Friday, Mar 05

Old Balara’s ‘volunteers at heart’

February 18, 2017 | Jonas Trinidad

Every time Nida Sistona (left) receives a blessing of Taiwan rice, at least ten more partake in her generosity. Among them is 89-year-old Corazon Gallnosa (right) who lives all alone in a part of Barangay Old Balara, Quezon City. A former barangay councilor, Sistona lives to serve the people any way she can. In this case, she does it by allocating half of her 20 kilos of rice for those who didn’t get to receive any. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Tzu Chi’s rice relief distribution on February 18 benefitted a total of 3,152 families of Barangay Old Balara, Quezon City. However, the number may be much more due in no small part of the goodwill of the community sharing their blessings with others who didn’t manage to receive any.


As soon as she got home, Nida Sistona opened her share of Love From Taiwan. Before she could cook a batch for dinner, she grabbed a handful of plastic bags and filled each with a kilo each. Before long, ten bags of one-kilo rice were ready to be distributed to those who never received their share.

 The early afternoon of February 18 poured down on Barangay Old Balara. Regardless, Sistona walked along the winding alleys of her neighborhood with one of the bags.

Minutes later, the bag of rice finally ended up in the hands of 89-year-old Corazon Gallnosa, a resident of Old Balara since the 1970s. Alone in her house now scheduled for demolition, she has been under Sistona’s care for as long as the latter has resided here. The rest of Gallnosa’s family cannot be accounted for, while her husband has already “gone on ahead.”

“Even if people don’t recognize me, I still fulfill my duties as a Tzu Chi volunteer—as one of the seeds [sown by] Tzu Chi,” says 56-year-old Sistona, a former barangay councilor.

Sistona is a volunteer at heart, even though she has no uniform to show for it. Yet, it won’t stop the grateful indigent community from helping others. The February 18 rice distribution at Old Balara Elementary School (OBES) may have benefitted a total of 3,152 families, but with a heart of gold, that number may be much more.

“I accepted the blessing from Tzu Chi, but I also thought about those that desperately need this kind of assistance, at least one kilo for each of them. I’m grateful and hoping that Tzu Chi never stops helping our neighborhood,” adds Sistona.

Fellow resident Angeles Fernandez dons the coveted “blue angel” uniform, but she continues to fulfill her duties no matter what she wears.

“For me, whether or not you’re a Tzu Chi volunteer, anyone can help as long as it comes from the heart. No matter where we are in the world or where we stand in the hierarchy of society, we can help others,” says Fernandez.

Since the certification of the first volunteers in 2010, Old Balara has transformed a great deal. Tzu Chi continues to frequent the area, be it rice relief or recycling programs. From a regular elementary school, OBES has evolved into the heart of Tzu Chi’s activities in the barangay. In almost every classroom, in fact, choice Jing Si aphorisms can be seen inspiring the students. Such an accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible with Tzu Chi volunteers alone. For that, they worked with the goodwill of the community, ever grateful for the continued assistance.


Gratitude begets goodwill

In many cases, goodwill done in one community translates to gratitude in another. Evelyn Ero can’t thank the Buddhist organization enough for their efforts not just in Old Balara but also in Samar in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

“Tzu Chi helped my relatives battered by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Samar, which is a big deal for me because I personally can’t help them much,” narrates Ero, whose relatives reside in Borongan in Eastern Samar. The city bore the brunt of Yolanda in 2013 just as Tacloban and Ormoc did.

Ero wants to return the favor with goodwill, helping her immediate neighbors any way she can.

“Our neighbors will be the first to seek help, so we must be kind to them and help them as much as possible. The greatest foundation in a person is being able to mingle with others,” adds Ero.

Norma Lopez, meanwhile, continues to receive rice from Tzu Chi long after its medical help to her has ended. In 2011, she fractured her left knee after stumbling just to get away from a dog about to bite her. Volunteers visited her home and assessed her needs. Today, the scar on her left knee reminds her of the injury, as well as the steps Tzu Chi took to remedy it.

“You can really see in their faces that they want to help,” Lopez says.

The teachings of Master Cheng Yen have permeated into the hearts and minds of the locals of Old Balara through the years. Some have answered the call and become Tzu Chi volunteers, while others continue to sow seeds of goodness as they are. In the end, all it takes to perform good deeds is the will to do such.

  • Carrying their recyclables, rice recipients make a beeline for the gates of Old Balara Elementary School, the venue of the distribution. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The first wave of rice recipients lends ears to a Tzu Chi volunteer sharing a handful of important philosophies that define the foundation. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteers go around, collecting what little the recipients can share with the needy of the country. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The people of Old Balara raise their fists in unity as one family, a community that looks after each other through thick and thin. 【Photo by Nancy Que】

  • A Tzu Chi volunteer leads Evelyn Ero to the rice distribution site outside the school’s gymnasium. While a resident of Old Balara, Ero feels Tzu Chi’s work miles away in her relatives’ province of Eastern Samar, which benefitted from Tzu Chi after Typhoon Yolanda. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Norma Lopez (right) shares a laugh with local Tzu Chi volunteers after getting her rice. Tzu Chi in 2011 helped Lopez with her left knee after a close encounter with a dog fractured it. Now, she’s free to walk on her own two feet. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Smiling rice recipients leave OBES despite the early afternoon downpour. The February 18 rice distribution benefitted a total of 3,152 families, but the goodwill of this indigent community may see the rice getting to others who never got any. 【Photo by Heng Choun Lee】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Angeles Fernandez (right) holds a plastic bag open for Nida Sistona (left) to pour rice into. She packs a kilo of rice out of her blessing from Tzu Chi for the benefit of the other needy families. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Nida Sistona (right) shows her jacket she wore as a barangay councilor. She served the public of Old Balara faithfully until 2010. Even after her term, she continues to serve. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The helping hands in both the logos of Tzu Chi’s charity mission (left) and the League of Barangay Councilors (right) bear a striking resemblance, reflecting the similarity in the mission to help the people. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】


  • 20170307 Rice Relief in Sitio Payong Old Balara, Quezon City

  • LAST UPDATED: October 16, 2018 13:10 PM