Thursday, Apr 15

Sopas, smiles warm flood victims in San Mateo

July 18, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

A drenched bird watches its surroundings, namely the rising San Mateo River that threatens to flood the low-lying town once more. Days of rain brought by an aggravated monsoon have flooded most of Metro Manila and the surrounding countryside, forcing families from their homes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Heavy rains brought by an aggravated monsoon prompted Tzu Chi to change its activity for July 18. Instead of a medical mission in Navotas City, which was postponed in light of the weather, volunteers and Tzu Chi University students distributed hot meals and warm smiles to 520 families displaced by flooding in San Mateo, Rizal.


Amidst a postponed medical mission, Tzu Chi volunteers and Tzu Chi University (TCU) students on July 18 braved the monsoon to deliver warm love and care to flood-displaced families in San Mateo, Rizal.

For days, the monsoon aggravated by the passing of Tropical Storm Son-Tinh (Henry) dumped heavy rainfall all over Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Local governments all over the metro announced the suspension of classes in all levels as disaster response units raced to mitigate the monsoon’s effects. The low-lying town of San Mateo, at the mercy of the San Mateo River, was among the affected.

On this day, Tzu Chi was scheduled to hold a medical mission at Dagat-Dagatan, Navotas City. But hours before, it was postponed citing the inundated situation of the CAMANAVA (Caloocan City, Malabon City, Navotas City, and Valenzuela City) area. So Tzu Chi volunteers and TCU students instead responded to the need of 520 families (in three barangays) forced from their riverside abodes.

The largest concentration of displaced families was in Doña Pepeng Subdivision in Barangay Banaba with 253 families seeking refuge at the local evacuation center. Most had returned to their homes the night before, only to flee the rising waters the next day.

Girile Mallari, 65, had her entire store washed away. Although aware of the dangers of living in a flood-prone area, she cannot afford to move to a safer place.

“We can only afford as much as the rent in our [current] place. Of course, the downside is that it’s prone to flooding, but we have no choice,” said Mallari.

Although the families enjoy a steady stream of relief from the local government, Tzu Chi still mobilized to their aid. In neighboring Marikina City, a small team of volunteers at the Tzu Chi Marikina Education Recycling Center (TCMERC) prepared sopas and bread to be delivered. The team led by Tzu Chi volunteer Leung Ming Lan had been working in the kitchen as early as 6:00 a.m. and on such short notice.

“We prepared sopas and bread for the families. Each family gets a pack of bread, which has six to nine pieces. For big families, we give them two packs,” said Leung.

San Mateo was among the hardest hit by Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) almost nine years ago, also caused by the swelling of the river. Fortunately, no casualties have been reported in the current disaster.

Good with kids         

Next stop on Tzu Chi’s relief activity was Maly Elementary School in Barangay Maly, housing 95 families. Disaster response units took advantage of the suspension of classes to turn the school into a makeshift evacuation center.

In the ensuing evacuation, Mary Jane Sevilla’s son Nasareno was injured after getting hit by a motorcycle. Traumatized by the ordeal, Nasareno would cry every time he was asked to show his injury.

“We fled from the rising river and ended up here. But it’s difficult here because it’s cold,” said 55-year-old Mary Jane.

TCU students on a nine-day outreach activity in the Philippines joined the relief activity this time. A considerable language gap existed between the predominantly-Taiwanese delegation and the Filipino populace, one they hurdled over using sign language, as TCU nursing student Tsai Yu-wen (蔡昱汶) described.

“I’ve found that these children are very pure and I loved the smile on their faces,” said Tsai.

“We have to do our best to bring happiness to [the children] through dancing and singing,” adds Chang Yu-cheng (張育誠), a TCU medicine student.

Within minutes, the school auditorium was filled with cheers of children and their parents seeing Tzu Chi’s efforts to make them happy. The school principal, Elvina Seguena, admitted that she was once skeptical of the foundation’s feats long before she became principal at Maly.

“As a teacher, I can feel the happiness in them because I’ve seen that there’s no limitation in socializing. [The TCU students] have a heart for the Filipino children. They didn’t think twice holding the children’s’ hands, embracing them, and encouraging them to dance,” said Seguena.

With sopas and bread to spare, Tzu Chi made one more stop at San Mateo Elementary School in Barangay Sta. Ana. TCU students gave the same happy treatment to the 172 families living there for the meantime.

  • The muddy water from a tributary merges with the San Mateo River, the product of erosion from the mountains of northern Rizal due to incessant rain. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The covered court in Barangay Banaba houses 253 families displaced by the flooding. They had fled to this place yesterday but returned to their homes that night as the river subsided, only to return to the court the next day. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • A Tzu Chi volunteer at the Marikina Education Recycling Center cooks up some sopas for the evacuees. She and her small team began preparing at 6:00 a.m., despite the short notice. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • While waiting for the sopas, Tzu Chi volunteers offer kids some sweet treats. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Each family in the evacuation center gets a pack of bread, between six and nine pieces per pack. A bigger family receives another pack. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Some evacuees occupied the adjacent Doña Pepeng Elementary School, taking advantage of the suspension of classes due to inclement weather. They, too, received a warm meal of sopas and bread. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Maly Elementary School principal Elvina Seguena (second from left) joins Tzu Chi University students and teachers in dancing to the tune of a Tzu Chi song. For the first time, she has seen the beauty of Tzu Chi’s deeds in the service of the needy. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The language barrier didn’t stop TCU medical student Chang Yu-cheng from dancing with two Filipino children to the tune of a Tzu Chi song. He felt the urgency of bringing smiles to people in their darkest hour. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • TCU students this time distribute packs of bread to the 95 evacuee families of Maly Elementary School. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The TCU delegation meets with the family of 55-year-old Mary Jane Sevilla. Her son Nasareno had been injured during the evacuation after getting hit by a motorcycle. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Due to the lack of a microphone, TCU students huddle to bring their collective voices to bear upon the evacuees at San Mateo Elementary School. This complex houses 172 families. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • TCU nursing student Tsai Yu-wen (center) witnesses the smiles among the children begging for candy. Such an experience will be integral to her growth as a medical professional who cares. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】