Guinsaugon, Philippines (KHNL) - Nearly 20% of Hawai'i's population claims partial or full Filipino heritage. That explains why the Filipino community was so quick to rally around the victims of the Philippines mudslide.
KHNL News 8's Diane Ako talked to ex-patriate Filipinos who may have been living abroad for decades but in their heart, still feel close to the Philippines.
Reverend Alex Vergara of the Aloha Medical Mission beamed, "I feel good and excited to be back in the Philippines for Aloha Medical Mission."
Fifteen people traveled with the Aloha Medical Mission to help victims of the February 17th mudslide in Guinsaugon.
Rev. Vergara furthered, "We're going to go to the landslide disaster area and see what we can do in terms of medical and other needs that they have."
For some of the team it's more personal than that. "To come to the Philippines is always a homecoming, of course," the Reverend Vergara continued. "To serve those whom we know are very poor is an extra incentive to come here. Knowing the language, the culture is very important."
Rev. Vergara is one of an estimated 200,000 Filipinos in Hawaii, according to the Congress of Visayan Organizations, an umbrella group of about 20 Visayan Filipino clubs. However, there are many more Filipino groups than that. "The tie is very strong. There are about 150 Philippine Island organizations in Hawai'i."
Day Day Hopkins, one of the participants of the relief mission, and a member of the Congress of Visayan Organizations, originally lived in the Philippines. She now resides in Hilo. Hopkins conveyed, "As Filipinos we always have that connection back in the (Philippine Islands). It's because we have part of our family still left behind. It might not be your direct family relations but it could be cousins, aunts, friends. At times, you're so close, they become just like relatives."
Like the others on the mission, Hopkins spent her own vacation time and money to help the evacuees.
Hopkins said, "There is closeness within. When you live in a little barangay (neighborhood), the people that live there are like a family. When part of that whole nucleus of people get hurt or stricken with an unfortunate incident like this, it's like part of you is taken away. That's why there is an urge to help out. It's like family."