Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Afternoon as a Volunteer at Villamor Air Base

Since the Typhoon struck Friday last week, my schedule has been erratic.  My Mom is in Borongan Eastern Samar and we haven't heard from them until a week later from a text message bearing the news that they are OK from a neighbor who works for the Red Cross.

A day after the typhoon, I wanted to come home for the weekend, but the long lines and the limited bus trips prevented from securing a ticket.  Last Wednesday, our company organized a relief drive for the victims.  We repacked more than a thousand bags that contained rice, canned goods, coffee and noodles plus towels and blankets.  Friday was the day the day it was brought to the DSWD, the same day I finally heard from my family.  Although, I was assured of their safety, I still can't help but get worried every time I see on Television the news on depleting supplies, panic buying and hoarding in the province.

Last Saturday, I received an invite for the Adopt a day at Villamor.  The company once again heeded the call by preparing meals good for 1000 people both for the arriving Survivors and the Volunteers.  That Monday morning, I finally received a text message from my Aunt herself.  She was with my Mother who is confined at the City Hospital because of her High Blood Pressure.  Finally, I was able to talk to her.  Hearing her for the first time after 10 days was so comforting.

With barely 2 hours of sleep, I decided to just go to the 11:00 AM call time at Villamor instead of reporting for work at 9:00 AM.  We were supposed to just help out the food tent of Ms. Iza Calzado, but I felt that there are already plenty of Volunteers in their group.  I decided to attend the Volunteer Orientation to know the different roles and what other groups I can join.  I decided to be a Marshal for the 2PM-9PM Shift.

Volunteers at the Villamor Airbase are divided into 4 groups.  

Those with medical background are encouraged to join the medical team at the medical tent.  Doctors and nurses are stationed in the area to check on the condition of arriving survivors.  Even medicines for common coughs and cold are available in the area.

Food Deliverer
People assigned to this group bring hot meals to the survivors who just arrived.  They also distribute snack and water to those staying at the grandstand.

These are runners who help out in maintaining order, carrying the loads from the survivors and ushering them to the grandstand and the Oplan Libreng Hatid at the driveway.  They also help load and unload supplies for the different tents servicing the survivors.

They require a licensed psychology background, but for volunteers, a separate orientation is conducted by the in-house psychiatrist, on top of the initial orientation.  They talk to the survivors and children and offer comfort through conversations.

What Happens in Villamor:

As soon as a C130 lands, an announcer requests all groups to be on standby.  Marshals will line up to ensure all paths leading to the grandstand bleachers are unobstructed.  Other marshals will be at the tarmac to take the load from the survivors and help carry them to the bleachers.  Those who needed medical assistance will be taken directly to the medical tent. Once they are settled, the food deliverers will then take over and feed the new arrivals with hot meals.  The others will give them bottled water, and relief goods.  After eating, the councilors will then talk to the families with a DSWD representative to document and assist them to the Oplan Hatid Tent to bring them to their relatives anywhere in Manila for free.  For those who do not have a place to stay, the DSWD also offers a temporary shelter for them.  Marshals will once again help in carrying the bags and boxes of the surviving families from the grandstand to the Libreng Hatid Tent.

Outside the grandstand are different booths organized by volunteers and private organizations.  Survivors may visit the used clothing tent for anything from shirts, slippers to towels and blankets.  They can also request for a hygiene kit.

A play tent was set up for kids, where they can bring home donated toys.

The big Telecommunication Company set up free calls and charging tents.

Food Tent receives and dispatches food and water for the arriving guests and volunteers.  Private groups have also organized a soup kitchen to ensure food supply round the clock.

My Tips to would be Volunteers:

1. For food deliverers, it's not enough that you bring the food to the survivors.  It is also important that you take care of the food you are giving because these came from the pockets of individuals and groups with the intention that the money they gave would not go to waste.  I observed some volunteers who would just leave the unconsumed soup cups at the bleachers uncovered.  Although they were disposed, it breaks my heart to see it go to waste.  Some would also mix the unconsumed food packs with the trash.

For those donating food, try not to send everything at once.  On an average, there are only 600 to 1000 arriving survivors a day; with the influx of donors we want to avoid spoilage.  Last Monday, the food was enough to feed the survivors, volunteers and the entire Philippine Army.  Loaf bread was given at a ratio of 1:1.  The arrivals would go on for two more weeks, and this is something we need to sustain by rationing our donation.

2. To the councilors, as much as we would like to talk to them, let's give them time to get settled and rest a bit before we approach them.  It's not a race and there is no price given to the person with the most numbers of interviewed survivors.

3. Let's avoid surrounding them like they are a spectacle to watch.  Also, please refrain from taking photographs.  Instead, use your free time to pick up the trash, grab the broom and help in preparing the vacated areas for other arriving survivors.

What I Loved About the Experience:

1. Every time a plane lands and we see survivors walking at the tarmac, all volunteers would stand and applause to honor their strength for what they have overcome.  At first, it felt weird, but seeing the families reunited with their relatives in tears sent shivers to my spine.

2. The people's willingness to help is overwhelming.  I am volunteering alongside with people from different walks of life, from students to popular celebrities.  I was picking up trash not knowing that I was sharing the same garbage bag with Agot Isidro.  Iza Calzado organized her friends to provide food for the survivors from morning until late at night.

3. Leading the group were volunteers themselves, who has been on the site since Day 1 and was trying to improve the system day by day.

4. I am touched by the Libreng Hatid Program.  Car owners volunteered their vehicle and gas to take the families to their relatives in Metro Manila.  They are also on standby the entire day, waiting for families they would take to their assigned areas.

We are all aware of the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda, but this also provided us an opportunity to be better persons by helping those in need.

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