Two days after the infernal fire that devoured a residential community in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City love and care continue to pour for the fire survivors.
On December 29, volunteers of Tzu Chi Foundation arrive early at the disaster site to serve the fire victims with hot coffee and bread. Later, they also use Tzu Chi’s Mobile Kitchen to cook vegetarian lunch meals.
Grateful smiles are pasted on the fire victims’ faces as they receive their warm breakfast.
“We’re very happy because after the fire, we lost everything. I thought we would never be happy again. But then you came, you lifted our spirits because you provided our basic needs. That’s why I’m really grateful that you are here to provide us support,” fire victim Eleanor Cantonjos says.
Apart from the sumptuous food they regularly enjoy, Cantonjos is also thankful for the six units of portable toilets that Tzu Chi had rented for them. Before this, the fire victims were going to gasoline stations or the nearby establishments and asking to be allowed to use their toilets.
“This morning when I woke up and saw the portable toilet, I was so happy. I jumped in joy because we finally have something to use. We were taking a bath outside (since after the fire),” shares Cantonjos, 48. “Yesterday, I really could not go to a restroom. I kept it in because there was nothing that I could use to hide me.”
Meanwhile, the local government’s clearing operations in the disaster area continues. Along with police officers, the cleanup group is also among those who benefit from the breakfast prepared by Tzu Chi volunteers.
Maria Velia Villasin is one of the workers employed to join the cleanup. As she is lining up to receive her share of hot coffee and bread, she expresses how proud she is to see the Tzu Chi volunteers in the area.
“I’ve been a donor for Tzu Chi for three years now. There were also times when we join Tzu Chi’s relief operations,” Villasin says. “We know that Tzu Chi is always there to help. We have proven it a number of times. Wherever there is a need, as long as Tzu Chi found out about it, whether its flood victims or fire victims, they will be there to help.”
“Today, I feel happy because it’s not just through my job that I can help these fire victims. I know that I am also a part of Tzu Chi’s help to them as a donor,” she adds.
In the afternoon, Tzu Chi volunteers gather the fire victims for a relief activity. Held in front of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and just across from the fire site, the event distributes basic necessities like sleeping mat, blanket, detergent bar, eating utensils, cooking pot, 20-kilo sacks of Taiwan rice, two pairs of shoes, a kid’s bag, stationery and school supplies among others to a total 576 fire-affected families.
Vilma Quiling appreciates the Tzu Chi volunteers’ presence since day one of the tragedy. Although grieved that she lost her grandmother to the fire, she says there is still so much to look forward to.
“We were very touched by the help that Tzu Chi extended to us,” she says. “Since the fire died down until now that we are starting to get back on our feet, Tzu Chi has been here, continuously helping and supporting us. Tzu Chi’s gifts are really big help to us.”
To some of the fire victims, the relief activity on this day brings them back to five years ago. In 2011, a large fire had also consumed the houses in this community. As they have done today, Tzu Chi was also among the first to respond to the victims’ needs.
The memory of the volunteers in blue and white extending their compassion and aid is still clear in the mind of 60-year-old Prudencia Tinonas. She regrets that the eco-friendly blanket she received from Tzu Chi during that first relief activity was burned to the ground along with her house and a small variety store this time.
“We were at a loss as to where to ask for help because we really don’t have anywhere to go,” says Tinonas. “Then you came. After many years, you came back to extend help again that’s why we’re really very grateful and happy because you’re the only group to give us this much aid.”
Her neighbor, 56-year-old Aurea Majorenez, agrees. “Although we lost our homes, we can get by in the coming days because you provided us with rice and with our daily needs. We’re really proud that we met Tzu Chi in this life,” she says.
But more than the material goods that will soon be gone, Majorenez acknowledges that the beautiful and uplifting teachings from the Tzu Chi volunteers are what they will treasure the most.
“The things you taught us like loving our fellowmen and sharing our love and blessings, unconditionally– these all mean a lot. You may leave us after this relief activity but all the things we learned from you will remain in our hearts,” says Majorenez.
Before the relief activity wraps up on this day, many of the fire victims pulled out coins and bills from their pockets to donate to others who might be in need. They also vowed not to eat meat and fish products on January 11, 2017 in support of Tzu Chi’s Earth Ethical Eating Day advocacy, which aims to spread awareness on the role of vegetarianism in reducing the effects of Global Warming and Climate Change.
Little by little, the tragedy that befell the residents of Barangay Pinyahan is turning into a blessing.
Two days after the tragedy, Tzu Chi volunteers prepare hot coffee and bread for the fire victims in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Maria Velia Villasin, a donor of Tzu Chi Foundation, is happy to see the Tzu Chi volunteers at the disaster site, helping the fire victims get back on their feet. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
With a happy heart and humility, Tzu Chi volunteers go to the fire victims to serve. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
A Tzu Chi volunteer humbly bows as she hands the cup of hot coffee to a fire victim. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Fire victims in Barangay Pinyahan receive hot coffee and bread from the Tzu Chi Foundation in the wake of the fire incident that left over 500 families homeless. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Tzu Chi volunteers gather the fire victims in a short program before the distribution of relief goods. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
A Tzu Chi volunteer shows the items that will be given to the fire victims. Tzu Chi’s relief goods are composed of basic necessities, including a cooking pot. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
After learning that thousands of animals are killed for human’s consumption daily and its ill effects on the environment, many of the fire victims express their willingness to support Tzu Chi’s Earth Ethical Eating Day project. For one day on January 11, 2017 they will not eat meat or fish products to respect life and help reduce the planet’s pollution. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Tzu Chi volunteers lead the fire victims in a prayer before closing the relief program. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
With the goodness in their hearts awakened, the fire victims eagerly donated their loose coins and bills to help others in need. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Vilma Quiling is all smiles as she receives the relief items from Tzu Chi. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Prudencia Tinonas lines up to receive her share of relief items. Tinonas remembers the first time Tzu Chi came to help them after a fire also razed their neighbourhood in 2011. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Aurea Majorenez’s family is among the recipients of relief goods from Tzu Chi on December 29. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
20-kilo sacks of Taiwan rice are distributed to each of the 576 fire-affected families. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
A long, organized queue of fire victims is witnessed as the relief distribution happens on December 29 just across from the disaster site. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】