Typhoon Haiyan prompts desire to help

When Rebecca Coll read about Verena Mila Rawnsley and Suzie Rawnsley and their fears for family members when typhoon Haiyan devastated the city of Tacloban in the Philippines last month, she immediately wanted to help.

The mother and daughter had just learnt on social media that Tacloban had been destroyed, thousands of people killed and 220,000 evacuated.

Verena Rawnsley had two elderly sisters and other family members in the city and did not know whether they had survived.

It took a while for news to filter through that they were alive, but had no access to food or water and nowhere to live.

Suzie Rawnsley was eventually able to keep track of their progress through a cousin on social media. But there were ongoing fears, particularly for her two elderly aunties, when they were forced to make their way to an airport for evacuation.

It was a long walk with considerable danger.

After reading an Illawarra Mercury article about the family's plight, Mrs Coll, of Woonona, managed to track the Rawnsleys down seven weeks ago.

She and Suzie Rawnsley registered with the Red Cross and started raising funds to help displaced residents.

"We started communicating with each other on social media and thinking of ideas," Mrs Coll said.

Since then, there have been many fund-raising activities for the typhoon victims.

The two women started by physically running around Wollongong's northern suburbs collecting donations from anyone they could.

"But over the past month we have held a Filipino food stall at the Bulli Parish Hope Twilight Market and raised $555," Mrs Coll said.

Ms Rawnsley's mother and other members of Wollongong's Filipino community cooked for the stand and a new Asian Grocer at Fairy Meadow donated all the food.

"That was worth about $300," Mrs Coll said.

"We have also raised an additional $2500 through other fund-raising. This was possible due to some great community donations and lots of hard work."

Many small businesses have taken collection boxes and nurses at two hospitals have been involved.

Mrs Coll said a toy drive was also run at Fernwood women's fitness gym at Woonona.

"The owner, Janet Binns, has given our typhoon appeal the gifts from the annual Fernwood Wishing Tree," she said.

"The response from the members has been fantastic and we have had some very generous donations."

The Red Cross is in the process of freighting the toys to bring joy to the faces of many children who have lost everything.

But fund-raising is continuing because it will take a long time to rebuild a city the size of Wollongong and its residents will be displaced for a considerable time.

Among the activities coming up in the New Year is a Red Cross gold-coin donation children's disco during the school holidays.

"We are trying to find a venue at the moment," Ms Rawnsley said.

Mrs Coll said she wanted to say thank-you to the Illawarra community for what it had done already and the ongoing donations to people in need.

Ms Rawnsley said it was amazing what the Wollongong community had done to date.

She said the help coming at Christmas was particularly good because people in the Philippines always had a big celebration at this time of the year.

Wollongong people had given the typhoon survivors a reason to continue to celebrate and the efforts had definitely helped lift the spirits of her family members, who were now out of danger.

"They got on the plane," Ms Rawnsley said.

"My mum has two sisters and they have their children and grandchildren with them. The two families did get separated, though. One went to Manila and my other aunty went to Cebu.

"They have lost everything, including the family home, which has been in the family for generations, but the main thing is they are safe. In the process of getting out of Tacloban city, I had one aunty who was very ill and didn't have any of her medication. My two aunties are in their 80s and we were worried they would not be able to walk all the way to the airport. And a lot of people were being robbed for what they had left."

Ms Rawnsley said seeing the amazing support of Wollongong people was also helping her mother feel more positive, because she felt she was able to actually do something to help.

Her mother enjoyed cooking the chicken and the fried rice for the food stall and her own daughter Chloe, 5, enjoyed helping to serve customers.

"She has even given her pocket money to her cousins overseas," she said.

Chloe also asked they send things overseas rather than giving her presents this year.

Mrs Coll said anyone interested in supporting the fund-raising could email her at becca_coll@ hotmail.com.

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