Typhoon Nina, the strongest storm to hit Albay in recent years, has left Albay badly wrecked in its wake. For the Red Cross, volunteer-fueled response could be the key to rising above the difficulties.

Despite the dire situation caused by the destruction of the recent tropical storm Nina, residents of Polangui municipality in Albay still managed to smile, thanks to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

What struck both locals and observers alike in the said relief activity is the level of volunteerism exhibited. During the event, scores of Red Cross volunteers, both local and visiting, arrived in convoys to assist the distressed families of Polangui.

Disregarding the heat and dust of the town’s evacuation site, volunteers of various ages and origin hustled and worked to ensure all the families present at the distribution site are attended to. They worked diligently and much to the proud delight of the Red Cross heads, including the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) operations manager Patrick Elliott.

“Volunteering, nobody does it better than the Philippine Red Cross. The structure of the community based volunteer is amazing. Every barangay has volunteers, always first, and always ready,” exclaimed Elliott, an Englishman who is no stranger to volunteer work in different parts of the world.

Led by their chairman Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon and vice-chair Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, the PRC distributed relief and dignity packs to more than 400 families in Polangui. Each pack contains food, hygiene kits and sleeping items like mats and blankets to at least make the stay at the evacuation sites, bearable.

A welcome help

For the people of Polangui, there is nothing but thankful elation at the sight of the helpful volunteer teams.

“Kailangan lang naming ipakita ang ‘pink slip’ (beneficiary card) namin, bibigyan na nila kami ng relief (packs). Ma’urag! (All we have to do is show our ‘pink slip’ and they will provide us ‘relief’. It’s very good!),” said one of the senior evacuees, when asked by a reporter on how they were treated by the PRC volunteers.

Able-bodied evacuees lined-up to receive the relief packs while the old and injured were spared the line and approached by the volunteers. Through the bustling and busy atmosphere of the relief efforts, smiles were traded by volunteers and evacuees, showing thankfulness of each other.

“Mababait sila. Nagpapasalamat kami sa tulong nila. (They were very kind. We are thankful for their help),” said another evacuee, a mother who was just handed a relief pack by one of the volunteers.

Efficiency and courtesy are the apparent virtues of the PRC volunteers, despite the fact that all their efforts are for no pay.

“These volunteers are working hard for reasons more motivating than money. It is good will and happiness through kindness,” said Marlon Atun, one of the volunteers at the distribution.

Much were done and still to be done

“The Philippine Red Cross has mobilized their resources, and we (IFRC) are happy to support them as much as we can. They (PRC) have mobilized aid for food, welfare assistance desks, and water purification as a first step,” said Patrick Elliott of IFRC.

So far, 928 families from all across the Bicol region have already received relief aids from the PRC, including food, clean water, sleeping packs and hygiene kits. However, PRC admits that more are plights for help are still to be addressed.

Moreover, due to the extensive damage caused by the typhoon, the IFRC head explained that long-term aid will also be implemented by the Red Cross to ensure effective rehabilitation of the areas affected by the storm.

“Now, we are pushing in the non-food item to the emergency shelters across the province. The next step is to provide long-term recovery. Livelihood systems must be given attention too,” said Elliott.

According to PRC, the activity in Polangui would be just one of the many relief activities to be done in Albay. PRC acknowledged the need for more relief efforts not only in Albay, but also in different parts of the region.

In response, the PRC has organized humanitarian caravans, like the one in Polangui, that would continue to provide aid at other storm-hit areas.

A call for volunteers

Recognizing this need, PRC chair Gordon said that there could never be an excess in volunteer efforts and called for more people willing to join the volunteer groups.

When asked of his opinion on the vital role of volunteerism, PRC chairman Gordon explained that the idea is for people that are in the position to do some good to actually do good deeds.

“There’s no required reason to become a good and decent person, just be one. Be a volunteer, be a good person,” said the PRC chair that prides himself with 40 years of being a volunteer. (PIA)