In 2013, while helping distribute relief goods to victims of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, Leyte, Tzu Chi Foundation volunteer Mercedes Urot struck up a conversation with a woman in the evacuation site. “How many children do you have?” she asked in Bisaya. “Six, supposedly,” answered the woman sadly. “One of them died in the storm.”
It’s a story that still makes Urot teary-eyed, and one that reminds her to be grateful for the mercies that abound in her life. “We are not rich. You can see it for yourself,” says this 67-year-old training commissioner and taxi driver’s wife, as she indicates to her family’s modest home in Tumana, Marikina. “But through the Tzu Chi Foundation, I realize that we are blessed.”
It’s a sentiment shared by members of her community, who have been among the countless recipients of the foundation’s boundless compassion and generosity. Massive cleanup drives and “Cash for Work” programs launched by Tzu Chi Foundation helped residents rise up from the devastation of floods caused by typhoons Ondoy in September 2009 and Ulysses in November 2020. In August 2020, more than 800 Marikina-based jeepney drivers affected by the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic received rice and other essentials in a series of relief goods distributions.
Still, Urot will never forget how the Tzu Chi Foundation provided her with much- needed assistance during one of the most painful times of her life, a trial no parent should ever have to endure. In 2016, Arnaldo, her eldest of three children and only son, complained of a severe stomachache, then appeared yellowish in the following days. With no resources to pay for a checkup or tests, she approached the Tzu Chi Foundation for help, and was given a guarantee letter to the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center.
There, TIMA (Tzu Chi International Medical Association) doctors attended to her son. After several tests, it was an endoscopy that revealed he had inoperable liver cancer. “It was too risky, too bloody,” says Urot. Though her son would seek alternative treatments, and his mother would turn to the foundation again for help, Arnaldo passed away two years and seven months after his diagnosis. He was 45.
Yes, she still weeps over her loss, she says. But she also consoles herself with the bittersweet truth that nothing in life is permanent.
So she soldiers on, focusing on what she can do to be useful and make a difference in people’s lives. Besides extending help to fellow Filipinos through the Tzu Chi Foundation’s various programs, she has initiated a number of improvements in her neighborhood, such as ridding streets of garbage and clearing narrow walkways. “People like to say ‘That’s none of my business,’” says Urot. “For me, I’ll make it my business, especially if it’s for the good of others.”
Photos by: Daniel Lazar