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Empower Philippines featured in The Auburn Reporter

Posted on May 6, 2014

Therese Verzosa won’t soon forget the devastation, the sorrow.

The Auburn woman was part of a relief mission to the typhoon-torn Philippines earlier this year.

“You would see vehicles, cars stuck on roofs. So much destruction … people living in tents,” she said of her January visit to the Philippines, reeling in the aftermath of a deadly storm. “They didn’t have electricity, plumbing and basic necessities. … It was painful to see.”

Typhoon Haiyan’s fury packed a 147-mph punch when it struck the Philippines in early November. One of the strongest storms ever recorded at landfall killed more than 6,000 people. Millions more were displaced when their homes were destroyed or washed away. And authorities today still struggle with the simplest tasks, such as clearing away debris, repairing houses and rebuilding infrastructure.

The city of Tacloban bore the brunt of the typhoon.

Verzosa saw it firsthand, the damage, as global aid poured in to help local officials put a shattered country back together.

“Even in the face of death, they are so resilient,” she said of Filipinos.

But recovery is slow. Verzosa remains persistent in her pursuit of helping the country.

She and her husband, Jude, established a nonprofit charitable organization – Empower Philippines – out of their Lakeland Hills home three years ago. It originated from the American-Filipino couple’s desire to help children with special needs or those underprivileged. The youngest of their two boys, Zach, is autistic.

The organization’s widespread network has since grown, gaining the support of many others. Its primary goal is to help improve the lives of Filipinos struggling with disability, special needs and poverty, especially in the aftermath of tragedy.

An immediate relief effort in late November distributed home improvement tools for men, cooking utensils for women and toys for children.

In January, Empower Philippines rendered services in the city of Palo, such as play therapy, educational activities for children, counseling, spiritual activities, distributed hygiene kits, beauty makeovers, grooming and hair-cutting services. The team also adopted an elementary school in Palo as one of its future beneficiaries.

More relief missions are planned to help the country, whether it means shipping in school supplies and other basic supplies or bringing in medical aid and other support.

“There is no child, no person out there who has not been affected, who has lost a loved one or a family member,” said Jude Verzosa, who works on fundraising for the organization. “For us, it is a way to give back.”

Therese Verzosa and volunteers plan to make a return trip to the Philippines.

“Definitely. The team, a lot of them, have been touched, not because of the enormity of the loss but because of how we saw people anchor life with hope,” she said. “If there is someone who can help them, that would be people like us.”