“Balsa may be the biggest relief caravan we have ever conducted, involving at least three regions and hundreds of volunteers. Over the past week, the mass movement here and abroad have been collecting relief goods, other forms of assistance for the people of Eastern Visayas and Panay.” – Renato Reyes, Bayan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Being a single mother of two children, Ching Galman, 38, has a lot of problems to deal with. Her meager salary as a contractual worker for a garments factory is barely enough to cover their needs. But when she saw the extent of damage Typhoon Yolanda left in the provinces of Visayas, she did not think twice about finding ways to help.
“We ran after jeepneys, trucks and taxis asking for donations. There were 10 of us. Some would give us P5, P10 or P20. Others would give as much as P50 to P100,” Galman said, adding that there is a sense of joy every time someone would drop money in their makeshift coin bank.
Galman, who does not even have a relative back in Tacloban, said she and her friends from the local chapter of Gabriela in Tatalon, Quezon City saw on the news the devastation brought by Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons ever to make land fall, which killed more than 5,000 and injured more than 20,000 people.
There were people whom they asked for donations that badgered them with questions on where it would go. Others would not ask twice, said Galman. Their group also solicited from their neighbors, whom, she added in jest, are relatively well-off in their community.
Asked what motivated her, Galman said she was disappointed with the lack, if not the absence, in government assistance to the survivors of the typhoon.
“They are thankful that they are still alive. But no matter how much they search for food, they are not able to find one. They are hardly getting help from the government, who, I think, is even making their situation worse,” she told Bulatlat.com.
From being a beneficiary to a volunteer
Among those who benefited from their fundraising drive was Lani Buena, 41, a resident of an urban poor community along E. Rodriguez in Quezon City. As soon as she saw in the news the damage Typhoon Yolanda left, all she wanted to do was to go to her hometown in Tacloban City and check how her parents and the rest of her family are doing.
Buena, who is also a member of Gabriela, said she was very happy when she received the money from the fund raising drive. It was, she added, a big help that she received from people, who, like her, come from poor families. She used the money, about $46, to buy food for her family. She bought 30 kilos of rice, soap, instant noodles and biscuits then went home to Tacloban.
“My family is okay. They are safe. But our house was completely washed out. They are now staying at my mother-in-law’s house,” Buena said.
Although she arrived a week after the typhoon hit their province, Buena said, she was dismayed with the lack of government assistance that victims and survivors of the typhoon are getting. Her family, at that time, only got two relief packs. The first one contained two kilos of rice and a liter of bottled water and the second pack, which was given to them on Nov. 19, contained five kilos of rice, three sardines, a few packs of biscuits and a 500ml bottled water.
Buena said the dire conditions of the people there made her decide to wait and join members of Gabriela, along with other progressive groups, that conducted a relief operation in areas affected by the typhoon, which they called Balsa.
Balsa, according to Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., “may be the biggest relief caravan we have ever conducted, involving at least three regions and hundreds of volunteers. Over the past week, the mass movement here and abroad have been collecting relief goods, other forms of assistance for the people of Eastern Visayas and Panay.
Aside from Gabriela, doctors and health workers from the Health Alliance for Democracy also joined the relief operation to provide health services to the affected residents.
“I was very happy when we were giving out the donations because I know that we are being of help. But I was also sad because I know that there are more people out there that we could not reach,” Buena said.
Buena said the pack they distributed near the Tacloban port contained five kilos of rice, half kilo of monggo (mung bean), 60 pieces of dried fish, three sardines and five 350ml bottles of water.
“We also have a special pack (for women) that contained underwear, sanitary napkin and disposable diapers (for children),” she said, adding that residents told the team that it was only their third time to receive relief packs.
Galman, who also joined Balsa, said she was close to tears when she saw the devastation left by the typhoon. But instead of getting help, it is the government that has made the situation worse for typhoon survivors.
Though the relief mission she joined arrived two weeks after the typhoon, Galman said, cadavers and debris along the streets of Tacloban have yet to be cleared.
“The streets stink. But we got used to it after sometime,” she added.
Galman said she is used to being neglected by the government. A high school graduate like her, she added, would not be able to get a secure job and decent pay with policies that the government has been implementing.
But the kind of negligence that survivors of Typhoon Yolanda are getting is way too much and is incomparable to what she has been going through.
Upon returning from Tacloban, women leaders of Gabriela in Tatalon conducted another fund raising drive. They were able to get another $24, which, Galman said, they used to buy underwears and sanitary napkins. During the relief mission, she said, a lot of women were very happy that these were included in the packs.
Galman said most families lost their belongings to the flood and to the storm surge and that they were not able to save their clothes.
Finding time to help
Galman believes that even those who have little in life could do so much for those who were affected by the typhoon. Despite her own struggle of making both ends meet, she said, she really gave her best in finding time for it. She even brought her two children with her to help members of Gabriela pack the relief bags they were going to bring.
But she also posed the same challenge to the government, which, she said, have more resources unlike people’s organizations.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development has recently announced that distribution of relief goods to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda will end this month, December 2013. The government, Social Welfare secretary Dinky Soliman said in a radio interview, wanted the people to be able to learn to stand on their own feet.
In a press conference organized by women’s group on Nov. 28, Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador paid tribute to the women from urban poor communities, who, despite having meager income, still did their share to help fellow Filipinos who are in need. After the media briefing, women from various communities gathered to pay their respects to the victims of the typhoon.
Salvador told Bulatlat.com they received donations big and small from their members in grassroots organizations. Some of the bills and coins, she added, had fish scales because it was contributed by market vendors in the Gabriela communities.
“Sometimes, because of the impunity in poverty, human rights violations, violence against women, etc., people tend to be desensitized. We need to realize that such situation must not be the norm and that these have to change. We need to act collectively and make our call for justice stronger because things would only get worse if we keep silent and just watch idly by,” Salvador said.