Spreading the love in Carles

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014


LOVE really knows no bounds and distance, for we are all interconnected in this world.

Since super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas, many of us were all thrown into this whirlwind of helping, and for my volunteer friends the experience has been nothing short of incredible.

Recently, our group from Bacolod went to Carles, a second-class municipality in Iloilo that was severely hit by Yolanda. Carles is the northernmost town of Iloilo.

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Our mission was to give school supplies to 400 schoolchildren from five day care centers and two elementary schools in Barangays Nalumsan, Mandulao, Cawayan and Dayhagan.

Our team was composed of six scholars of Bacolod Patenkinder (Bacpat), four other volunteers, and German couple Tom and Anette Schumann with their four-year-old child, Somi.

Aside from the school supplies and toys, we also gave the kids backpacks, raincoats, hygiene kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap, shampoo and a small sparkly toy.

Young tots in the daycare center got slippers, while their teachers received ample teaching aids, pails, soup bowls and utensils for use in feeding programs, a first-aid kit, and a Philippine flag. We also distributed snack and candy packs for all.

The teachers and parents told us that we were the first group to give them assistance since Yolanda struck the region last November 8.

In December last year, our team of volunteers, composed of a larger group, had a successful run of Bantayan 3500, a relief mission giving school packs to 3,500 children in the islets of Bantayan, Cebu just before Christmas.

When that was over, donations still kept coming in; so much so that we remained on the lookout for other Yolanda-hit areas where children may have received little help.

A friend suggested Carles town, where a number of its barangays have dilapidated classrooms; a distant primary school with a day care center nearby, almost hidden amid sugarcane fields.

Our group made an ocular inspection of Carles town in early February.
We found out that several months after Yolanda barreled through the town, residents are reclaiming a sense of normalcy in their lives. Shimmering sheets of metal adorn new roofs, the marketplace is packed and people go about their daily chores. Yet obviously, the road to recovery is still long and arduous.

When the plan to do a gift-giving operation in Carles was first hatched, I recalled seeing posts on Facebook by a friend, Gretchen Varela, who did a Christmas toy drive. So I sent her a message to inquire if she had any more toys to spare. Wonder of wonders, she did!

There’s an interesting backstory here. The toy drive was an initiative of her cousin, Linzi Co, who was able to gather over 2,500 toys from donors across Metro Manila. These toys have since been distributed in Yolanda-hit towns of Concepcion, Cadiz Viejo, Cebu, and now in Carles.

Gretchen also sent us school packs from Play Relief, another Manila-based group whose members designed a teaching module for kid survivors of calamities to express feelings and healing by finding sources of gratitude.

For Carles, we adapted their module using Ilonggo songs and familiar games. A few days before our trip, more friends sent in candy and school packs and even first aid kits.

In Carles, and in Bantayan, I found that there is no greater reward than to see the smiles and hear the laughter of children.

They are the ones who teach us where happiness can be found, in knowing that we are never really alone and we are loved.

Much has been said about the resilience of the Filipino spirit and I think it is a resilience born out of faith that everything will be all right, that calamities and misfortunes may fall on us but we will never be alone, for there will always be people who love us and care for us.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 26, 2014.

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