It has been more than a month since Supertyphoon “Yolanda” caused so much destruction. And amid this season of giving, a sense of humanity has prodded many people here and abroad to come to the aid of the victims.
My family and I volunteered for relief operations, helping in the repackaging of goods and donations at Villamor Air Base.
Villamor Air Base served as landing area for rescue aircraft—some Philippine military planes, others bearing foreign aid—that shuttled between Metro Manila and the affected areas in the Visayas. With each plane that landed came throngs of people.
With and without relatives
The survivors who arrived were divided into two categories: those with relatives in Manila and those without. Many volunteers aided those with families to get to their homes as soon as they could. Meanwhile, the survivors who did not have any relatives in Manila were relocated to temporary housing in the meantime.
A wide tent was set up a few meters from the aircraft’s parking bay. As soon as the passengers disembarked from the planes, their first stop was the tent. There was table after table of physicians checking and examining the survivors. Various medications were also readily available.
Since my mom was one of the volunteer doctors, I was designated to assist the physicians and help distribute the medicines each patient needed.
I volunteered and helped as much as I could. Every minute in between those hours gave me the opportunity to interact with a number of survivors from different parts of the Visayas. Many of the sick, wounded and injured were children—children who could not even clearly fathom the gravity of the situation they were in.
There were families with missing members. There were people walking alone with missing families. They were all hungry, tired and weary. Each one of them had a story to tell—a story that should be heard.
Brown paper bag
An old woman, with sunken cheeks and gray hair, was assisted toward one of the physician’s tables. With slow and dragging footsteps, she made her way to the table as her forehead wrinkled with curiosity. But she still managed to flash a weary smile as her eyes gleamed.
As soon as she sat down, Lola Teresita immediately opened a brown paper bag and pulled out a carton meal container. She didn’t look up again. She just ate hungrily, one spoonful after the other. The physician and I watched Lola Teresita until she finally finished the last grain of rice.
With a toothless smile, she apologized for what she did and we, in turn, said that it was no problem at all. Lola Teresita said that she had not eaten a full meal in days. She was hungry. They were all hungry. One spoonful of food was more than they could have asked for while they were in the midst of destruction. All they needed was to ease their hunger and thirst so they could hold on to hope.
After disembarking from a white military plane, a pregnant woman was immediately rushed to one of the doctors. Her stomach had already been contracting but her baby was still premature. I assisted the woman as well as her attending physician into the ambulance and onto the nearby hospital.
Ate Mary, the pregnant woman, told me that all the stress from the tragedy was taking a toll on her. She said that although she barely had anything in her pockets and any strength in her bones, she was holding onto the little angel she was carrying. That was her source of hope.
All of his belongings
A middle-aged man, wounded in different parts of his body, approached one of the tables, tightly clutching all of his belongings. I told him that he could put them down on the chair opposite him so he could give his weary arms a rest. But to my surprise, he did not want to let go of his belongings. Then, Kuya Benny decided to tell me why.
Throughout his struggle to evacuate Tacloban City, he encountered a number of people who wanted to help him out. One time, someone helped him carry a few of his bags as he was climbing up a steep road to get to the evacuation center where relief goods were being handed out. However, as soon as Kuya Benny handed his bags over, the man ran away with no hesitation.
Kuya Benny lost all of his possessions in the typhoon, most especially the little home he grew up in. Those bags that contained a few belongings he was able to recover were the only possessions he had left. And they were stripped away from him not by Supertyphoon Yolanda, but by someone who was as affected and wounded as he was.
Because people resorted to treacherous acts in the hope of survival, Kuya Benny said that he understood what the man must have felt. All of them were desperate during that time. Despite not having anything anymore, Kuya Benny says that his heart is rich with hope and love for his family.
Volunteering and helping out at Villamor Air Base was an experience I will never forget. As much as I wanted to help those survivors, they were the ones who helped and inspired me. There was so much strength and hope in every pair of eyes I came across. No matter what they have been through, they survived; they are survivors.
But it was not just food, water and shelter that kept them alive. It was hope and love that made them take one step after the other, no matter how weary they were.