Mga Batang Bayani

YOLANDA – Everyone was surprised at the devastation wrought by this typhoon when it hit the Philippines late 2013. From Manila, I felt helpless when I saw how Yolanda swept through the Visayan region and its dreadful aftermath. We were very much aware of the immediate help that came from all over the country and the world to relief the victims with short-term support. As the media exposure subsided, I cannot help but wonder if a sustainable rebuilding plan has been put in place to give those impacted with a fresh new start.

Right before the summer of 2014, I was excited when an opportunity came up for iVolunteer to help Gawad Kalinga recruit volunteers for the Bayani Challenge 2014: Walang Iwanan. It’s the seventh year of the program and focused on helping the Yolanda victims rebuild their homes across 12 provinces, with the help of one million volunteers.

Enthusiastic not just to encourage others to volunteer but to also do the same, we as individuals from iVolunteer took the challenge and organized ourselves to visit Ormoc, Leyte. My intention of going was twofold—to be able to give a little joy to the affected residents helping them to recover from any form of trauma and sorrow from the tragedy and at the same time find those unspoken heroes and thank them for the simple yet impactful deeds they do for others during this time of healing.

We started our adventure on May 1st from Manila to Cebu to Ormoc and finally to the district of Tambulilid. Immediately after docking at Ormoc, I noticed the structural damages to the city center: the roof was gone and the signage was incomplete. The village of Gawad Kalinga seemed to have suffered the worst damages, with almost everything lost except their cemented bathroom of about 1 sqm wide. This was the same bathroom which served as a safe room for most of the families during Yolanda—they were able to protect 12 people during the height of the typhoon. The other structure still standing is the small village administration office which protected about 200 residents. Homeless and waiting for permanent housing, the people stay in the makeshift houses with a communal living, kitchen, and dining area.

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Right after dinner, we decided to go back to the village to meet some of the other volunteers. I was surprised how the uneventful site in the afternoon became lively and festive. Everyone was so energetic and positive; we were received with smiles, high-fives, and enthusiasm.At first I did not understand what the celebration was for, but as individuals started giving heartfelt testimonials and offering their prayers of gratitude, I comprehended that it was a thanksgiving for life, hope, and the spirit of bayanihan within the community. I felt that my first objective (to give a little joy to the affected residents) was no longer relevant as they were ready and eager to move forward.

During this time, a group of young individuals caught my attention as they passionately performed the “Unity Dance” of GK which was repeated thrice during the entire night; they were the SIGA (Youth) members of another GK Village–Rotary/Globe, which is about 4km from the Human Nature village where the event was held. Their enthusiasm overflowed from their presentations keeping every energized throughout the night! Even as we head back and retire from the day, the Unity Dance Song keeps on playing in my head (“Ikaw – Ako –Tayo’y sama-samang kumilos!…”) feeling fired up for the activities ahead

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Hyped from the previous night, we were excited to get our hands dirty. I volunteered for thechild care center (Paraisong Pambata) while my other colleagues volunteered to do house building. I finally had a chance to talk to the GK Youth members while we walked to the Human Nature village under the burning sun. They used to be participants of Paraisong Pambata themselves but now they are giving back to the community by leading the program for the younger generation, giving them hope and helping them recover from the calamity. They take care and teach these children while their parents work and participate in rebuilding the village.

Being the big sisters and brothers of these little kids is not easy. The situation itself requires tremendous commitment in order to execute the program with very limited resources and materials, in a very humid environment and at the same time matching the energy of the kids. Joyce, Albert, and Byron (three of the GK Youths) showed remarkable resourcefulness by fitting 80 kids in a house that was about 20 sqm big and at the same ensuring that everybody got to participate and have fun. My favorite was the zip clap—a chant to quiet down the participants. “1… 2… 3 (with clap)… 1… 2… 3 (with stamp)… Zip!” Another four members of the GK Youth, Jonathan, Mariel, Joan, and Jobelle, enabled the creativity of the children during the group activities “paint me a picture” and “jingle making” which showcased the sprouting ingenuity ofthe kids.

The GK Youth group, who individually have proven themselves to be very talented in singing as they showcased their singing prowess right before we had lunch, are the unsung heroes I was looking for. They exemplify the fact that volunteering is not only something you do when you retire; it can also be cool and hip when you are young!  (*salute!* Thank you young heroes!) I was speechless to hear Byron’s noble answer when I asked him what he intends to do after college: “I simply want to be happy… Happy by helping and serving my own community.”

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The GK Youth

Back: Amanda, Bel, Jonathan, JB, Joyce, Byron, Lala, Juvilyn

Front: Joan, Kuya Jason, Jobelle, Mariel, Maiza, Mana

Overall, it was a short trip yet the journey was definitely worthwhile. It uplifted me beyond my expectation to come home and continue inspiring others to participate in iVolunteer’s movement. To the residents of the GK Rotary-Globe and Human Nature village: THANK YOU!  We thought that we were the ones who would help but in reality we gained more from you as you proved that the spirit of BAYANIHAN is not  outdated and these trials are just means to become one stronger community! #bawatpinoybayani

JB Tan,  April 29, 2015

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