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Philippines After Haiyan: The Christmas Trees of Tacloban

A "debris tree" Christmas tree in Tacloban, Philippines.

A "debris tree" Christmas tree in Tacloban, Philippines. © UNICEF/Kearney

Angela Kearney is a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, and has worked for the United Nations and for UNICEF in more than ten countries. She is leading UNICEF’s emergency relief efforts in Tacloban.

For the past six weeks, I have been living in Tacloban, the epicenter of the destruction wrought by the notorious Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Christmas is a special time of year in this mostly Catholic country, and I am delighted by the outlandish creativity of the Christmas trees, or “debris trees” as some call them.

A Christmas tree in front of Palo Central Elementary school, Tacloban, Philippines.

A Christmas tree in front of Palo Central Elementary school, Leyte province, Philippines. © UNICEF/Kearney

Made up of the humblest leftovers of Haiyan, from plastic bottles to scraps of paper, they are yet another sign of the resilience of the Filipino spirit, which is celebrated on signs and t-shirts everywhere with  “Bangon Tacloban” or “Rise Up, Tacloban.”

My time here has been marked by moments of huge sadness at the magnitude of the number of children affected – nearly 6 million – and the cruelty of their losses.

This sadness, however, has been tempered by amazement and joy at how warmly and openly people have welcomed me and my colleagues, despite their own personal misfortune. I feel lucky to spend this Christmas with them.

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