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Helping in Philippines Recovery

Staff member Cita Maignes among those who delivered donations and supplies to the Philippines.

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 4-19-2014

In front of San Joaquin Central School in Palo, a city in the Philippines, painted crosses mark 46 makeshift children’s graves.

The children were killed when the area, in Leyte province, was hit by typhoon Yolanda in November. Because of the number of victims — more than 6,200 killed in the island country — there wasn’t time or space for proper burials. During free time at school, San Joaquin staff have watched the children go out and sit by their friends’ gravesides.

This was one of the schools visited in February by Cita Maignes, international recruitment/retention specialist at Minnesota State University, Mnkato, as well as her two friends involved in Minnesota State Mankato's Friendship Families program, sisters Terri Prange and Mary Guentzel. Guentzel’s daughter, Angela Guentzel, also went along.

Following fundraising efforts through Minnesota State Mankato that generated more than $3,200, the women went to disperse funds and school supplies directly to several schools in the Tacloban area.

Maignes, originally from a farm an hour from Davao City in Mindanao, Philippines, knows firsthand the importance of education. And she wanted to make sure the funds went to elementary schools. “I really have compassion for the children,” she said.

The women spent two weeks together both at Maignes’ family farm and traveling to the Tacloban area. (Maignes stayed in the Philippines with family for two months, returning a couple of a weeks ago.) “(The Tacloban area) is just flattened,” Maignes said. “The whole area is just devastation.”

Among the needs of the San Joaquin school was a new fence, which the principal explained was to protect the children from kidnappings related to human trafficking. Schools also needed school supplies, which the women provided to 1,300 children, as well as new roofing.

For many schools, the building damage is so extensive that classes are being held outside on the grass, Maignes said. At one school UNICEF had provided a tent to hold class, but it’s so hot inside that the school isn’t using it.

In the Philippines, such needs cost far less than they do in the United States, so a few hundred dollars at each of several locations was able to stretch a long way, Maignes said.

“They were just so happy. It made a big difference in their lives,” she said.

Mary Guentzel said all the school visits were moving, but she remembers the story of one in particular. The school had a large administration building that housed decades of school records, and about 200 people took shelter in it during the typhoon.

“After the winds kind of started to slow, there were big waves — big 25-foot waves — and it came through and took that whole building and killed all those people,” she said.

Some schools lost dozens of students, and vast areas were stripped of buildings and landscape, she said.

“The neat thing was to see that all the people were working so hard to recover. They weren’t sad, aside from being sad for their loss, but they were all pitching in and already working to clean it up,” Mary Guentzel said.

Maignes, who also fundraised for families following tropical storm Sendong in 2011, said being able to help means a great deal to her. But seeing the level of destruction still untouched after so many months makes her wish she could do more.

Still, the school leaders she met in the Philippines wanted to pass on their gratitude for the donations, which they could hardly believe were given by people they’d never met half a world away. Maignes also expressed her thankfulness to Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport and R. Kent Clark, vice president of University Advancement, who set up a fund that remains open to collect donations. She said she would be happy to return to help more people and schools if more donations came in.

“I support education very much because without education I would never have been able to move ahead,” Maignes said.

Maignes’ mother sent her children to live with wealthier families who could afford to send the children to school because it wasn’t free to attend. At age 7 Maignes was living with a distant relative, and to earn her keep, she baby sat on the weekends, did laundry, cooked rice and cleaned. When there wasn’t money to pay the tuition, Maignes would gather wild vegetables and give them to the teachers as payment.

Even at age 7, Maignes said she knew the living arrangement was better than being at home because she wanted a better life than one of poverty, and she knew education was the only way.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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