Seventeen-year-old Rav James M. Lopez was at her grandparents’ house in Gattaran, Cagayan, when Typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: Vamco) hit.
“We were very lucky. We were spared by the massive flooding,” the Tuguegarao City Science High School student said.
But not everyone in their town was as fortunate. “Many families in several barangays in our town were affected by the floods,” Lopez said. “I’ve seen the struggles of the people around me and I realized that maybe I can help. I thought I could do much better than just share posts on social media. I can use my social media platform in a more beneficial way.”
Lopez, her mom Jenevee, and cousins Denise and Yvonne Aquino, 17- and 16-year-old students of St. Paul University in Tuguegarao City, started a donation drive. They posted details online and soon, they started receiving messages from people who wanted to donate. “More than a hundred people also shared my Facebook post. Relatives and family friends chipped in,” said Lopez.
But it wasn’t just family and friends who wanted to help. Soon, strangers were sending aid, too. They gave donations in cash and kind. In just several hours, they were able to raise enough money to put together dozens of relief bags and sanitary packs.
Lopez said they’ll bring relief goods to families in different barangays in Gattaran. “It’s a municipality three towns from Tuguegarao, where I go to school. It is composed of 50 barangays,” said Lopez of her hometown. “Every November we celebrate our town fiesta called Agsalukag Festival. The word agsalukag means ‘to be progressive.’ This Ilocano word has a deep meaning for me. People of Gattaran possess discipline, dedication and determination because they want to achieve progress.”
On Tuesday, the Lopezes and Aquinos distributed 170 relief bags to five different barangays. “We also served packed meals. Tomorrow, we have 120 more relief bags going to three barangays. We will continue to do this for as long as we are receiving donations.”
They’re still getting donations, said Lopez, including from her mom’s friends abroad. They want to extend help to neighboring towns Alcala and Baggao as well.
“This experience made me realize that helping even in the simplest way can be very impactful not only to me but also to others. I got to encourage other people to do the same thing,” she said.
While her modest fundraising efforts gave Lopez a chance to see just how generous people can be, unscrupulous characters surfaced, too. “Two days after I launched the donation drive, someone sent me a message on Twitter. They saw a comment in a Facebook post asking for cash donations. The comment included an edited version of the photo I posted.”
Scammers tried to hijack their donation drive by changing the account details to theirs. Lopez said, “I am not mad, just disappointed. During these times, when thousands of Filipinos are struggling to survive, people still choose to do such acts. They divert the much-needed donations away from those who really need them. This is a warning to everyone. We need to always verify if we are giving to the right recipients.”
Lopez is not letting those with ill intent stop her desire to help. “In these uncertain times, we can use our everyday privileges to help those who are in need. Through social media platforms, we can influence others to do the same thing because even the smallest act of kindness can make a big difference.”
Those who also want to help can do it through BDO, Jenevee M. Lopez 012030052147; GCash 0906-8865857; Rav James Lopez on Facebook; @radiumvanadium on Twitter.