A Father’s First Evacuation Experience


Written by Pia L. Camagay, Writer, Operation Blessing Philippines / Photos by Frederick Deserva, Volunteer Photographer

CAMALIG, ALBAY – It was Armando Almirol’s first time to become an evacuee. He lived comfortably in La Union all his life. When he and his wife, Gretchen, got married, they decided to stay in Albay. It’s been only 3 years since they moved to their home in Brgy. Quirangay when Mayon exploded. Armando planned to move back to his hometown in La Union with his family, but they could not just leave their relatives in Albay while the volcano is still active.

The view outside Room 5 of Bariw National High School, the room where Armando and his family are staying

It was an unusual sight: The 35-year old father was holding his youngest child – a son named Gabriel (2) – by the open stage at Bariw National High School. Behind him was his eldest, Archen (4), who was also trying to get some sun.

Armando with his children, Gabriel and Archen

In the typical Filipino family, it’s usually the mother who is left to care for the children; but Armando was just as hands-on with his children as a mother could be. When asked about his wife, Armando said she was doing the laundry. “’Pag maglalaba, ako magaalaga ng bata. ‘Pag magluluto [ako], siya naman mag-aalaga ng bata,” (When she’s doing the laundry, I take care of the children. When I cook our meals, she looks after them).

Gretchen and Armando and their children at their room in Bariw National High School

Life could have been a lot different, though. Before Mayon erupted, Armando was supposed to start work at a construction site in Malilipot, a town 1-hour away from his home in Quirangay. He had been struggling to find a stable job for months and the job in Malilipot seemed like his big break. But on the week when he was asked to report for work, the volcano erupted and his family had to flee for evacuation.

After settling in at Bariw, Armando realized he could no longer take the job in Malilipot. There was so much to worry about: Gretchen has been suffering from cough since the eruptions started. Gabriel was also suffering from fever. Archen needed supervision all the time because she was still so young. When asked when he was planning to look for work again, Armando simply said, “Siguro pagkatapos nitong [evacuation]. Hindi ko maiwan itong pamilya ko, eh… Baka may mangyaring masama sa kanila nang wala ako, eh.” (Maybe after the evacuation. I cannot leave my family behind. Something bad might happen to them while I’m away).

Life in Bariw has been a struggle for the Almirol family. They haven’t had any income since Armando had to stop working. They couldn’t rely on farming, either, as the farmlands in Quirangay are now covered in ash.

A typical day in Room 5

Armando is grateful that there are people and institutions like Operation Blessing that are helping them get through. “Mahirap din. Malaking tulong din ‘yung mga relief [goods]. Kung walang relief, paano na kami dito?” (It’s hard, too. The relief goods are a big help. If there were no relief, how would we survive?)

Operation Blessing wants to help out more people like Armando. A lot of families in Albay are struggling with their livelihood because of the eruptions. Family heads like Armando shoulder most of that burden. Alert Level 4 is still raised over Mayon, which means that a lot of people cannot yet go back to work. In Armando’s case, it will take some time before he can find work and get income once again.

Help us empower these people and meet their needs during these trying times. If you want to learn more about giving to Disaster Response Mayon, kindly go to http://www.obphil.com/home/give-through-banks/ or call us at +632 477-7802 to 08.