Hong Kong's Filipino community raise funds to help Typhoon Haiyan victims back home

In a small room tucked under the St Joseph's Church in Central, a mini-bazaar is underway, selling items ranging from reading glasses to jeans to hair bands.

Thumbing through flannel pyjamas imprinted with the Hong Kong Airlines logo, Filipino domestic helper Cilma Obiaras says softly: "Eight years of sacrifice. Gone in one day. Back to zero."

Her family's home in Roxas City, Capiz province, which the 32-year-old had helped pay for with her earnings here, had been pulverised by Typhoon Haiyan. It swept through Central Philippines on Friday, leaving deaths and destruction in its wake.

Groups in Hong Kong had been quick to spring to action to help those affected.

"We are raising funds from selling these items from sponsors first, and then we will do cash collections among church members throughout today," says Ms Arsie Barbado, coordinator of the St Joseph's Filipino Catholic Group which organised the sale on Sunday.

It is unclear yet what the Philippines consulate's plans are. While it was open on Sunday, only a skeletal crew was working, said its receptionist. There are "no plans as of now" for meetings for a fund-raising campaign, she said.

News of the typhoon had come as a shock to Hong Kong's sizeable Filipino community. About 150,000 live here; two-thirds work as domestic helpers while the rest are professionals and skilled and semi-skilled workers.

Another domestic helper affected is Ms Daphne Valdez, 43. Her parents and niece live in Sagay City, in the province of Negros Occidental.

She last spoke with them on Thursday night. But she could not reach them for two days, as electricity poles were toppled.

"No phone lines, no Internet. I was so scared, so worried," she says. On Saturday, her sister-in-law, who lives in Bacolod City drove 2.5 hours to get to the house. There, she found the roof gone, but the parents, aged 69 and 68, still safe, huddling within.

"Luckily, the typhoon came in the day, because if it had come at night in the darkness, I cannot imagine what would happen," says Ms Valdez.

Similarly, Ms Obiaras is thankful that her parents are safe. A neighbour had a small electricity generator and so they were able to re-charge their phones and speak with her.

After Sunday's day off, when the helpers cried and found solace in one another, they will be back at work on Monday.

"Now, we have to look ahead, and rebuild our house," says Ms Obiaras.

xueying@sph.com.sg