Real and Infanta, Quezon Relief
When everyone was busy preparing for and looking forward to the coming holidays, four back-to-back typhoons struck the Eastern coast of Luzon gravely affecting the towns of Real, Infanta, General Nakar of Quezon Province and Dingalan of Aurora Province. The damage was astounding, but the Great Love of the Tzu Chi volunteers was more compelling enough to lead the residents and their respective township onto the (cleaner) road to recovery.
The end of the year 2004 was punctuated with a chain of lashing typhoons Muifa (Unding), Merbok (Violeta), Winie and Nanmadol (Yoyong). The typhoons, which hit the country week after week, triggered landslides and heavy flooding that caused widespread destruction, wiping out houses and infrastructures and leaving behind a thick layer of mud, uprooted tress and logs.
As of December 13, 2004, 2,000 people were reported dead, 1,023 injured and 559 missing. And it is estimated that 130,000 houses were damaged and 38,000 totally destroyed.
Adhering to the Tzu Chi’s spirit of “spearheading the tasks and working on until the last” on disaster relief efforts, Tzu chi volunteers from Manila immediately traveled to the affected areas, barely 48 hours after the last typhoon left the country. One team of volunteers traveled through the rough and rugged terrain to reach Dingalan, Aurora while another group took helicopters to reach Real and Infanta, Quezon.
Bringing along medical volunteers, Tzu Chi immediately provided emergency relief items such as food and medication to the sick and the wounded.
From that first trip, Tzu Chi volunteers, traveling on land and by air, have returned almost every day to the typhoon-stricken areas to provide assistance to the victims. The areas were hard to reach, but Tzu Chi volunteers persevered in going there out of “Great Love.”
For the volunteers, Great Love could not bear for others to suffer. As unexpected as the events that happened, the group of volunteers in blue and white, unknown to the people in Quezon and Aurora, immediately came to respond.
Although Master Cheng Yen feels for the Tzu Chi volunteers who go with very little sleep and rest, she feels greater heartache for the victims in disaster areas. Mindful of everyone’s security, Master Cheng Yen has always told the volunteers to go back to the said provinces with caution.
Guidance from the Master
When Tzu Chi volunteers asked for Master Cheng Yen’s guidance on their intended disaster relief operation, she gave the volunteers “a long list of things to carry out – the simultaneous initiatives.” Aside form providing relief goods and medical services, other initiatives include cleanup and disinfection, provision of potable water supply through a water purification system, and community development.
With the challenge of implementing these five initiatives, Master Cheng Yen encouraged the volunteers to be united, to be in harmony, to love one another and to combine their strengths to be able to achieve the common goal of relieving the sufferings of the victims. In these times, Tzu Chi volunteers were encouraged to stand side by side and hand in hand in relieving the sufferings of others.
The Tzu Chi volunteers were tasked to focus on the more seriously damaged areas as soon as the roads leading to these places are passable. Thus, the volunteers headed to the province of Quezon.
Quezon, which suffered more than 20 landslides and the most number of casualties, has become the center of assistance of Tzu Chi. The volunteers provided relief assistance simultaneously in three areas in Real, benefiting 2,200 families. To address the health needs of the residents, Tzu Chi volunteer doctors also conducted medical missions in three simultaneous areas in Real.
In Infanta, since the area was still not passable by light ordinary vehicles, medical volunteers rode on board the bucket of a pay loader to reach the mission site while the roads were still covered with mud. Hundreds of patients who suffered mostly from diarrhea, colds and wounds, were immediately treated.
Also, anti-tetanus injections were given to patients who suffered puncture wounds from walking without shoes or slippers. To prevent the residents from getting further foot injuries, Tzu Chi volunteers also provided 6,000 pairs of boots and masks to the residents of Infanta.
Without clean water for weeks, Tzu Chi tapped the fire volunteers of the East Binondo and South San Nicholas Volunteer Fire Brigade to join the relief mission and bring to Quezon 5,000 gallons of potable water.
To provide potable water supply to the residents of Real and Infanta for a longer period of time, the Tzu Chi Main Office in Taiwan sent a water purifier housed in a 20-ft. container van. The water purifying machine, which is only two units in the world, has the capacity of producing 500 tons of potable water from dirty water every day.
Four engineers from Tzu Chi’s Disaster Emergency Response Team from Taiwan were also sent to install the water-purifying system. Stainless tanks were purchased and placed by the Tzu Chi volunteers in public places in different barangays for the residents to have an easier access to clean water supply. Each smile and each expression of excitement of the residents who availed of the water reflected the happiness of the people in Real.
To take on the cleanup and disinfection process, Tzu Chi started sending heavy machineries such as bulldozers, pay loaders, backhoes and dump trucks to the disaster sites to expedite the cleanup and clearing of mud in affected communities. These units of heavy equipment were lent to Tzu Chi for free by its generous donors.
Two hundred residents in Infanta were also hired and compensated daily by the foundation to help in the cleanup efforts. This program was aimed to hasten the cleanup process and at the same time give the residents, who were left jobless by the disaster, a source of income.
Thousands of loving hands, selfless hearts
The succeeding activities of Tzu Chi after the disasters are all aimed to inspire more people to come together as one, combine their strengths and awaken their sense of altruistic love to everyone. Besides the fire brigade volunteers, Tzu Chi also volunteers invited more and more volunteers including the Tzu Chi Still Thoughts Hall Construction site workers, employees of companies owned by Tzu Chi volunteers, architects and office personnel of the architectural firm Palafox Associates; to join them in the relief and cleanup efforts.
Because we have little control on what happens, rather than being passive, we should actively seek on relieving and helping others. Tzu Chi then, has set precedence in the history of Filipino-Chinese community. Starting on January 8, 2005, volunteers including the Chief Executive Officers of companies, businessmen, doctors, several prominent figures in the society, among others, humbled themselves and took courage by initiating a street donation effort in Chinatown and Divisoria areas, in SM City, SM Megamall and SM Cebu; and in schools all over the metropolis.
Posters were shown, flyers were distributed, and volunteers painstakingly visited every shop in every alley and street to solicit donations for the typhoon victims. Still, other volunteers patiently positioned themselves on street corners for one whole day only to encourage people to share their blessings and help the disaster victims.
People from all walks of life – professors, businessmen, students, passersby, market vendors, jeepney drivers, tricycle drivers, and even beggars willingly shared what they have to help in Tzu Chi’s endeavor. Tzu Chi volunteers on the other hand reciprocated these with profuse thanks and sincere bows, as a sign of their gratefulness to each of the loving contribution of the public.
Master Cheng Yen said that the land is greatly scarred and most of the time, it is caused by the disasters of the mind. Master Cheng Yen sees that a humanistic culture should be instilled. These disasters should also teach us a lesson, to ensure that we awaken other people’s sense of compassion, inspire more people to move forward, thus lessen the impact of such tragedies. Tzu Chi believes that a single good deed can dissolve many difficulties and thousands of good deeds can benefit humanity.