Mere hours after disaster struck last Saturday, the National Red Cross Chapter in Muntinlupa, located at the Alabang Town Center, sprang into action. James Soan, 22, one of the six regular staffers at the center, gathered the rest of his team to plan a survey session of eight stricken barangays from Tunasan to Sucat. Upon seeing the damage wreaked on house and human by tropical storm Ondoy, James knew that something had to be done immediately. “Put yourself in the shoes of the people who are there [in the affected areas],” he reasons. “You will have a heartfelt desire to help.”
Indeed, the events that unfolded on September 26, when flash floods brought about by a record-breaking downpour swept Metro Manila, have brought about a nationwide surge of empathy and support. Private individuals and public institutions alike have flung their doors wide open to shelter those displaced by the floods. Television networks and retail businesses are gathering donations in bulk and delivering them to devastated areas or their respective evacuation centers. Churches and civic organizations are also taking up the cause by organizing fund drives, feedings, and daily sessions for packing relief goods.
Amidst all these efforts, the Red Cross remains a central force. From soliciting, packing, and delivering donations, to fund-raising via text in conjunction with major telecom companies, to maintaining a 24-hour hotline for both victims and volunteers to call, the institution is tireless in its pursuit of social aid. And with the help of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, the Red Cross Chapter in Muntinlupa, particularly, has found a regular pool of assistance in the southern youth.
The volunteers, mostly college and high school students, were either invited to join by friends or motivated by online fliers to participate. Almost all sit on the floor of the small center—or on the pavement outside it—organizing food, clothing, medicine, bedding, and miscellaneous items to be delivered later in the evening. It is remarkable how, on a day of suspended classes, the young people have decided to forego mindless relaxation for perpetual sorting.
Arlene Amante, 22, believes that at such a time, there is no other option. “Why stay at home if you can help? I think everyone should be doing this,” she adamantly says.
Sisters Ali and Lissi Leuterio, 22 and 14, respectively, see volunteer work as their way of giving back. Lissi, a student from De La Salle Zobel, had to wait in St. Scholastica for a total of 14 hours last Saturday, when an interschool game left her and countless other pupils stranded. Although she was eventually picked up by her father, both sisters remain shaken by the ordeal. “If it happens to you, wouldn’t you want someone to help?” asks Lissi. And while Ali acknowledges that the typhoon did not harm her family in any worse way, she does share that several close friends were greatly affected by it. This is what inspires her to reach out to the victims of Ondoy. As she puts it, “I just try to find little ways to help out.”
BK Calucin, on the other hand, recognizes her assistance at the Red Cross as spur-of-the-moment. “Bigla nalang nagustuhan ko lang,” she explains, describing how she saw pictures and videos of the flood victims on the Internet. The 22-year-old goes on to say that government assistance did not seem to be sufficient to cover all the damage; thus she felt compelled to shoulder some of the responsibility herself.
Friend Kreame Isaac, 21, adds, “Before, na-experience rin [ng pamilya ko] yung baha at kailangan naming ng tulong.” Now, she believes that what she and BK are doing is necessary, in light of the fact that they emerged from this particular disaster unscathed.
The most thoughtful statement of the day comes from 30-year-old Keith Dador, who in the ‘90s was a trainer for the Red Cross. Today, he is acting as pro-bono photographer. “It’s always punk rock to help,” he muses between shots, “because you take things into your own hands, you do it yourself, kaysa nagmumukmuk ka lang sa bahay.” It is evident that in this situation, when despair was expected to prevail over hope, the youth volunteering with Red Cross are thinking exactly the way Keith is. To change the situation, to reverse the status quo, to ease the suffering, you have to take matters into your own hands—and do as much as you can to help others.
The Muntinlupa Red Cross is located outside National Bookstore in the Alabang Town Center, facing Alabang-Zapote Road. The center is open from 8AM to 8PM. Walk-in donations and volunteers are welcome. For inquiries or donations, call Philippine National Red Cross hotline 143 or 527-0000.