SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Hallo (Icelandic for hello)!  When super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda barreled into the Philippines, it took a while for realistic estimates of the immense damages to filter online but when it did, Filipinos all over the world began a heartbreaking vigil over events happening in their beloved old, dear motherland.

 

It might be all the way across the other side of the world, but to Filipinos residing in Europe and I reckon in everywhere else they happen to live; the wait for news was agonizing and personal.  Coming right at the heels of a 7.2 earthquake in practically the same areas, the super typhoon of 2013 was a blow to the soul of Filipino expatriates.

Why so much more to Icelandic Filipinos?

Well, I would say with certainty that many Filipinos in Iceland came from the Visayas.

It will certainly come as a surprise to most that in Iceland it is a fact that Filipinos there can actually be grouped according to “clans.”  There is almost always a family connection because many were invited over by other household members.  Further, many of these Filipino clans are from the Visayas (central islands back in the old homeland) and because both the earthquake and the super typhoon occurred within three weeks of each other in the region, one could conclude that Haiyan/Yolanda spelled double devastation, financially and emotionally to Filipino-Icelanders.

In the aftermath of 2013’s most devastating typhoon the Filipino diaspora enabled pocket engagements by Philippine organizations working closely with foreign counterparts to come to the aid and rescue of their “kababayans” (fellow country folks).

The response of overseas Filipinos to the destruction of Eastern Visayas did not get a lot of media exposure at first but only in their host countries.  Some fund-raising campaign news articles in local newspapers were in because Filipinos took out their own money to donate to the old homeland when they themselves have families to support back home.  In other words, they did not give out of their excess, but willing at the expense of their very own needs.

Indeed, the sad scene roused their respective foreign hosts from their comfortable bubble.

A case in point:  In this Nordic island country of Iceland where  a couple of thousand Filipino professionals work in the energy and health care sectors, many cried and were worried sick after massive calamities successively struck the Visayan islands.

Incidentally, Filipinos in Europe are interconnected through the organization called European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). ENFiD has chapters in the United Kingdom (UK), Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland and Norway.  Meeting via Skype, the Filipinos immediately planned to send assistance back home in the best way they all can expeditiously.

Based in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, Project Pearl International-Mutya Iceland Team, a nongovernment organization (NGO) composed of Filipinos, part-Filipinos and foreign nationals together with volunteers from other Filipino-Icelandic associations held fund raising campaigns.

The charity projects touched the Filipinos in Reykjavik because Icelanders including other foreign expatriates supported them all the way.

According to one ENFiD representative, Icelandic, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese businessmen donated food supplies.  A Chinese merchant provided the venues free of charge.  Filipino volunteers coordinated and see to it that all the details are taken care of.  Since the program was in support of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNCEF) aid to the Philippines, the donations raised were channeled through the world body.

The government of Iceland itself has donated to the Philippines Fund Relief Support the amount of 12 million ISK (the Krona is the currency of Iceland) or P4 million.  Red Cross Iceland has likewise sent a contingent to join in the humanitarian work of rescue and recovery.  Such were indeed the overwhelming support and generosity of Icelanders to the Filipinos based in their accommodating country.

To show heartfelt gratitude to their host countries, ENFiD decided then that 2013’s celebration of International Migrants Day from Dec. 18 to 25 will be observed quite simply by giving thanks to their generous host countries.

In Iceland again, the Filipinos milled around downtown Reykjavik to give Icelanders hugs, handshakes and pats on the back.  The overseas workers also gave away chocolates, cupcakes and candies tucked with a message that captured our “kababayans” best: “Thank you, Iceland from the bottom of our hearts.”

And what do we all know about this Nordic island republic?

Since the spike in tourism, a lot of people are now dreaming of visiting this beautiful island where glaciers and attractive nature are part of the norms.

Who wouldn’t love to visit such place those we once thought only exist in magical fairytales?

Trust me; I’ve heard more people saying Iceland is on their bucket list than anything else!

However, Iceland is not only a winter destinations in Europe where you’ll see the famous Aurora Borealis or out of this world ice formations and glacier.  Iceland in summer is equally as marvelous and obviously, a whole year round destination for anyone seeking adventure.

So, with no further ado, here’s some amazing information about Iceland:

Iceland was the last country in Europe to be settled, by Vikings and Celts, in the 9th and 10th Century, AD.  The nation converted to Christianity in 1000 (the year in which Iceland-born Leif Eiriksson was the first European to set foot in the Americas).  From the middle Ages she was a Norwegian and later a Danish colony.  She gained Home Rule in 1904 and then separate sovereign status under the Danish crown in 1918.  During World War II, the country was benignly occupied, first by the British and then by American  forces.  Iceland became an independent republic on 17 June 1944.

The country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and subsequently received an American air force base in 1951.  In 1970, it was admitted to the European Free Trade Association.  Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial fishing limits from 3 to 200 nautical miles in 1972, precipitating a dispute with the United Kingdom (UK) known as the “cod wars,” which ended in 1976 when the UK recognized the new limits.  In 1980, the Icelanders elected a woman to the office of the presidency, the first elected female chief of state (i.e., president as distinct from the prime minister) in the world.  After the recession of the early 1990s, Iceland’s economy rebounded.  At the International Whaling Commission meeting in July 2001, Iceland refused to agree to the continuation of the moratorium on commercial whaling that had been in effect since 1986.  In 2003, after a 14-year lull, the country began hunting whales for scientific research.

In October 2009, Iceland declared bankruptcy after its major banks collapsed causing the debacle of the entire economy.  Despite this crisis, Filipinos in Iceland kept their jobs though it was noted that the crisis reduced their working hours and overtime was no longer paid. It was also reported that Filipinos have found difficulties then remitting money to the Philippines after the Icelandic government implemented tight currency controls.   Showing resiliency, the Filipino community in Reykjavik held a “barrio fiesta” instead where they showcased traditional cultural dances with embassy officials in full attendance.

(Iceland is still recovering from the effects of that global economic crisis.)

The Philippines established diplomatic relations with Iceland in 1999.  Iceland was covered by the Philippine Embassy in London until jurisdiction was transferred to the Philippine Embassy in Oslo, Norway which was opened in April 2007.

The Philippines and Iceland truly enjoy smooth and friendly relations.  Iceland, with a population of 350,000 is a home to approximately 2,000 Filipinos, the largest Asian group in the country and the sixth largest among other foreign nationalities to date.

As in previous years, Poles are by far the largest group of immigrants to Iceland by nationality.  As of January this year, 13,771 individuals were from Poland, or 38.3 percent of all immigrants.  Immigrants from Lithuania were the second largest group by nationality (at 5.2 percent) and immigrants from the Philippines…yes, from our beloved old country…in third place (4.5 percent).

Polish men accounted for 42.3 percent of all male immigrants, or 7,839 of 18,552.  Lithuanian men were the second largest group (5.8 percent), followed by men from the United Kingdom (3.2 percent).  Polish women accounted for 34.0 percent of female immigrants, followed by women from the Philippines (6.2 percent) and Thailand (4.7 percent).

The Filipino migration to Iceland from the past 20 years has primarily been caused by the economic boom.  Iceland, being a small country with less than half a million people, needed to outsource in order to satisfy its demand in production, services and construction.

On the other hand, it was not always work that encouraged Filipinos to move to Iceland.  Filipino migration to Iceland actually began with a few Filipino women moving to the country to marry Icelandic men in the 1990s.  This gave them the advantage of learning the local language much quicker as compared to other Filipino workers who often only work alone or with their co-foreigners.  Aside from work, one key reason for migrating to Iceland is family reunification.

I say most Filipinos tend to settle in the Capital Region: however there are certain Filipinos that reside in the rural areas such as Kirkjubaejarklaustur.  Presently, there are only 46 registered persons with Icelandic citizenship who are residing in the Philippines per the 2010 Census.

The Filipinos in Iceland, who are mostly office and factory workers, are held in high esteem.  In recent years, Filipino nurses have also made their way into Iceland.

Yes, the Philippines have an Honorary Consul in Iceland.

The Embassy’s economic activities in Iceland for 2008 focused on presenting a positive image of the country to encourage increased economic activity, investments into the Republic of the Philippines (RP) as well as Icelandic tourists to the country.

Despite the economic crisis, the Envent, an Icelandic Geothermal firm and a major geothermal developer in the Philippines and a subsidiary of Geysir Green Energy, announced the signing of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Biliran Electric Cooperative (BILECO) for about 8,600 MWh per year of clean, renewable electricity at a leveled price of $94 per MWh.  The total value over the 10-year term is about USD 47 million.  The baseload electricity will come from Envent’s 50 MW Biliran Unit I geothermal power plant, which came on line in 2012 on Biliran Island in the Philippines.

It is to be noted that during calls on officials of the Icelandic Foreign Ministry and other government entities by the Philippine ambassador, Filipino interest in enhancing cooperation in geothermal energy and fisheries were discussed.

Interestingly, Iceland and the Philippines are two of the largest producers of geothermal energy for power generation in the world, ranking 7th and 2nd respectively.

(Geothermal energy and the fishing industry are the backbone of Icelandic economy).

In spite of the predominantly cold weather and dark nights, the Filipinos in Iceland are certainly happy.  Over there, safety is an important consideration and health care is accessible to everyone.

In fact, Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world (third lowest, next to Singapore and Lichtenstein).  Crimes, when they occur, apparently do not involve firearms even if gun ownership is high among Icelanders.  Egalitarianism in terms of income and treatment of the sexes is one of the best in the world.  There are virtually no class distinctions.  Health care is universal and any pregnancy is taken care of by the state.  All citizens benefit from free schooling up to university level.  It seemed almost like a fairy tale country with no tensions among people.  Corruption is almost non-existent.

Indeed the openness of the Icelandic spirit might have rubbed off on the Filipinos or again, they (our “kababayans”) could have been naturally very kind, hospitable and totally welcoming. No wonder people almost, always return to the island republic as there would be an empty page or two for sure – for more beautiful Icelandic memories.

I absolutely can’t deny the fact how attractive and cool country Iceland Is year round and it is truly almost magical to see!

And I’m sure that a lot of you, my dear folks – are equally dreaming of Visiting Iceland one day, and with no worries, you’ll all get to visit one day, too!

My verdict then is that the happy Filipinos in Iceland have indeed figured it all out!

Cheers!

Mabuhay!!