Stories from the Relief Effort

The last 4 days have been really interesting as our church, Victory Fort Bonifacio, has joined with lots of other organizations and individuals in bringing relief goods to those affected by the floods caused by Ondoy. As of this writing, we’ve sent out a total of 11,700 bags of relief goods, clothes, and medicines, to over 20 different locations from the Fort.

Other Victory venues are also continuing relief efforts. Pioneer received, repacked, and sent goods to the Fort for distribution. Ortigas distributed too, along with mounting rescue missions for many of the stranded. Greenhills, Alabang, Caloocan, U-belt… Our people definitely showed faith and love in action.

It’s been saddening to see the damage and destruction all over the Metro. I don’t think we’ll know the complete picture for weeks. The death toll also continues to rise. With so many missing, it doesn’t look like we’re even close to the actual number yet.

However, it’s also inspiring to see how some people respond. Whether it’s the generosity of volunteers, the bravery of those affected, or the tireless efforts of the local governments and NGO’s, it’s encouraging to see people making the best of things.

Here are some of the stories that reflect both sides.

—–>>> While giving out relief goods in Marikina, one man received his bag, unwrapped a pack of crackers, and dropped the wrapper on the floor as he walked away. I almost ran to him to explain to him that it was poor waste management like that that contributed to the flood. I don’t know if the calamity makes you into a different person, or only brings out what’s really inside. Probably a little of both.

—–>>> Speaking of showing what’s really inside, these times of calamity also bring out the true colors of those moving to help. It’s appalling to see/hear of the groups and individuals (READ: politicians) who capitalize on such a moment for personal gain. From groups introducing their candidates and making speeches before giving out goods, to groups REPACKING our bags into bags with their labels, and relief efforts that refuse to cooperate with people from rival parties and actually halting the distribution. Wow… I guess we know what’s really important to them.

—–>>> That being said, we’ve also seen some very heroic efforts from representatives of the local government units. In our work in Taguig, where our teams distributed over 3000 bags in the municipality, brave women from the DSWD led our men through the flooded areas to reach evacuation centers in the most hard-hit barangays. I have nothing but great respect and admiration for the kagawads, tanods, and konsehals who work in such a thankless, difficult, and stressful environment, but still do their best to bring support to their people.

—–>>> I’m also inspired by the heroic efforts of all who gave and volunteered. It was such a mixed bag of people.

—> Oliver, the French social worker, who’s here on vacation, but eager to help. Oliver saw the damage, walked around the Fort looking for where he could volunteer, and was directed to our building. He proved to be a source of laughter by keeping the mood light even with all the heavy lifting.

—> George the Liberian MMA fighter. George has lived in the Philippines for a number of years. He maintained his energetic and willing disposition the whole day. Every time we sent him out to give goods, he returned looking for more.

—> So many more people contributed too – the students from the University of Makati, the students from Recto dressed in flood-wading gear (I guess they’re used to it.), basketball players, and even 10 Army soldiers who proved most helpful and stayed cool under pressure.

—–>>> Coach Eric Altamirano brought 15 of his teenage basketball players to distribute goods. We sent him with a truck and over a thousand bags into some areas where the floods were still waist high. As they handed out the bags, one woman waded to the front of the line, but refused a bag of relief goods. She said she would rather have a picture with the basketball players. At least, there was one moment worth laughing about.

—–>>> That same trip turned sour later on though when they came to their last stop to distribute relief goods at a church-turned-evacuation center. People from the nearby barangay hall saw the truck of goods and demanded it for themselves. These people HAD NOT BEEN AFFECTED BY THE FLOOD. In fact, they all still stayed in their homes. But they saw so many trucks of relief goods go by, they wanted to get some too. When our volunteers explained that they were for the families in the evacuation center, they surrounded the truck, shouting and attempting to grab the bags. It was a good thing our team had four soldiers in uniforms and they deterred the people from taking the goods by force.

Our team had to back out and find another entry to the evacuation site. As they did so, the crowd continued to follow them shouting and throwing stones. Thank God no one was injured. Our brave volunteers persisted and eventually got the goods to the evacuation center. That same night I received an online message from a girl from that area expressing her gratitude to our volunteers. She said the people in the evacuation centers burst into applause when the goods arrived.

—–>>> LATEST: A team just went out to a local squatter area that no one has reached with any goods since the flood. If the flood could damage trucks and houses like it did, imagine the damage to squatter shanties. There were at least 30 dead, with many more being discovered. A large number of the people who died were children – grade schoolers. My brother, Joshua, and his girlfriend, Kristie, scouted the area and brought back a report of the need there. Gabby Vargas, one of our campus missionaries, led the distribution team.

The people were surprisingly grateful and gracious to our team. For a community that suffered so much loss, they were amazingly resilient. In Gabby’s words, “After yesterday, I thought that all victims of the calamity had become nasty and mean already. But seeing these people changed my perspective again.” They continue to live nearby, cleaning their homes in the morning and returning to the evacuation center at night.

So that’s what it’s been like for our teams who have gone out. There are many other stories that I’m sure will keep this experience etched in everyone’s mind. It’s been great seeing what has been accomplished in such a short time by amateurs! Thank you to all those who participated!

But there is still so much more work to be done, and the need now isn’t relief alone, but rebuilding of the communities. Beyond just giving bags of goods, more pressing needs are surfacing like medical attention, clean drinking water, and restoration of a way of life.

In light of this, we’re transitioning our efforts from packing and releasing relief goods ourselves to partnering with local government units and specialized non-government organizations. We will continue to accept goods and money for donation to pass to organizations like the Red Cross. If you want to donate, please visit http://tinyurl.com/victorydonate

Please continue to pray for the people who have been seriously affected by the floods and for those who continue to serve them. Remember, we can all give and we should all pray.

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