By Pamela Imperial, Volunteer Writer, Operation Blessing Philippines
Last week, a nameless monsoon hit the heart of Luzon, bringing deluge and floods even bigger in scale than the disastrous storm, Ondoy, that struck the Philippines last 2009. Numerous Filipinos and organizations sprang into action, sending out help to the hundreds of people stranded on their roofs, or fleeing from their homes. Shocked by the news and images that flooded Facebook, I immediately texted Operation Blessing, asking if they needed volunteers. I felt restless; I knew I could NOT just stay at home, doing nothing. Fortunately, help was much needed, and greater still, I was blessed enough to be assigned a writing task, accompanying the disaster relief and medical mission team visiting Malanday in San Mateo, Rizal last Friday, August 10, 2012.
Only my second trip as volunteer writer for Operation Blessing, and my first on a disaster relief mission, I found myself anxious and restless the night before. After a week of non-stop rain, a whole metro in a state of calamity, and a nation [still]scrambling to send out help to every corner of Metro Manila, I found myself wondering about my place in all this, and praying that, somehow, I get to help in my own, very small, way.
Gratefully, by that Friday morning, the rains had somewhat stopped and the mission proceeded without a hitch. In truth, it was -IS- a sad reality. Most of the residents needing help, headed first to the distribution area of relief goods; some completely bypassing the medical area, leaving immediately once they got their ration — a clear indication that for most of them, their topmost concern was the very basic need of food.
It does something to your heart, seeing a long line of people wait patiently for a bag of food, or even for just a few minutes with a doctor. Some of them wait sullenly, head bowed; Some, blankly; Some, they wait for a kind word, just a little nudge to let them know that you are someone they can talk to about their day, about what they went through, and sometimes, about who they are.
That particular Friday, I found myself drawn to “silver linings”. These “silver linings” were the simple stories and examples that shone through despite the darkness of the situation. I found myself taking snapshots, but really I knew that these were the important things I had to remember in my heart. I went with Operation Blessing expecting that I would be part of those helping them; Instead, I came home realizing that they were the ones inspiring me. I realized that — my place in all this? My place is simply just to tell their stories, and trust that they will reach the hearts that have been waiting to hear them.
I asked Nelia, who has been a long time staff in OB, “How does it make you feel, seeing this same scenario every time until it seems almost familiar? What makes you stay?” She answered, “It’s never the same. It’s different in each place. In each place, each person is different. Every time I look at them, every time I see their patience in lining up, it makes me want to stay.” Operation Blessing helps people in need, but it also, through this work of God’s heart, blesses the people who volunteer and work with them. Pastor Rick Leal, who was our host in Malanday, after the day’s mission had finished, affirmed, “Operation Blessing’s program is the most organized medical mission, and it is very clear that each doctor takes the time to care for the patient. This is true quality care.” Being part of this kind of work, this endeavor for excellence in helping others, makes every person part of the mission feel privileged. It draws volunteers to come back over and over again.
As for me, I hope to continually volunteer for Operation Blessing. I pray, that as I do, I will also be continually blessed by snapshots, stories and silver linings such as these:
Everyone went through counseling. I could not help but take a picture of this young father listening quietly, while holding his daughter close.
I immediately was drawn to this family. Meet Ligaya (mother), Larenz (10 y.o.), and Loreine (8 y.o.) — they were all smiles, despite the situation and the extremely long line.
Ligaya clutched her bag of relief goods, telling me that she sent her husband to find work. Even though the flood was starting to recede, they had no access to the basics because for many of the residents of San Mateo, work and sources of income were at a complete standstill. She shrugged simply– her family has been through this before, a few years ago with the coming of Ondoy.
Thus, Ligaya and her husband, Nolan, constantly dream of relocating the family to higher ground. However, even as her eldest daughter just started work at a call center, she knows that it will take a long time to make this dream a reality. Until then, she and her family will just fight to endure through this flood, and the next.
While speaking to Ligaya, I told her, “Nay, nakakatuwa’t kayo at ang mga anak niyo’y nakangiti!” (Mother, how delightful to see you and your children smiling!) She looked at me, and started tearing, “Ayokong makita nila akong malungkot, kahit gaano kahirap.” (I don’t want them to see me sad, no matter how hard it gets.)
This young boy spent his long waiting time reading his little booklet (given by OB). I loved watching him read intently, his lips moving as he read every word to himself quietly.
At first I thought they were mother and child. Upon questioning, I find out that Ate Nida is actually a part-time labandera at Michelle’s home. When Ate Nida’s house got buried in the flood, Michelle’s household took her in. Ate Nida and Michelle came in together, both seeking medical aid.
An extremely smart little girl, Michelle happily proclaimed, “Masaya po ako’t malawak ang bahay namin, pwedeng tumira po ang iba.” (I’m happy that our home is big enough to house other people.)
The most lively and optimistic 70-year-old woman I’ve ever met. Meet Nanay Victoria. I noticed her earlier in the line; at first I thought she was quiet and aloof, and I was a bit hesitant to approach her. But, once I said hello — what a firecracker of a woman! I couldn’t stop laughing while she delightedly told us that she used to be a beauty queen when she was eighteen, complete with her best ‘model’ pose and smile.
Living on a meager pension, Nanay Victoria takes care of her three grandchildren. She said that sometimes, all she has is rice to feed them for breakfast. Still, she encourages them to live positively. “I am strong because of the Lord! That’s why I tell my grandchildren to say everyday, when they wake up — Good Morning, Lord!”