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This 18-year-old Yolanda Survivor Wants to Make Science More Understandable to Save Lives

Pope Francis says, “God wants us to be able to dream like he does and, with him as we journey, to be quite attentive to reality—dreaming of a different world.” 

Hillary Diane Andales, a Grade 12 student of Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Eastern Visayas Campus, is heeding the Pope’s call and is taking her first real step toward her goal of making science accessible to all—she just accepted a scholarship from the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States to study Physics. 

Hillary, who has always been fascinated by science, believes that her ideas can affect the world and change it for the better. Her first goal: better science communication in the Philippines. 

Yolanda Survivor 

“I will be making more science content. I’ll be doing more science communication and research things as a student,” she said. This way, the young aspiring scientist is paving the way for scientific jargon to be converted to layman’s terms especially for effective weather reporting in the country. 

According to Hillary, not knowing the scientific terms that are used in weather reporting almost ended her and her family’s life when Typhoon Yolanda hit Visayas in 2013. Before the onslaught of the storm surge, Hillary was watching the rain drops that hit her window. This was despite efforts from the local and national government encouraging everyone to evacuate. The reason? Back then, no one knew what “storm surge” was, and how dangerous it could be. 

Nung nag-storm surge, we were quite complacent. We did not evacuate,” Hillary narrated. “From the time the water came through the door up until it filled up our house, it took only 1 to 2 minutes. It all happened really fast. Napuno talaga [ang bahay].” She continued that since their house did not have a second floor, they had to climb on top of their double-decker bed. 

“My dad punched the ceiling tapos doon na lang kami sa steel trusses of the roof. We held on to those steel trusses for 7 hours until the storm surge subsided,” she said. That moment changed her perspective—she was so disappointed in herself for not knowing what a storm surge was despite her interest in science. 

“I think that was a big flaw in the process of science communication in our country kasi hindi lang ako yung walang alam about storm surge. Many, many people in the community didn’t know,” she said. 

Theory of Relativity

Aside from MIT, Hillary was offered scholarships from five schools in the United States, and three in the Philippines. This came after when she won in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual global competition meant to inspire creative thinking about science among young people aged 13-18. It was founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Pricsilla Chan. Hillary’s winning entry was a video explaining the theory of relativity. 

“I explained in my video that what we observe is always relative to us, relative to our perspective, or relative to our reference frame,” she said. 

With her goal of making science more understandable to the regular Filipino, Hilary has taken her perspective and reference frame, and turned it into a worthy life goal.


Text by Yen Cantiga.

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