Amy Roberts: A Park City/Philippines S.O.S. call
As a writer, there are times when you sit in front of a keyboard and you know, no matter what you type, it will be inadequate. Before you even tell the story, you know you’re incapable of doing it justice. Some stories are like taking a picture of a magnificent sunset. No matter how hard you try or how perfect the angle, the photo will never accurately convey the true wonder. The words will never capture the true emotion.
This is one of those times.
It’s the story of Ariel Laure, who moved to Park City from the Philippines five years ago, in hopes of providing a better life for his family back home. Between two full-time jobs, one as a cook at the hospital and one as a front-desk clerk at a hotel, and several side jobs, including his own chocolatier business, Ariel works an average of 100 hours a week.
No matter how tired he is, or how much he longs for a day off, Ariel always has a smile on his face. He’s the kind of employee every manager wants on the team. Dependable, friendly, and skilled are just the beginning. He’s genuinely thankful to have the opportunity to go to work. Honored to contribute.
Even last week he managed to be all smiles — despite being grief-stricken and sick with worry.
Typhoon Haiyan had just annihilated the Philippine island of Leyte, where his family lives. With no communication on the island, Ariel spent hours on the Internet, hoping to find information about his loved ones. It’s how he learned his grandparents and several cousins died and would be buried in a mass grave with other victims. He could tell from the photos online there was nothing left of the house he bought for his family to live in, and paid to maintain.
But he didn’t know if his mom and brother survived. Their names were not on any lists. For several days, he hoped for the best, but feared the worst.
Ariel kept smiling despite this burden. It was only when I asked about his family, he told me his worries. He explained he has another brother, Adonis, on the island of Manila, about 360 miles from his home in Leyte. He had instructed Adonis to get to their village in Brgy Abango Barugo, where their mom, younger brother, Arvim, and extended family were living. It’s about 15 miles from Tacloban City, where the typhoon came ashore.
Aerial sent Adonis money for the boat ride, which normally costs about $50, but disaster price gouging made it over $600.
"I don’t care about money right now," Ariel told me.
He said he plans to go without electricity, food and power for the time being. "I can’t pay bills this month. My family needs the money."
For four days he smiled through his agony and sacrifice.
But late Tuesday night, his fears were replaced with cautious joy. After several days of searching, Adonis found their mom and Arvim. Alive, but barely.
Neither could speak; they were both traumatized. Sick and dangerously weak from a lack of clean water and no food. They desperately needed medical care.
Because the roads were covered in debris, Adonis had to walk seven hours from the harbor to reach the village and begin looking for them. There was no chance their mom or Arvim could walk back to the harbor in their condition. Ariel hoped to charter a small plane to get them to safety — normally about $1,500. But, like the boat ride, the cost had skyrocketed. It was past the point of being financially possible. Ariel had already emptied his bank account and maxed out his credit cards in an effort to find his mom and Arvim. He sent all the money he had to Adonis for the boat ride and a few supplies.
Miraculously, his family got back to the port, where they waited 24 hours, still with no food or water, to catch a boat back to Manila. Strangers helped carry his mom in spite of the insufferable rains and humidity. They limped and crawled along until they found a road that had been cleared and hitched a series of rides. Nearly lifeless by the time they boarded the boat.
Today, they’re in a hospital. Ariel is paying for their medical expenses. His mom’s prognosis is still uncertain, but he his hopeful.
Everything they owned is gone. He wants to go back and see them, but he cannot afford to. He must continue to work so he can send them money to buy clothes, food, water and medicine. He is also sending money to extended family still in Leyte. He is buying tents for them because they have no other shelter.
Despite all of this, Ariel is beside himself with gratitude. Coworkers have offered to help him, stuffing loose change, $5 and $10 bills into his hand. So far, he’s been given about $1,000. Every single penny has gone to help his family and others in his village.
"I am so thankful," he told me as he wiped away tears of joy. "I will never forget everyone’s kindness for as long as I live."
It is my hope in writing this column Ariel will continue to experience kindness in the coming days. While $1,000 is a great start, it’s nowhere near enough to cover the expenses and debt he’s racking up on behalf of his family.
That’s why a charitable fund has been set up at America’s First Credit Union (there’s one inside the Park City Market). It’s the Tacloban Disaster Account for Ariel Laure.
By making a donation you won’t just be directly helping a family in the Philippines. You’ll be helping a Parkite in desperate need, too.
I might not be able to do Ariel’s story justice, but I hope we all pitch in and help it have a happy ending.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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