NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 31, 2014

'I was amazed by the resilience'

Local veterinarian and her son part of team offering assistance in the Philippines

By Jim Sullivan
Correspondent

---- — A trip halfway around the world began at the Rowley Dunkin’ Donuts.

It was right before Thanksgiving when Helen Noble, a Rowley resident and Ipswich veterinarian, stopped in for a quick pick-me-up at her local coffee shop. There, she ran into Cora Carter, a fellow member of the New Life Community Church in Georgetown.

Carter was greatly concerned about her home nation of the Philippines, which had been hit by the devastating Typhoon Haiyan earlier that month. More than 6,000 people were killed.

Carter was trying to get a group of Americans together to go help however they could.

“I really felt like I could be of some help because I had been to Asia before,” said Noble, who had made three trips to the Far East as a veterinarian. “I had never been in a situation where there was such a disaster, but I was used to the culture, even though all of the countries are a little bit different.”

In a matter of weeks, Carter had put together the Resources for Philippine Rural Communities Corp. and a team of nine people with medical, agricultural and logistic experience. They headed for the Philippines in the second week of January on a survey trip.

Noble would provide her veterinary skills, while her 24-year-old photojournalist son, Caleb, would document the journey.

“Everything was pretty much devastated by the typhoon,” Noble said of her arrival, which saw her and Caleb taking the last boat out from Cebu to the city of Ormoc. “Ultimately, they are just starting over with the animals that they do have.”

Nicknamed Yolanda by the locals, the typhoon had left chaos in its wake, with cars hanging in trees and boats lying in the streets.

“It looked like a cyclone had hit it,” Noble said of Ormoc. “But I was amazed by the resilience of the people. They have nothing, and they are a very joyous people. There was debris everywhere, but life just goes on.

“It had all the life that a city brings, being a port,” she said. “Ships were coming in all the time, and there were typhoons there when we were there. They live with typhoons and tropical storms all the time.”

With most of the animals killed in the typhoon, Noble had little use for her veterinary experience right away.

“Long-term, I was trying to educate,” she said. “One thing that was interesting is they have goats, and Filipinos don’t drink milk. I am hoping to educate them to milk the goats for milk to help feed themselves, as well as maybe make it into butter and cheese. It’s not just getting them out of this situation, it’s about sustainability.”

Indeed, leaving the locals’ future in their own hands became the team’s top priority.

“Money is needed,” Noble said. “But the worst thing you can do going into a situation like that is just give people a handout and make them dependent on you. What you need to do is give them a hand up. They are resilient people, and the best thing that we can do is help them do what they do, better.”

While Carter and a few other team members remain in the Philippines, Noble is back at her Ipswich practice. Caleb Noble is currently editing his video footage and said he would like to make a return trip to the Philippines in the near future.

“They are so thankful for everyone that comes,” Noble said of the Filipinos. “I thought people would be discouraged. But the Filipino people are very resilient. Life was going on. Life continues for them. Yeah, the homes were destroyed, the roofs were torn off, but life went on. I came back very humbled to be able to be there and share with them. Sometimes the greater value to the people, as well as to yourself, is to go and experience it.

“There’s nothing like seeing the story with your own eyes,” Noble said. “You go on these trips, and you think you are going to do this, that or the other, and you end up just doing whatever.”