Heroes with Big Hearts

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Thursday, December 19, 2013

IN EVERY emergency or disaster situation, our valiant first responders are always given the accolades and media attention. You could see local government units provide first responders with nice equipment – high tech gadgets, vehicles and personnel. They have the nice uniforms that will really distinguish them from us mere mortals. Be it fire, medical emergencies, accidents, floods, landslides and other disasters, these first responders will always grab the spotlights.

But what about the aftermath? Once the people have been rescued what next?

Our first responders go back to their base and replenish their supplies and rest until they are called to action again. Next comes the task of rebuilding the lives that have been affected by the disaster or the emergency. Almost right after the first responders arrive in disaster events, come the social workers. These are the people who are there for the long haul to help survivors bring back normalcy in their lives.
If you ask me who among the departments of the LGU would be busiest? I would always answer the Social Services and Development Office. This office is the heart of every local government unit. First, they are tasked to provide social services to our needy citizens.

With the high poverty level of our country, poverty alleviation social programs are within their realm. They are always on the lookout for families who have fallen below poverty level – and that is an very large number of families. They are the ones implementing social programs – abused women and children protection, mentally ill, elderly, persons with disabilities, juvenile delinquency, special sector concerns like IPs among others.

Secondly, when a disaster strikes, they are in charge of rebuilding the lives of the survivors – they organize the temporary shelters, ensure that food and water is adequate for the survivors, assess the damage and facilitate the government’s assistance for the survivors, for the victims who perished in the disaster they also facilitate the needed burial expenses especially if the family is poverty stricken.

My dear reader, these are people who are professionally trained to do these types of work that we ordinary people cannot do. I will always be teary eyed when faced with heart breaking scenes of disasters, absolute poverty, abuse of women and children, but it doesn't mean that I won't be too emotional but I can get frustrated of the system, I think it is the community development activist in me that gets angry.

Social workers are, on the other side, trained to face all of these with an objective mind and a compassionate heart. Their constant exposure to these social ills and conditions does not harden their hearts but fuels more compassion in working with the people.

Last Saturday, we found a lola who lost her way into our street. She must have been suffering some kind of mental lapse or memory loss because she was insisting that she lives in my landlord’s house. We were informed that she stood outside the gate for hours pleading for her daughter to let her in.

We gave her something to eat and drink and called the police for assistance but it seemed that the police officer who arrived was not equipped to handle lost people especially elderly lost lolas. So he left without actually helping us. We contacted Ma’am Malou Bermudo the head of our City Social Services and Development Office or CSSDO for assistance.

She then sent a social worker, Ms. Kristinne Occida who expertly assessed the situation, consoled the lost lola then coordinated immediately with their office which informed her that indeed a lola was reported missing. She then requested us to help her get the lost lola inside the CSSDO vehicle and then took her back to the office.

Ma'am Malou later reported that the lost lola was happily reunited with her family. Ms. Kristinne impressed us with the way she handle the situation – very professional and compassionate.

In every city and town we are faced everyday with poverty and social ills but I think that many of our LGUs do not provide enough services and personnel to handle these situations. I often have visited town halls where social services and development offices are really small and with inadequate equipment.

For example, to effectively conduct social work practice more rooms for the counseling services are needed. The privacy and the confidentiality of the cases that they handle are not considered anymore just because there is no budget provided for the basic infrastructures for the delivery of social services.

On the other hand, some LGUs are very infrastructure oriented – they have all these buildings for their senior citizens, abused children etc but lack in providing more personnel and budget to fund activities to help them become better and productive individuals of society. Local governments must prioritize the hiring of the social work professionals as well as invest heavily on the equipment and infrastructures for these professionals to work effectively.

Every city and town must not forget that while we are forging forward to develop our economy, there are a number of individuals and families that may not be able to move at the fast paced development. They will be left behind if nothing is done for them.

There is a special breed of people who can professionally address this situation – the social workers. They are our frontline people who are not afraid to get down and dirty to assist the poor and needy sector of our society. They are always on call because disaster, tragedies and situations needing their expertise can strike any hour of the day.

Most people in the local government work tirelessly to provide rescue, relief and rehabilitation work for our citizens but only the social workers like Ma’am Malou and Kristinne have the biggest hearts.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 20, 2013.


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