them rebuild.”

He has pledged a portion of his grant funds to support the school’s recovery, and HHMI has agreed to facilitate directed donations so that others can financially support the recovery effort as well. 

“This is how we can help schools there get back on their feet,” he says. “To have that opportunity to help is great, and to have HHMI’s support has been indispensable.”

-- Gisela Telis
HHMI Bulletin, Summer 2014 Update

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