Friday, December 2, 2011

Touching lives in the Philippines

UMCOR staff and volunteers bring food supplies to submerged communities in the Philippines after a series of typhoons struck the country this fall. Credit: UMCOR Philippines


UMCOR. Be There. Be Hope
UMCOR’s mission is to alleviate
Human suffering, whether caused by
war, conflict, or natural disaster, with
hearts and minds open to all people.

As a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, I am well aware of the various problems the country faces. I grew up near the sea, where the waves were my playmates and typhoons just “part of the season.”

As a typhoon gets nearer, the community grows apprehensive. Even with the forecasts and all the warnings, residents have learned to “expect the unexpected.” One typhoon may cause more or less damage than what was foretold, and this is just natural anticipation by Filipino citizens. The Philippines expects around 20 – 25 typhoons per year, besides other calamities such as landslides, floods, and earthquakes—enough disasters to be worried about.

When I first volunteered with UMCOR, I learned basic preparedness and response. When I finally got the chance to join the field work in various communities, I came to realize that typhoons and calamities are not just “part of the season.” Communities are immersed in water, houses are destroyed, properties are damaged, people go hunger and are injured, and the worst: lives are lost. These are the inevitable problems of my country, and being an UMCOR volunteer enabled me to be part of the solution.

Recently, I attended a mission in Isabela, where people were having food shortages after three consecutive typhoons hit their province. One strong typhoon after another was enough to clean their fields of long-awaited crops. Their agricultural products turned into a sea of ruin, where very little could be collected for food. Crops the people planted with their bare hands, under the heat of the sun, where swept away by those three typhoons.

UMCOR learned about this situation through the help of the local churches and prepared to respond to the situation. Goods were packed, and the 10-hours journey by land to Isabela followed. When we reached the people, all our body aches, fatigue, and sleepless nights vanished. Just the sight of our needy sisters and brothers made personal discomforts seem small. The people were given food supplies, which they received with gratitude. On our way back home, we were blanketed with the ultimate joy of sharing.

I think the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters is the primary thing that keeps UMCOR going. The goods that we pack for distribution are packed in the hope that these will not only ease the hungry stomach but, also, give hope to the recipients. These goods remind them that they are not alone in their situation and that there is a God who commanded His children to love others as themselves. The survivors of calamities may not fully understand why such disasters have happened in their lives, but their smiles tell us they are glad we’ve come in solidarity.

It doesn’t matter how hard it was to reach their places. It doesn’t matter much body ache we have to endure. At the end of the day, our hearts are filled with uncontainable happiness. We may not even know all the names of the people we meet in a day of mission; there’s just the ringing truth that lives have been touched.

By Archelaus Joseph Q. Laudes, a volunteer with UMCOR Philippines.

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