Cagayan is once more the recipient of Tzu Chi’s compassion as the foundation initiated a relief operation for the typhoon-struck town of Baggao. On October 13, the foundation distributed eco-friendly blankets, bags of donated clothes, and sacks of local rice to 1,625 families.
The typhoon victims also found in their hearts to spare whatever they can for the benefit of the quake victims in Indonesia.
Two years after their last relief activity in the province, Tzu Chi volunteers return to typhoon-ravaged Cagayan to bring aid to the locals desperately trying to recover.
Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) made landfall on September 15 in Cagayan, the farming town of Baggao taking the brunt. With winds of up to 270 km/h, Ompong is the strongest typhoon to hit the country since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) five years ago. It was also the strongest cyclone to be recorded worldwide and the fourth costliest, causing Php34 billion in overall damage.
A small team of Tzu Chi volunteers on September 29 and 30 assessed the situation in Baggao. Almost immediately, the decision was made to help the people recover as soon as possible.
A month after Ompong, a larger Tzu Chi contingent made the 16-hour journey from Quezon City to Baggao. They bear eco-friendly blankets, bags of donated clothes, and ten-kilo bags of local rice. At the town gymnasium, the first day of the relief activity on October 13 saw 1,625 families receive the items.
Of Baggao’s 48 barangays, 7 were earmarked for relief aid: Alba, Awallan, Bitag Grande, Bitag Pequeno, Mocag, Santa Margarita, and Taguntungan. The barangays are spread out across a land area of 921 sq. km., which makes Baggao the second largest municipality in the province. It takes locals around an hour to travel from their homes in the countryside to the town center, across rocky roads and decrepit river crossings.
Yet, 27-year-old Arlene Bigani made the trip from Barangay Awallan to receive her share of aid.
“Even though our town is far away and the roads are rough, [Tzu Chi] went here to deliver help. We can’t repay [Tzu Chi] enough for this deed,” said Bigani, a mother of three.
The signs of Ompong’s onslaught are still prevalent long after its passing. Many families have yet to repair the damage to their homes, especially the roof. Farming, their primary source of income, has been seriously affected by the typhoon. This means no money to buy materials for the overdue repair.
“We just do what we can do. We don’t think much how we’ll get through this,” remarked relief recipient Leslie Martinez, a resident of Barangay Santa Margarita.
The relief activity marks Baggao’s first contact with Tzu Chi. However, the foundation is no stranger to Cagayan, as it has provided aid on a larger scale in 2016. Together with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Tzu Chi distributed over 3,000 sacks of rice to families affected by Typhoon Lawin (Haima). The recipients hailed from several municipalities.
From Baggao with love
During the pre-relief program, the recipients were informed of the plight of those displaced by the recent earthquake in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The tremor, combined with the resulting tsunami, claimed the lives of over 2,000 and injured thousands more. Tzu Chi volunteers urged the locals to spare whatever cash they can, out of the goodness of their hearts.
The coin banks were heavy with love from the people of Baggao, despite needing the cash just as much. After all, not long ago, the Indonesians helped the country in the aftermath of Yolanda.
“Their desire to help Tzu Chi comes from the heart. They know how to help a fellow in need, especially in the case of the victims in Indonesia,” commented Tzu Chi volunteer Josephine Castaneda.
“Master taught us to help people affected by disasters like Typhoon Ompong [Mangkhut]. We must cherish our blessings and do more with our blessings,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Joe Chen.