Could the Philippines be Asia's Next Tech Tiger? BBC News

The Philippines may have the fastest-growing economy in South East Asia but it also has the slowest internet in the region. Despite this, some think they have spotted an opportunity that could turn the country into Asia's next tech tiger. Aurora Almendral met some of the true believers.


Is the Catholic Church's influence in the Philippines fading? BBC News


The Catholic church plays a powerful role in the Philippines but last month it lost a significant battle in its bid to prevent a government-backed family planning programme. Aurora Almendral asks if the church is losing its grip on the islands.


An American and his dog help bring closure to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, PRI's The World and the BBC World Service

Aired internationally on the BBC World Service March 8-9, 2014 and nationally on March 10, 2014.


It's a horrifying thought, but nearly four months after Typhoon Haiyan hit in the Philippines the bodies of the dead are still turning up nearly every day. It's hard to imagine what that's like but one thing is for sure, it makes it really hard for people to put the storm behind them. So now a team of American cadaver dogs and their traniers is in Tacloban to do a final sweep of the city. Reporter Aurora Almendral joined them on a search. 


Turning a million cubic yards of post-typhoon trash into jobs, Weekend Edition, NPR

Aired nationally on Sunday, February 9, 2014


Tim Walsh is a man with a very unique job. We’d like to call him the disaster garbage man, but he prefers waste management specialist. After a major natural disaster, Walsh is on the scene. He’s with the UN Development Program, and he’s seen it all, from the tsunami in Indonesia, and now the typhoon in the Philippines. His specialty? Turning devastation into jobs. Aurora Almendral reports from the Philippines.


Typhoon Haiyan felled this man's trees and uprooted his life, BBC/PRI's The World

Aired nationally on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.


When Typhoon Haiyan struck the country last November, it took down 33 million coconut trees. About 160 of them belonged to farmer Felipe Parado, Jr.


Filipinos made homeless by Typhoon Haiyan struggle with where to rebuild, Public Radio International's The World

Aired nationally on January 22, 2014. Paired with a story on PBS' Nova


Before Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, Rene Celis lived in a neighborhood called Pampango. It sat right up against the bay in downtown Tacloban.


I visited Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, VICE

A firsthand account of the aftermath. Published on November 27, 2013.


[EXCERPT] On Friday, November 8, the day Typhoon Yolanda hit, I was in Manila, where I’ve been living for the past few months. I was filing breaking news reports for public radio in the US, and while it was windier than usual, it felt a little underwhelming for what was being called “the strongest storm on earth.” Then I heard that the journalists who were sent to the path of the typhoon hadn’t been heard from in more than 16 hours. I hadn't planned to go to Tacloban, but the less we knew, the more it seemed like I had to get there. Until that point, the only other storm I had covered was Hurricane Sandy in New York—which I thought was bad as it was. It did nothing to prepare me for what I would see in Tacloban. [...]


Spot news reports on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, NPR News

I filed fourteen spot news reports and two-ways for NPR as the typhoon was happening and in its aftermath, as well as interviews with Here & Now, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. This is a selection of reports. 

Spots / two-ways / interviews aired nationally between November 8, 2013 and December 2, 2013.

November 14, 2013

INTRO: It’s been six days since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. Aurora Almendral reports that in Tacloban, the hardest hit urban area, the Philippine government, aid agencies and survivors are struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster. [as filed]

November 11, 2013

INTRO: As the Philippines asesses more of the far flung villages affected by Typhoon Haiyan, they are finding more destruction and people desperately in need of relief aid. Aurora Almendral reports on the towns of Eastern Samar. [as filed]

November 10, 2013

INTRO: Tacloban, the city of 200,000 most devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the estimated death toll has skyrocketed from 100 on Saturday to 10,000 on Sunday. Those outside Tacloban still have no way of knowing whether their family members have survived. Aurora Almendral reports. [as filed]

November 9, 2013

INTRO: In the Philippines, communication lines were entirely down in the Eastern provinces of Samar and Leyte. Reports are now starting to emerge about the damage and casualties in the islands were Typhoon Haiyan first made landfall. Aurora Almendral reports. [as filed]

November 8, 2013

INTRO: After tearing through the central Philippines on Friday, Typhoon Haiyan is moving out of the country, and is losing speed as it heads towards Vietnam. In Manila, Aurora Almendral reports that the full extent of the damage in the typhoon’s wake is only now starting to come in. [as filed]

This simple story shows what it means for survivors to rebuild their lives after Typhoon Haiyan, Public Radio International's The World 

Aired nationally on November 20, 2013.


The surviving members of the Vergara family have returned to their home in Costa Brava, one of the most devastated neighborhoods in the hard-hit city of Tacloban. Of the 10 of them, only three survived the storm.


Lights slowly return to Philippine region devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, World News, NBC

[EXCERPT] TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — More than a month since Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, most of the worst-hit island of Leyte is still mired in darkness when night falls. But the lights are slowly starting to come back on — thanks to the distribution of solar lamps by the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

With as many as 12 million people impacted by the storm and nearly 4 million displaced, those left behind have been trying to rebuild new homes on the ruins of their old ones.

But a major issue in the makeshift cities has been light. In the wake of major natural disasters, theft, rape, human trafficking and domestic violence can often thrive in the darkness of ramshackle refugee camps.

“With no electricity, people commit these acts with a higher level of impunity,” said Arjun Jain, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the southern Philippines.

While reports of this type of violence have so far been isolated, the fear is widespread.

Mary Ann Ignacio, 41, of Barangay Doña Breda, a coastal village in eastern Leyte, said that as soon as darkness falls, she barricades herself and her family into the shelter they now call home. She’s worried about thieves taking what little they have left, or worse, that her daughters could get raped.

Ignacio catches a few hours of sleep in the daytime, because at night she’s awake, protecting her family with prayers, a watchful eye, and if anyone should enter their make-do home, a machete. [...]


Bat Hunting in the Philippines,


[EXCERPT] MAYANTOC, Tarlac, Philippines — To go bat hunting, Jack Carbonel puts on a headlamp, straps a machete to his waist and makes a spear by lashing a sharpened metal stick to a thin bamboo sapling. He waits until noon, when the bats are asleep and the forest spirits are less vindictive. Then he climbs the steep mountain, hacking through thick tropical foliage, barbed vines and thorny branches.

Carbonel knows the path well. “I’ve been coming here since I was about ten years old,” he says, “with the kids I grew up with, and with our fathers.”

At the peak of the mountain is a stack of massive volcanic boulders. Between the stones are damp, cool-smelling caves where swiftlets build cup-shaped nests and pythons feast on mice and other cave-dwelling critters. Carbonel kicks off his flip flops, takes a running leap up ten feet of boulder, shimmies up a crevice and wedges himself in tight. [...]


'Just Making a Living': Cockfighting A Way of Life in the Philippines, NBC News Travel


CABUYAO, Laguna, Philippines — In the Philippines, sabong — cockfighting — is a way of life. 

On a recent Sunday in the provincial city of Cabuyao, in the middle of an old arena painted turquoise and surrounded by ascending rows of wooden benches rubbed smooth from years of use, are two men, each cradling a rooster.

A buzzer sounds, and the roosters are released. They head straight for each other. There’s a tousle of red wings and feathers, and suddenly, one of the roosters starts to hobble. The white one veers away and stumbles to the ground. The referee picks up both roosters by the scruffs of their necks to see if there’s still any fight left in them. There is. Another flurry of feathers, and the white one — the one that looked dead on its feet seconds ago — deals a fatal kick to the red rooster. The fight is over after 24 seconds. [...]



From the Bowels of a Beast, Narratively

June 28, 2013. Longform story and photographs. One of the most popular stories on the outlet several weeks running. 


Civets — furry, weasel-like creatures with pointy noses and a love of frolicking over rocks and up and down trees — have long been valued for their excretions. African civets were the original source of perfume musk, scraped from the skin of living civets or squeezed from the glands of dead ones. In India today, as in ages past, the oil extracted from pieces of their meat is still used as an indigenous cure for scabies. In Southeast Asia, civets shit gold.

More precisely, on a gram-per-gram basis, the coffee beans found in civet shit are worth roughly twice that of silver.

It is literally shit–it comes out brown and in a tubular shape. Its texture and contents vary depending on what the civet may have been eating. Like any shit, we could be flushing it down the toilet or cursing every time we step in it. We could choose to find it dirty and worthless. But, no. When it comes from a civet, we prize it.



Undocumented Immigrants Work to Come Out of the Fiscal Shadows, BBC/PRI's The World

Aired nationally on Friday, March 25, 2013. Also aired internationally on Boston Calling on the BBC World Service on Sunday, March 31, 2013. 

With April’s tax deadline approaching, people in the US are starting to organize their paperwork. It may come as a surprise to some that many undocumented immigrants also pay taxes. However, anxiety is building as a pathway to citizenship may require paying years of back taxes. Feet in Two Worlds reporter Aurora Almendral headed to Queens, New York, to find out more.

Under the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, shops line the street catering to immigrants. A bakery has an ATM that makes deposits straight into accounts in Mexico. An internet café ships packages to Colombia and offers Indian eyebrow threading. 

But who’s especially busy right now? Tax preparers, especially those catering to immigrants. They are slammed.

To meet demand, the Food Bank of New York City runs a free tax preparation service in the basement of a Greek Orthodox church in Corona, Queens. Hang around enough and you’ll notice plenty of people, more growing every year, using an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, to file.

It’s an alternative ID that many undocumented immigrants use for taxes. If you do not have papers, the IRS will assign you an ITIN. No questions about legal status. Tax officials say their job is to collect.

According to the IRS, between 2006–2011, roughly 1.5 million new ITINs are assigned each year.

At the church, Oscar and Marcella are filing their taxes with the help of a tax preparer. The couple, from Mexico, requests using their first names only because they are undocumented. Marcella stays at home and raises their two young kids while Oscar works as a busboy.

[Please click through to read full story]


Immigrant Farm Workers, the Hidden Part of New York's Local Food Movement, Morning Edition | WNYC

Aired on Morning Edition on November 21, 2012, and was the lead story on WNYC's website.

Thanksgiving is the ultimate harvest holiday, and no one knows that better than the tens of thousands of farm workers who grow and harvest New York’s produce.The reality of agriculture is that a hefty percentage of the people who plant and harvest New York’s local food are immigrant workers, many of whom put themselves in danger to cross the border into the United States to work the land.

In New York, farm workers labor long hours with no overtime pay and no right to a day of rest. Nor do they have the right to collective bargaining — something Cesar Chavez fought for fifty years ago. But that was in California, and those labor laws don’t cross state lines into New York.

Antonio Valeriano is originally from Oaxaca, and now works at a farm in the Hudson Valley. “We wake up at five in the morning, because we need to be at work by six. In the morning.” He’s often works until 8 at night, and as late as 10 p.m. when the harvest is at its busiest.

He’s part of a crew of twelve men who spend the day tending the fields. When the sun goes down, they move to the packing house, where bruised fruit is turned to cider, and the produce of the day is washed, bunched and prepped for market.

[Please click through to read full story.]


Hurricane Sandy aftermath: towncars and the gas shortage, All Things Considered, WNYC

Aired on Novermber 5, 2012

In the Rockaways, Neighbors Help When Government Doesn't, WNYC News

Hurricane Sandy, paired with a spot news report which aired on WNYC's All Things Considered special coverage of the storm. November 6, 2012

Jollibee, BBC and Public Radio International's The World

Aired nationally on October 26, 2012

When it comes to home cooking, immigrants from countries as far apart as Nigeria, the Philippines and Poland share a common ingredient. They all use a condiment called Maggi seasoning. And they all think it belongs to them.

Maggi is a salty brown liquid that’s a little like soy sauce, but more intense. It comes in a little amber bottle, but it’s also available in the form of cubes. It’s an essential ingredient in Divine Muragijimana’s kitchen. She’s from Burundi, but now lives in Brooklyn. Today, she’s frying onions and chopping. She’s making a dish called ugali, a thick pasty starch made with cassava flour, which she serves with fish and a fragrant sauce. And Maggi’s a key part of the mix.

“It makes a difference between a food becoming African, and not African,” according to Divine. When she first moved to America, Divine lived in West Virginia, and she says it was impossible to make a proper Burundian meal. “There were no Maggi cubes and the cilantro they used here was crap,” she said.

[Please click through to to read the full story.]


How to Get Health Care While Uninsured, The Billfold

Reposted by Business Insider and Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Beast), among others.

A couple of years ago, I had a cold for about four months. I thought I had somehow caught five colds in a row, which I thought was no big deal, because they were just colds after all.

But then I started dropping a lot of weight while eating a lot of chocolate cake. My hair started falling out, and I had the shakes so bad that my handwriting—which I used to be proud of—became illegible. My short-term memory stopped working. It was difficult to have a conversation, because by the time I neared the end of a sentence, I had already forgotten what I was talking about.

Things were bad, but I had no health insurance, which I thought meant that the only thing to do was try to ignore it, and hope that whatever was wrong with me would go away on its own. Each new symptom added another few hundred dollars to the imaginary doctor’s bill in my head, which meant that as things got worse, I had more incentive to pretend that I had some sort of temporary bug that would eventually go away.

Then one day, I got up to go to work— at the time, I had a part-time job copyediting product labels and PowerPoint presentations—but I couldn’t make it out the door. About halfway through my morning shower, I started panting, and my heart was beating out of my chest. It was as if I had just run a mile, when I had actually just walked 20 feet from my bed to the bathroom. There had been signs before this incident: The day before, I found myself so nauseous and out of breath during my four-block walk to work, that I turned around and went straight back home. 

It took near-complete incapacitation for me to bite the bullet and go to the doctor. It turned out that I have Graves disease, a congenital, autoimmune hyperthyroid condition that I’ll have for the rest of my life. Missy Elliot, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush also have it. Graves disease affects every cell in your body, so it gets bad if it goes untreated. But it’s very manageable as long as I take my pills, see my endocrinologist and get a blood test every six weeks.

[Please click through to read the full story.]



Community Colleges Struggle to Fill the Gap Left by High Schools, Filipinas Magazine / New America Media

I wrote this report as a New America Media Education Beat Fellow


Even as the majority of California community college students require remedial classes, the state’s budget woes restrict teaching innovations.


The students, their desks clustered in messy groups, begin to call out words: “however”, “yet”, “lastly”, “nevertheless”. Liza Erpelo, assistant professor of English at Skyline Community College in Daly City, California, writes the words up into three tidy columns on the dry-erase board, calling on students by name to lead them into participating. It’s only five days till the start of mid-term exams and the students are spending the class period reading each other’s essays and reviewing grammar concepts. Today it is basic sentence structure, specifically, conjunction words and the punctuation around them.

The class is engaged, all are doing their assignments diligently. There’s no whispering in the back of the room, and no one is napping or sending a text message from under the table. As encouraging as this is, there’s no mistaking the class as a forum for the vibrant exchange of ideas. In this college classroom, the students are here to learn the nuts and bolts of the English language.

Remedial classes like this offer a second chance for students to learn the basic math or English skills they need to take a college-level course. But with 70- to 85 percent of California students who go straight from high school to community college testing into remedial classes, remediation illustrates the yawning gap in knowledge between what a student graduates with from high school, and what a student needs to know to take a college class.

There is nothing inherently wrong with remediation. At its best a remedial class readies a student who is otherwise unprepared for success in college. In practice, however, semesters spent in pre-college level classes are notorious for attrition. The cost in money and time adds up. Students have to juggle classes with jobs, bills and other adult responsibilities that only accumulate the longer they spend in college.

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