When Typhoon Rai (also known as Typhoon Odette) hit the Philippines in December 2021, a number of HireSmart Virtual Employees felt the pain, suffering damage to their homes and a sharp deterioration in their living conditions. But HireSmart Cares, the non-profit philanthropic arm of the HireSmart team, quickly let the storm victims know they weren’t alone, offering assistance in a variety of ways to help employees get their lives back. Here’s Bernard’s story:
Bernard and his wife Boni prepared for the approaching typhoon. They filled up their generator and stocked up on supplies and batteries. Then they waited. The morning of Typhoon Odette in the Philippines shortly before Christmas in 2021 was very calm.
Bernard and his wife, who live in Cebu, carried on with their normal routine, which involves working for U.S. clients as virtual employees for HireSmart Virtual Employees. They cared for their 6-year-old daughter and made sure the family dog was walked and fed.
But then the sun went down.
“At nighttime, it went bang,” said Bernard.
The wind howled, the roof rattled, and trees broke apart. Bernard worried about the rising water in a river that was only a few feet from his home.
“We were afraid of the upstairs,” he said. “Maybe the roof would fall off or fly off. And basically, we stayed downstairs. My daughter slept through the whole thing, no problem at all. My wife kept bugging me, asking me to check to see if the internet is back. We have a generator, so we were good in terms of the electricity, but she was like, check the internet and see if it comes back, we need to go back to work.”
The house withstood the storm’s punch. But when the sun rose, Bernard walked outside.
“Devastation everywhere,” he said. “There was a lot of clutter and property damage.”
Power poles were down and blocking the roads. There was no electricity, no internet.
“We had to wait for the electric company to try and lift the posts up so that people can drive by,” he said. “That was really a thing that hit me, oh my God, this is going to be big. This is not going to last like a week. This is going to be a whole month thing or something like that before everything gets fixed.”
On a typical day, Bernard handles administrative work for a solid waste management agency in the U.S. He works out at a gym, walks his dog, and spends time with his daughter. After the storm, the old routines gave way to new ones.
“We have to go to wells, or what they call here a pump, so we go there every morning, wake up at about 2 a.m., get the car, get all of our containers for water, five-gallon containers,” said Bernard. “We go to a spot to get water, we pump it, then go back home. And then afterward, we need to line up for gas. We needed gas for that generator. By the time we’re done with the water around 4, you need to line up for gas, and the line was two or three miles long.”
Bernard said people in his area stuck together, despite the hardship.
“Here in our area, all of us came together,” he said. “We even had people buying foodstuff, and then we’d all cook it in the morning, then we all shared the meal.”
But both Bernard and his wife were desperate to get back to work serving their U.S. clients, and there was no internet service to be found.
Thirteen time zones away, Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and HireSmart Cares, were getting the news of what was happening in the Philippines. They were busy locating employees who had lost internet service. When contact was made, they inquired about their health and their living conditions: What do you need? How can we help?
In all, HireSmart assisted 31 families, replacing roofs for a number whose homes had suffered major damage, paying for temporary housing, and covering costs of computer equipment and a variety of other needs.
Bernard and his family needed a place to stay that had internet services. So HireSmart paid a month’s rent for an apartment about an hour’s drive north of their home.
“My wife and I are really grateful that we’re here at HireSmart,” said Bernard. “And we know that they always have our back and always support us in the things that we need, especially in times of trouble. Here at HireSmart, Anne basically said we’re all a family. It’s not just like you going to a job with your family at home. People help you when you are in need.”
Bernard said his clients at the solid waste agency were great, too. During the week between the storm and getting an apartment, Bernard was unable to perform his duties for the solid waste company, but the firm paid his salary anyway.
“They’re treating me like part of the family as well,” he said.
Bernard and his family went back to their home after the electricity was restored. But their internet was out for three months.
“Gladly, one of our neighbors has a different connection that was restored prior to all of our other connections,” he said. “So we actually hooked up so we could work.”
He said the typhoon experience was a learning experience.
“The one thing that I learned from it is basically anything like that can happen in your life,” said Bernard. “Bad things can happen in your life, not just a typhoon, maybe a family death. But as long as you have the right people behind you and you have the right mindset to move past it, then you’ll be good. You’re going to be all good, no worries.”