MANILA, Philippines - A disaster can be an opportunity to open the door for a change for the better. This is how I feel about the tragedy that struck my hometown, Cagayan de Oro City. Typhoon Sendong left the city in ruins just days before Christmas.
Typhoon Sendong's devastation strengthened the resolve of our President to exercise political will to make government officials do what is necessary to mitigate the effects of disasters hitting the country every year. Officials found to have been responsible for the loss of lives in the flash floods will have to face the consequences. If the President can follow this through, real change will finally prevail. Rehabilitation and rebuilding begins with a strong political will!
A gift of volunteerism
The best gift I gave this Christmas was the assistance I gave to the victims of Sendong. I worked as a volunteer for World Vision, which gave me this chance to help others. Thank you to my best friend Karen Davila who sits on the board of trustees at World Vision. She asked me to be directly involved in the relief aid distribution at evacuation centers and in assessing the situation. I also traveled to the remote areas hit by Sendong.
On my first day as a volunteer, my heart broke when I went to the landfill that served as the dumpsite for the dead victims. The smell was unbearable; the sight was to me beyond description. Family members with photos in their hands and hopes in their hearts were arriving in search of their missing relatives.
In Iligan City, ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Ces Drilon was so shocked to see me in a remote town. She went by helicopter. We got there by car and on foot. "You are something else Melo!" Ces said.
At a nearby village, only 20 houses remain intact. This place used to be the site of 300 homes. So many residents are still missing. On my second day as a volunteer, amidst the environment of despair and uncertainty that surrounds the evacuation centers, I still saw hope. A baby girl was born at the height of the wrath of Sendong. It had been a struggle for her young mother to go through labor and keep her two other children safe.
I was confronted with another story of triumph when I met Nelia, a 51 year old mother of four, who was believed to be dead when she broke away from her son's grip as the raging waters washed away their home. Two days later she emerged bruised and traumatized but very much alive after she was rescued at another town. The reunion of the entire family on Christmas Day is a testament that miracles do happen.
The World Vision was already monitoring the trail of Typhoon Sendong two days before it hit our shores. Immediately, World Vision staff in Cagayan de Oro were mobilized to do impact assessment on the affected areas to determine the needs of the displaced families.
World Vision's assistance to the victims of Sendong is definitely beyond hand-to-mouth. They stay for months until rehabilitation is in place. My friend Joanne Andrada of Philippine National Red Cross was happy to learn I was a volunteer. She said, "The Philippine National Red Cross and World Vision are two organizations that are continuously extending humanitarian aid to the people of Cagayan de Oro. Together we shall overcome!"
I salute everyone who took time and effort to help in rebuilding the lives of the victims. The act of helping does not stop in giving a sack of rice or a bottle of water. We shall continue to be vigilant and involved until Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities are cleared of mud and of corrupt officials who refuse to advocate real change and progress.
For anyone who wishes to extend donations for the victims of Sendong thru World Vision, you may deposit directly to the following bank account details - BPI: 4251-0024-15; BDO: 000-2700-4341-1; Metrobank: 060-7060-5186-41; PSBank: 038-33200013-8. Please fax deposit slip to (02) 374-7660 or email scanned deposit slip to firstname.lastname@example.org. For online donations, visit www.worldvision.org.ph.
Have a meaningful Christmas and a blessed 2012!