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In the Spirit of Volunteerism, Typhoon Yolanda

By: Rocky Gabatin and Jerome Peralta
Photos from Loraine Mora
Students of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business

When something so devastating, so traumatic happens, we simply cannot just turn away and pretend that it didn’t even exist. This is especially true with what had just happened in the Philippines, which weather experts touted as the greatest weather disaster in recent history. On November 8, 2013, the category five typhoon, Haiyan, notoriously known as Typhoon Yolanda in Philippine soil, raked its claws into the Visayan region, destroying hundreds of millions in property damage, killing thousands of the population and displacing several thousands more.

As news of devastation came, there was a rush of help from different organizations and other countries to aid the typhoon victims. But more inspiring was that many ordinary citizens answered the call to give whatever they can. Whether it was donating clothes, food, bottled, drinks; packing and sorting donations; or buying paraphernalia geared to increase financial donations, this was all about being a volunteer. It builds a strong society; it promotes social welfare.

Thus, last November 27, 2013, several students of HUMRES Class S66 organized a relief operation at Operation Blessing Foundation Philippines in Bagong Ilog, Pasig. Ms. Ivy Formoso, Human Resource Management (HUMRES) professor at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business (AGSB), said these words to her students, “Class, extend a helping hand.” The HUMRES students who answered the call were Loraine Mora, Jackie del Castillo, Exo Peralta, Loraine Federizo, Rose Tan, Marchellie Balay, Joanne Sabularse, Kristine Celicious, Lucille Robles, Kristel Santillan, Raul Enriquez, Jr., Nathaniel Fernandez, and Rocky Gabatin.

Operation Blessing Foundation Philippines, Inc., established in 1996, provides humanitarian assistance to alleviate “hunger, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, and abuse.” 1

Heeding the call for help, Loraine Mora, our Class President, gathered all available people from our Humres S66 class to partake in the volunteer work. From email thread to classmates to individual text messages, she made sure that everyone was informed and involved. Once the date and time were set, we were ready to go.

Then the day finally arrived. One after another, we came to the site. We had to write our names down on a log-sheet to confirm our presence; some of us were still in office attire—but it didn’t matter. We were instructed to proceed to the “warehouse.” No one thought that this “warehouse” was something else; it was simply a long stretch of impromptu tent made out of what seemingly a lorry cover.

Upon arriving inside the makeshift warehouse inside Operation Blessing compound, the students were briefed on what to do: sort through what could have been the Mt. Banahaw of donated garments. One consolation, though, was that the staff was very organized and wonderful to us volunteers. We were given surgical gloves and masks to protect ourselves. We were also prayed over before starting to pack the donations. Lastly, we were given free dinner, water, coffee and biscuits. Even to volunteers, Operation Blessing showed compassion & benevolence.

Instructions on how to go about arranging the piles upon piles of clothes were given. “Isang sako kay Nanay, isang sako kay Tatay, kay Kuya, Ate, at kay Baby (One sack for mommy, one of daddy, one for Kuya, one for Ate and another for the baby),” said one of the staff. “Siguraduhin natin na maayos at magagamit pa nila ‘yung ibubukod natin (Make sure that what we’ll pack are things that are still in good working order and useable),” said another. We has to discard torn and tatty clothes in a separate sack.

It was tough working inside the makeshift warehouse. Having been made out of tarpaulin material, air was hot and stifling. The only entry point of air was the small passageways that also acted as entry and exit points of people. Inside, the combination of old, some partly moist due to recent rainfalls, clothes being transferred from one place to another, the sweat from the people working in the sorting, and the dust flung into the air from the clothes and people moving about was an extreme challenge. It was hard to move around because of the heaps of unsorted clothes; it was hard to breathe in deeply from the motes floating in the air.

We were tasked to pack the mountain of clothes inside this big tent. It was a very daunting task considering that we were very few. It seemed like we will have “ONE BIG FIGHT!!!” for that night.

God heard our prayers! He sent more “angels” later that night! Everyone was willing to help – teens, adults, professionals, students, girls and boys.

You could strongly feel the “bayanihan spirit” inside this tent. People were willing, even eager to help. There were no boundaries among those who came in – no ages, no careers, no genders; no other agenda but to fulfil this urge to volunteer. We saw these strangers uniting for someone else’s benefit, someone else’s hope. There were husband and wife, both doctors, and came in including their two children (who, I think, are 7 and 10 years of age). There were several groups of teenagers who chose to come in the building to help and at the same time, bond as friends. There were even walk-ins who just had thought of coming in to see what help they could give.

The re-packing was now in full throttle! Every corner of the room was filled with volunteers. Everyone was enjoying the work. You can hear laughter from every corner. Some chose to have some fun flinging some pieces of fabric at one another. “Ate, catch! Kay kuya yan!,” one volunteer uttered as she pointed at the nearly full sack of sorted clothing as it flew through the air. People laughed at jokes being told. Some sang.

After a few more hours, we were now able to see the floor that was filled with clothes earlier. The hours just literally passed by. The activity was fun and fulfilling. We also had a chance to know each other in a more personal level because of the activity. We all felt a sense of accomplishment just by looking at the boxes of sorted clothes that were ready to board the container vans for the victims of “Typhoon Yolanda.”

Going through this activity was a profound experience for all of us. This relief operation was different; while there was a substantial sense of fulfillment, there was an equal feeling of sorrow. We were doing this for the sake of survivors who were left homeless, penniless, and desperate—survivors who have family members painfully taken away from them.
At the end of the activity – despite the grime, fatigue, sadness, and sweat – everyone felt blessed and grateful. Nathaniel said, “It felt great to contribute time and effort to serve the Filipino people in need and to help them recover.” Even with just this activity, we, as HUMRES students, knew that we had done our part and there was this very important realization with how we experienced being a volunteer. As Loraine put it, “As humans, we are responsible for one another. If we truly desire to have a better world, we [must] act together as one. Sharing love to others without expecting in return is pure bliss.”

Indeed, there is no better time for this country to show its resilience despite calamities, death, and famine. Exo realized “that ‘Bayanihan’ spirit is more strongly felt in volunteerism compared to merely giving donations. It has changed my perspective in helping others. I will surely take part in similar activities in the future.”
There is no better time for this country to create hope… there is no better time to rise again as one nation.

Cura Personalis, AGSB!



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