Friday, November 15, 2013

Helping the typhoon victims in our little way

The Philippines made history last November 9, 2013. The strongest typhoon of the current Pacific typhoon season AND what is claimed to be the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall in the history of mankind slammed the eastern coastline of the central part of the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) was estimated to have hit the Philippines with winds at 195 mph... yes, the wind speed was in miles, not kilometers! Aside from the strong winds, Haiyan also came with a storm surge whose waves easily wiped out buildings. Not surprisingly, the towns and cities along the typhoon's path were decimated. Initial estimates indicated that as many as 10,000 people died in this typhoon. Tacloban, Leyte is one of the hardest-hit cities, transforming into a virtual wasteland in a span of a few hours in front of spectators glued to their tellies. Who wouldn't be moved by the heartbreaking stories captured by media practitioners?

As soon as the DSWD National Resource Operations Center announced on its Twitter account that volunteers are needed to pack relief goods for the survivors of the typhoon, I asked Cindy and Man if they would be willing to join me at the repacking venue. The typhoon victims are in desperate need of food and water; if there's anything that I can contribute to help speed up the arrival of help, I would gladly do it.

They were game to join me and their schedules were pretty flexible this week. When I called the DSWD, the person on the other end of the line told me that our turn to help out was on Thursday, November 14. Man rounded up two more of his friends, Papu and Jeremy (brothers from Leyte), and off we went to the NROC in Pasay City, near the airport.

When we got there, I was almost expecting grouchy people at the front desk, since they would have had long shifts and might be already irritated with the volunteers. However, I was wrong: this was the most pleasant set of frontliners I've ever seen from the government in an emergency situation. It appeared that they were happy to be of help; which made me think that these people might also be volunteers.

After registration, we were asked to listen to instructions about what we were supposed to do before being deployed into one of the warehouses. Again, I thought that I'd see a grouchy person do this. However, the volunteers were met by the most pleasant guy who, I suspect, has been talking about the same thing for several hours now. He was very polite to the volunteers. On the other hand, the volunteers themselves were well-mannered so I thought that maybe these go two-way. Or maybe, the speaker and the frontliners were generally good-mannered because they were social workers.

Since we came as a group, I thought that we'd work as a group. But I thought wrong. First up: guys were needed to load trucks with sacks of relief goods. Papu, Man, and Jeremy volunteered for this task and were escorted (along with several others who decided to be stevedores for a few hours) by Army personnel to their assigned stations.

Meanwhile, Cindy and I stayed seated with the other girls and with guys who didn't want to carry heavy sacks. We were to be deployed to the repacking area and we needed to know what were the contents of each DSWD family relief pack. I was thinking that maybe we'd be waiting for a long time since I didn't see many people wanting to leave any of the warehouses. 

But no. After the instructions were given, we were deployed immediately to one of the warehouses. I was expecting group leaders giving assignments to us before we went into the warehouse. Instead, the activities were more self-organized. We were to do whatever needed to be done. At first Cindy and I joined in with the group that prepared the instant coffee sachets for repacking. This group was composed of MMDA employees. 

At some point, the coffee sachets were all prepped and there was nothing left to do, so I decided to work on something else. I noticed that discarded boxes were scattered everywhere and that they needed to be organized somehow so that they won't obstruct the transport of the ready-to-load sacks and the repacking activity itself. Cindy, on the other hand, noticed the debris covering the floor. So instead of joining the crowd at the repacking tables, we decided to start cleaning up for the packers: Cindy began flattening boxes; I started collecting the boxes from under the packing tables. Then we (and a few other volunteers who opted to join us) gathered the flattened boxes for proper stacking away from the sacks of relief goods.

I never noticed it while we were inside the warehouse, but we ended up with a cleaner floor space for the packing people. I just noticed it when I reviewed the photos this morning! Anyway, we might not have packed anything but I hope that we made the production line flow more efficient after the clean-up operation that we did.

At some stage, Man, Papu, and Jeremy (who no longer had anything to load in a truck) joined us in the warehouse. Good timing too since there were boxes to stack on one side of the building. I was thinking that maybe it was a good idea to rearrange the flattened boxes away from the goods for packing but the task seemed to require a forklift (see all those flattened boxes beside the bags of relief goods?)

Two hours into our volunteering, the warehouse manager announced that a new batch of volunteers were on board; anyone from far-flung areas and those who had been repacking for several hours were free to go home. The way the guy said it reminded me of Aragorn telling Merry that he wouldn't be joining the army to the Black Gate: "Peregrin shall go... do not grudge him his chance of peril..." (admittedly, the connection is a bit far-fetched). 

At the same time, I realized that there's another form of generosity: I shouldn't prevent people from being able to help in their own little way just because I want to help more. Playing the hero can be seen as a form of selfishness if there are other people willing to cover for you.

Anyway, the others were also tired and were ready to eat dinner so we went out as the new volunteers started getting at home with the repacking routine. As I looked around the venue for the last time, I was amazed to see the willingness of people to help and their generosity with their time. I still am amazed. Just months ago, Manila was under water thanks to the rains delivered by the southwest monsoon (habagat). People needed to be saved then. And now, people in Manila were lending a hand to help the people of the Visayas region.

I just hope that the relief goods would reach the victims of the typhoon in time. While we were volunteering, there appeared to be a shortage of the big trucks because smaller ones were being loaded up with relief goods. There even was a bus which, I think, would carry a sizable number of packages by road and by boat (if the goods won't go to the cargo planes instead). Transporting these goods is indeed a challenge.

Now that I've been repacking, I want to go for Round 2. The typhoon victims are not the only ones who need help. A few weeks before the typhoon, a very strong earthquake rocked a different area of the Visayas region. This area, covering sections of Bohol and Cebu provinces, hadn't even recovered yet from the quake when the typhoon struck. In hindsight, I don't mind if the goods we helped organize go to the earthquake victims or to the typhoon victims, as long as they reach the people who need these goods the most.

Don't worry, Visayas. Help is on its way. You are not alone. A lot of people are volunteering to help in your time of need. Just hold on a bit longer.