Emerging Leader: An Interview with Storyteller Kent Truog

11555_560897080721_5620052_nMeet Kent Truog, a photojournalist currently on the ground in the Philippines. Kent believes in the power of visual storytelling, and has been working on his craft since 2008. His work focuses on telling the stories of individuals in Honduras, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Kenya, many of which are rarely seen in today's media. Kent has helped to shed spotlight on endangered dolphins in Thailand and Cambodia. He has even worked with social entrepreneur and impact speaker Mark Gonzales on suicide awareness and prevention. His most recent work has been covering the aftermath of natural disasters in the Philippines, including the earthquake that hit the Visayas, as well as Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). In this interview, Kent gives on the ground insight to the situation in Tacloban. He continues to update his social media networks on his experience there, weeks after the typhoon crashed into the PI. For regular updates, follow Kent on Tumblr and Twitter @kenttruog.

A man assessing the damage in Tacloban.

1. What brought you to the Philippines? How long have you been there?

I’ve been living in Southeast Asia off and on for about four years now. During a stint in Cambodia, I was lucky enough to meet a girl with a similar passion for international aid work, which has since taken us to India and now the Philippines. We’ve been in the Philippines since April 2013.

2. What do you do there?

I work as a freelance documentary filmmaker and photographer.

3. When did you reach Tacloban? Have you been to other areas hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda? What is it like?

I was in Davao on the island of Mindanao when the storm hit, having just returned from Bohol, where I was documenting the relief work from the recent earthquake that devastated the island. I was immediately summoned to Leyte, with a first response team of an international NGO, to survey the damage. With the Tacloban airport out of commission, we had to fly into Cebu, where we then took one of the few ferries in operation to Ormoc -- a town a little over 100km from Tacloban. We had no idea what to expect upon arrival, as Ormoc also received extensive damage, and due to some travel delays, we didn’t arrive until about 10pm at night. Except for a few candles burning, it felt like a quiet ghost town. You cold see dark shadows in the damage behind the pier. One of the team members walked into town and found us a hotel that still had open doors (albeit no running water or electricity), so we stayed there the night.

The next morning, we found a jeepney willing to take us to Tacloban. The military had already begun to clear the roads, but the normally two-and-a-half hour journey took closer to six. We arrived in Tacloban the third day after the storm hit, and the sights on the ground were hard to process. There was devastation everywhere. Few buildings were left standing.

4. Are there any particular events that you've encountered (since the typhoon, or even the earthquake) that have made you question your work or what you're doing there? Are there any events that have reminded you why what you do is so important?

Not at all. Although Typhoon Haiyan has been by far the hardest even I’ve covered, my experiences in Bohol, and with Typhoon Phailin prior to that in India, prepared me well for everything I've experienced here in the Philippines. I knew what I was getting myself into, but seeing loss of life is never easy. All I can do as a storyteller is to help the rest of the world see what the people of the Philippines are going through, and help build a bridge between the international community and the people of Samar, Leyte, and Cebu. The Filipino people are amazing and are handing this calamity with a strength that is really inspiring. Each day I visit the field, I  find more people and more communities, working hand in hand and helping each other rebuild. It’s inspiring.

5. Have you been able to identify the major need in areas hit by the typhoon, or even the country as a whole in general? What can Pilipinos who are currently not living in the Philippines do to help?

The devastation is so extensive it’s been really hard to mentally process at times. I just wish that aid could rain from the sky. There are a lot of good NGOs out there doing great work. Find one you trust and believe in. A little bit of money can go a long way here.

6. Based on your experiences thus far, do you have any advice for our Filipino leaders, who are still figuring out their passion/work in life?

For those living abroad, return home if you can. Get to know your roots. The Philippines is an amazing place with wonderful culture and great diversity. I’m grateful to be able to live here at the moment and tell stories throughout this magnificent island chain.

Concerns over water supply and sanitation continue to grow in communities affected by the Typhoon Yolanda.

A blind carpenter who was rebuilding his own home after  Super Typhoon Yolanda.

In a post online, Kent shares an shot of Anderson Cooper, and reflects on "that moment when you're telling stories from deep in the field, and you turn around to see that one of your heroes in journalism is doing the same."

Photo credits: Kent Truog

Education Equality in the Motherland

Since 1925, the basic education system in the Philippines has been surveyed and reformed countless times. However, such reforms haven’t exactly proved to be successful. The current Philippine education system, which was modeled to reflect the K-12 system in the US, continues to face much critique. Some argue for a decentralization of the basic education system by installing school-based management, as to cater to the needs of each particular socioeconomic environment and other influential factors. According to the World Bank, Philippine primary school enrollment is relatively high. UNESCO reports that literacy rates are also high. However, the education system continues to struggle with lack of resources, understaffed schools, and managerial and organizational issues. Secondary school enrollment is usually lower. As of 2012, the Department of Education (DepEd) made school compulsory. Though enrollment may be higher than it has been in the past, there is a severe lack of employment opportunity for after graduation.

Many activists and reformers are pushing for efforts to revitalize the education system, such as Teach for the Philippines; they continue to work toward education equality throughout the PI. However, how can a nation create larger, systemic change to a problem that countries face across the world?


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967, is currently pushing for regional economic collaboration by 2015. Member countries include Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia , Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It is even a goal to use English as the primary language of communication, which is why there’s a major push for language acquisition across ASEAN. However, according to a 2008/2009 report, the Philippine Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM) notes that the country has a poor performance of improving the education system, unlike many other Asian nations. This creates even further concern for the future of the Philippines.

In addition to primary and secondary school reform, there is also a call to address higher education. As ASEAN promotes the movement of goods, services and labor between its member countries, the Philippine Daily Inquirer raises and important question: “What does this mean for our students who will be graduating from universities in a few years and will then be looking for work?”

As employment opportunities are already scarce, not just in the Philippines alone, but across the Philippine diaspora, I wonder what will happen to my friends and family. The struggle to find work continues to grow more competitive. Some of my relatives and family friends, despite attaining a higher degree back in the PI, are now domestic helpers or working in retail, for example. How is this fair, when such hardworking individuals are forced to find work outside of their expertise or training?

Many Filipinos have migrated, leaving behind families in search for work. Something must be done to reverse this “brain drain”, and I believe should be continuous support and investment in education. We need the youth of the PI and the larger Pilipino community to know we believe in them by providing them with the tools needed to succeed in a global community, and not just for economic gain.