When I heard about the storm approaching the Philippines, my heart sank.

It didn't help when it was categorized as a "Super-Typhoon," and one widely classified as one of the strongest tropical cyclones to make landfall in history.

I could have never expected the amount of damage from the storm to be as bad as it is now. I can't imagine how difficult life must be over there, not just for those whose homes and lives were destroyed by the storm, but for everyone there who has been enduring this for decades. Not just the cycles of storms, but the overall condition of the Philippines.

This summer, I witnessed firsthand what life was like. Crowded cities and rampant pollution are circumstances millions of Filipinos endure everyday. Unemployment, crime and poverty go hand-in-hand. Many suffer from disease, doomed to have their lives end early because of a lack of money and primitive medical technologies.

Life could not be anymore real or painful there. Many people are barely making enough to feed their family, much less themselves. So much effort is necessary to make a living there, and for many of us here in the U.S. who have neither seen nor experienced what poverty and true adversity is, life in the Philippines is but one example.

It doesn't just test your physical strength; it also tests your mental fortitude.

At one point during my visit, I joined several dozen fishermen on the beach as they reeled their catch in. It wasn't just men. I saw women helping as well, with people young and old working together. With another group of people on the other side of the beach holding the other end, we began to close the net in. The fishing net, spanning at least a football field's length, took an hour to finally bring in.

When the catch – weighing at least half a ton – was spread out, however, most of it was squid instead of fish, which heavily reduced the payout that could have been received. For the arduous amount of work and effort put into doing this, I was told by my uncle it would be lucky for the whole thing to sell for 1,000 pesos, or $20, which would then have to be divided among the dozens of workers. This dumbfounded me.

I looked at the workers, expecting to see their faces riddled with disappointment and resignation. But they didn't stop working. Regardless of whether or not they were discouraged, they readied themselves to fish once again.

I learned about how I had been taking life for granted. How the life granted to me could have easily been one filled with adversity and struggles like the fishermen I had seen.

It's one thing to pity a person for the conditions he or she is enduring. It's another to respect and admire the courage they have for continuing through it.

When you hear about a country or group of people being struck with a disaster, it's easy to take pity on them. Many people will also agree, though, that it's not pity you should be giving.

For the Filipinos who have had their lives and bodies destroyed by the disaster, I don't have pity. I have something else – I have hope. I have hope they can, and will, recover from this calamity. I know this because I have witnessed first-hand the strength and will that they have.

Even now, the country is banding together to help heal the wounds inflicted by Haiyan. Time and time again, they have endured previous disasters, and I know they will not let this storm be the one the stops them now. I would be lucky if I had half as much courage or strength as they did.

Whether you donate money, send canned goods or give your prayers and best wishes, please give your support to the Philippines. They need it now more than ever.

Jan Urbano is a senior in biological sciences. He can be reach at jurbano@utk.edu.