Looking at the tiny, poorly ventilated space in Minahan Interior, Malanday, Marikina, that Rio de los Reyes calls home, one wonders how she, her construction worker husband Allan, and their seven young children managed during the wrath of November 2020’s Typhoon Ulysses. Non-stop rains saw the Marikina River rise to over 70 feet, engulfing entire communities in dirty brown water.
“We stayed in the local school for a week,” says De los Reyes. Once it was safe for them to go home, there was not much they could return to. The flood had swept away whatever little possessions they had.
Thankfully, De los Reyes is a volunteer of the Tzu Chi Foundation, one of the first responders during crises like typhoons and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Through its “Cash for Work” program, she and many others were able to help their community—and themselves—by working together to clear the streets of mud and debris, then getting paid for their efforts. The de los Reyeses were also among the 37,000 families to receive financial support from donors of the Tzu Chi Foundation—a much-appreciated lifeline that allowed them to rebuild their lives following disheartening loss.
A laundry woman, de los Reyes has known hardship all her life. Though she finished high school, limited opportunities and resources led her to work early in Marikina’s shoe industry. Yet amidst the poverty, she remains generous with her time, and is always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs it.
So it was no surprise when she decided to attend a seminar for volunteers organized by the Tzu Chi Foundation in 2010. Never mind if she was still getting over the destruction and loss caused by Typhoon Ondoy, or the fact that she had just given birth to her fourth child. Together with Allan, their new baby, and their three small children, de los Reyes spent two days on the roof of their home as Ondoy’s floodwaters reached alarming heights.
“I just wanted to help my community,” she says of why she became a volunteer. Besides participating in regular cleanup drives, relief operations, and medical missions, she is active in Tzu Chi Foundation’s recycling program, where she takes it upon herself to collect and sort plastic bottles, tin cans, cardboard, and other discarded items that could still be of use.
She also spreads the teachings of Buddhism whenever she can. When one of her children was assigned to research on beliefs, she turned to a leaflet from the Tzu Chi Foundation that she posted on the wall of their humble home, one that enumerates teachings akin to the Catholics’ 10 Commandments.
“Love your neighbor,” she says of the teaching that resonates with her the most. Words that this volunteer puts into action each time she participates in the foundation’s events.