Warwick child says: ‘I hope you love this bear...”

Children in the Philippines with some of the cuddly toys
Children in the Philippines with some of the cuddly toys

It started out as such a simple idea. Children in the Philippines who lost everything during Typhoon Haiyan - including members of their own family - might get a little comfort from a teddy bear.

Graham Suggett of Warwick Rotary decided to stretch the international roots of the movement following a chance visit to the Rotary Club of Silloth in Cumbria.

It was there Graham met the father of an aid worker out in the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon which devastated the islands in November, 2013.

The young man had reported: “Everyone is trying to help the adults to cope, but the children have absolutely nothing.”

When members of the Cumbrian club decided to fill a shipping container with soft toys, Graham promised that Warwick would do its part and add at least 500 extra teddies to what was becoming known as The 1,000 Bearhugs campaign.

In fact, Warwick ended up contributing 2,184 cuddly toys.

Many were donated with accompanying letters from local children and adults.

Graham recalls: “One child wrote ‘I hope you will love him as much as I do.’ Another woman explained her bear had sat on her bed for the past 36 years and she hoped it would now make somebody else happy.”

Schoolchildren from Westgate, Newburgh, Woodloes, Ridgeway and Myton all donated soft toys along with Warwick Cub Scouts, Alcester Inner Wheel and the Bearley Women’s Institute.

“Basically we were buried in bears,” smiles Graham, who along with other Rotarians transported them all back up to Cumbria to be squashed into the shipping container bound for the Philippines.

It was this summer before all of the toys were distributed alongside shoes, pencils and clothing.

The picture above shows some of the 60 youngsters still classed as unaccompanied, abandoned or separated who were receiving protection in the municipality of Guiuan in Samar.

Altogether some 8,450 children from 13 municipalities, two cities and four provinces: Leyte, Samar, Cebu and Bohol, were severely affected by Typhoon Haiyan - or Yolanda as it is known out there.

The charity Hope Worldwide UK donated two vehicles to transport all the goods.

In the province of Cebu wne of the helpers who took toys out to an elementary school, admitted: “Since the typhoon struck the children had become used to receiving donations from many philanthropic organisations...but not toys.”

One class particularly caught his attention because they were so pleased to be given something to hold on to and love, alongside more practical daily necessities, llke shoes.

He wrote: “As I was slowly walking down the aisle going into their classroom, I could hardly describe the unspeakable joy that these first graders felt.

“The kids could barely contain their pure joy and excitement as they flashed their biggest smiles and raised their new stuffed toys for the camera.

At another distribution point in Daanbantayan a very shy girl reached through a window and handed an aid worker a folded piece of paper which, when opened, contained the words: “Thank you.”