The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
For the people of the southern Philippines, a typhoon crushed their Christmases this year and killed more than 1,000 residents on Dec. 4.
It was the worst storm the islands weathered this year, and it left 1.2 million families without homes or anyplace to stay. As of Dec. 19, CNN reported 844 people still missing.
Erlinda Punsalan knew what she had to do. The retired pediatrician had done it before three years ago when Typhoon Ondoy struck the Philippines: She had to help.
“They’re still counting the dead,” she said.
After the typhoon hit in 2009, Punsalan and her colleagues at Gawad Kalinga USA, a charitable organization, held a benefit concert to raise enough money to build a village of 30 homes in the Philippines. They dubbed it the “Port Arthur-Beaumont Village.”
These houses withstood the surge of the storm because they were made of concrete. Punsalan said GK USA wanted to build 32 additional villages in the Philippines to replace the structures that collapsed during Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, earlier this month. But this time, they would call the group of villages “Southeast Texas.”
“God has blessed us with so much,” Punsalan said. “I think I owe it to God to help others. If we don’t do it, who will?”
To raise enough money to construct the 32 villages, GK USA will hold the “Stephanie Reese Concert” Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont. Tickets cost $25, but donations were also welcome.
Stephanie Reese performed three years ago for a similar benefit concert at the Julie Rogers Theatre in Beaumont. She is an international singer and actress who played lead roles like Kim in “Miss Saigon” in Germany; Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”; and Princess Tuptim in “The King and I” in London.
Local artist Jennifer Manuel will also perform Saturday at the benefit concert.
For GK USA to construct a single, concrete home, it costs roughly $2,800, Punsalan said. That money would cover the cost of materials and the price to pay skilled workers to train residents to do the construction themselves. Once construction was complete, the residents could use their skills to find work as carpenters, painters or plumbers.
“It’s a holistic approach,” Punsalan said. “It’s really beautiful work.”