Soon after the powerful Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into Luzon, the largest and northernmost island in the Philippine archipelago, on 14 September, the Korean Buddhist humanitarian NGO the Join Together Society (JTS) rapidly deployed a team of volunteer relief workers to provide aid and assistance to communities affected by the super typhoon.
Led by field office head Lee Wonjoo, three JTS Philippines staff members traveled to Benguet Province from the JTS center in Libona Municipality in northern Mindanao, where they were joined by a team of six Korean volunteers to extend aid to the stricken area. Once in the field, the team surveyed the impact of the typhoon, and set up distribution system to supply local residents with basic staples and relief goods, such as rice and other food products, and essential household items, including mosquito nets, plates, spoons, cups, soap, stationery, and cooking utensils. The JTS volunteers were able to bring material relief assistance to some 440 households in Itogon, and a further 65 households in nearby Loacan.
The Philippine’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported on 22 September that at least 95 people were killed by Typhoon Mangkhut (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ompong), including 80 who perished in a mine collapse in the town of Itogon in Benguet Province.
“Although our relief activities have already concluded, the precious experience of helping these suffering communities remains with me,” JTS Philippines staff member Park Sihyun told Buddhistdoor Global. “On the first day, we visited and surveyed the areas affected by Typhoon Mangkhut. On the second day, we brought in relief supplies, and distributed them on day three.”
Founded as an expression of the compassion of engaged Buddhism and the belief that helping others is the best way to enrich one’s own life, Join Together Society International was established in 1993 by the Korean Seon (Zen) master Venerable Pomnyun Sunim.* Headquartered in Seoul, JTS operates program offices in South Korea, Germany, and the US, along with field offices in India and the Philippines.
Charged with bringing hope, empowerment, and self-reliance to underprivileged communities in developing countries, JTS is run and manned by unpaid volunteers, which ensures that all donations go toward benefitting the marginalized communities with which the organization works. JTS has already completed humanitarian projects in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, and Sri Lanka.
According to an announcement by an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, some 5.7 million people in the Philippines were affected by the huge storm, with Luzon taking the brunt of the Impact. Damages were reportedly more than double the government’s worst-case-scenario expectation—the NDRRMC gave a preliminary estimate of the damage cost in the Philippines of US$392 million as of 25 September.
“Local residents said their community had been left heartbroken by the loss of family members and homes to landslides caused by the Typhoon Mangkhut, yet they told us that the relief supplies provided by JTS were a great comfort,” said Park. “I still remember the grateful smiles we received while distributing aid, and I’ll never forget the enthusiasm of the volunteers. I hope from the bottom of my heart that the affected communities can be rehabilitated and returned safely to their homes as soon as possible.”
JTS Philippines, established in 2002, operates 51 project areas in 19 cities and municipalities in six provinces. It is engaged in a variety of humanitarian initiatives, including building schools, providing school supplies for disadvantaged students (such as uniforms, stationery, bags, and umbrellas), teacher-training programs, and community leadership training.
Typhoon Mangkhut, was a Category 5 super typhoon that emerged on 7–9 September, making landfall in Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, before dissipating over Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China on 17 September. Reaching a peak intensity of 285 kilometers per hour Mangkhut was the strongest tropical cyclone in the world, year to date, leading to the deaths of some 127 people and causing more than US$1.35 billion in damage to populated areas.
* Engaging with Suffering, Realizing Freedom: An Interview with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (Buddhistdoor Global)