Ferrying passengers across the San Mateo river that separates their village from town is a steady source of income for Loreta Sison. It’s a job that needs brawn as the river bed is muddy and rocky, making rowing a challenge.
Still, Loreta, despite her small frame, can handle it. She stands in the boat’s stern, rowing with all her might using a long wooden stick.
Among the village’s boatmen, Loreta is the lone woman. Every day, they take turns rowing the boat across the river. Loreta’s shift is from 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., then at 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
In a day, she is able to bring home Php100 from this livelihood. To supplement their other needs, Loreta also offers laundry services where she earns Php250. For the last five years since her husband passed away from heart attack, this is how Loreta supports her two children and an adopted niece.
They live in a two-story house made of light materials in Sitio Ibayo in Barangay Dulong Bayan, San Mateo, Rizal. They share the house with four of Loreta’s older children and their respective families.
Life may be hard for this 46-year-old widow but Loreta doesn’t consider herself unfortunate. She is physically healthy and can work to provide for her family – that is enough reason to be grateful.
When Tzu Chi volunteers started promoting recycling and collecting recyclables in their neighborhood, Loreta was among those who supported the campaign.
“Before, my family was part of the cash-for-work recycling program but we eventually stopped. Although we are no longer part of the program, I still collect recyclables from my neighbors and friends so that when Friday comes, I will bring it to the Tzu Chi recycling volunteers. We cross the river to bring the recyclables to where the volunteers are stationed,” says Loreta.
To this day, she goes around their community, encouraging her neighbors to donate their empty plastic bottles, used papers, and other recyclables for Tzu Chi’s environmental protection program. She does this voluntarily and unconditionally.
“Although I am a single parent, I can still get by because I work as a boatwoman at dawn. I manage to earn and still have enough time to collect recyclables for Tzu Chi. Tzu Chi is helping many people, like the needs of disaster victims and those who need medical operations. A a lot of people are much needier than I am that is why my family is very willing to donate and help though we are poor ourselves,” she adds.
Such efforts made a great difference in the remote neighborhood of Sitio Ibayo.
“There are no garbage collectors who come to our place because the roads are narrow and our village is remote. So, instead of all these plastic bottles and cans turning into mountains of trash, or becoming breeding grounds for mosquitos, what we usually do before was burn them,” says Nenita Secreto.
Besides crossing the river, an alternate route to reach Sitio Ibayo is scaling up a mountain, which usually takes an hour by foot. It has an estimated population of 300 individuals.
“When we found out that Tzu Chi started doing recycling around our community, we decided to give those recyclables to them so that it could benefit others,” adds Nenita.
Meanwhile, Loreta also contributes to Tzu Chi’s programs by setting aside a peso daily to donate. She has been doing this since 2012. Last year, she also joined Tzu Chi’s relief work after a fire gutted a community of informal settlers in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City a few days after Christmas. Loreta also diligently attends the monthly training seminars for Tzu Chi volunteers.
All these efforts are her way of showing her appreciation to the Buddhist group’s help back in 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) flooded Marikina City and outlying towns like San Mateo in Rizal.
On June 25, her wish to be named a Tzu Chi volunteer finally came true as she received a gray, collared uniform and a Tzu Chi cap. The awarding ceremony was held during a training seminar at the Tzu Chi Marikina Educational Recycling Center in Barangay Fortune, Marikina City.
“I am very happy today. I am now a volunteer of Tzu Chi Foundation. I will be encouraging my children to also join Tzu Chi,” says Loreta.
Along with Loreta, 10 other individuals joined the rank of Filipino Tzu Chi volunteers on the said date.
Noel Cagulada is one of them.
Noel’s mother single-handedly raised him and his older brother after their father passed away of unknown illness when he was only five years old.
After graduating from high school, Noel came to Manila to look for a job. But without a college diploma, this was difficult. He stayed unemployed for months until in 2014 when he heard that Tzu Chi’s recycling program provides cash allowances to indigent individuals who will help Tzu Chi promote recycling to the public.
He joined the program in 2015 and today, he is able to help his mother with their daily expenses as well as support his older brother’s college education. More importantly, he is proud to be using his time meaningfully now.
“It’s here that I learned to do recycling and to help other people,” he says.
Jerry Servando also donned his new uniforms proudly. Since Tzu Chi Foundation helped clean their neighborhood in the aftermath of the flooding brought by monsoon rains in 2012, Servando has been inspired by the organization’s work. He dreamt of becoming a Tzu Chi volunteer and help others, too.
He got the chance in 2014 when he became part of the cash-for-work participants who prepared the parts of prefabricated shelters Tzu Chi was putting up for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims in Leyte. When the project finished, Jerry was hired at Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines office to do maintenance work.
Now earning steadily, he gives his free days to join Tzu Chi volunteers in their outreach activities to care institutions. It is his way of repaying Tzu Chi’s help not only for his material needs but his spiritual as well.
Influenced by his friends, Jerry learned to drink alcohol when he was only 10 years old.
“I used to drink liquor every day with my friends. We go everywhere, drinking in different clubs until I realized that nothing will become of me if I keep on with such lifestyle. When I joined Tzu Chi, it changed a lot of my perspective and my behavior,” says Jerry.
“Now, I am very thankful to Tzu Chi and the volunteers that I have been given this chance to join them in doing good deeds. I promise Master Cheng Yen that I will work harder to improve myself, love everyone, and help everyone in need,” he ends.
From left) Jerry Servando and Noel Cagulada receive their Tzu Chi volunteers’ gray collared uniform in a simple ceremony on June 25. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Eleven individuals join the ranks of Filipino Tzu Chi volunteers on June 25 after receiving their gray collared uniforms and Tzu Chi caps. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
A total of 270 individuals participate in the Volunteers’ Training Seminar held on June 25 at Tzu Chi’s Marikina Educational Recycling Center. The topics covered during the morning session are under Tzu Chi’s Mission of Medicine. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Jerry Servando is all ears during the training seminar on June 25. Jerry is grateful to Tzu Chi for changing his perspective in life and helping him turn his back from his ill vices. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Loreta Sison attends the training seminar on June 25. Despite being poor herself, Loreta finds a way to help others in need by collecting recyclables around her neighborhood and donating them to Tzu Chi. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Noel Cagulada now dons his Tzu Chi uniform. Not only is he grateful to Tzu Chi for providing him with a livelihood through the cash-for-work recycling program, but he is also thankful that Tzu Chi taught him to practice recycling and help others in need.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Jerry Servando is currently employed in Tzu Chi as a maintenance worker. With a positive working environment, Jerry says he no longer gets tempted to drink liquor. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Loreta Sison diligently collects recyclable materials from her neighbors to donate to Tzu Chi Foundation. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Loreta Sison, along with her son and a neighbor, helps a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer in taking the plastic bags of recyclable materials to the recycling station.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Through dirt road and ditches, Loreta Sison and her son (riding the bicycle) are determined to bring the sacks of recyclable materials they have collected from their neighbors to the Tzu Chi volunteers’ recycling station.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Loreta Sison ferries the sacks of recyclables she has collected from her neighbors in Sitio Ibayo in San Mateo, Rizal. She crosses the San Mateo river using a canoe in order to donate these recyclables to Tzu Chi.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Upon crossing the San Mateo river, Loreta Sison hands the sacks of recyclables to Tzu Chi’s recycling volunteers. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Noel Cagulada (left) is currently part of Tzu Chi’s cash-for-work environmental protection program. He is assigned at Tzu Chi’s Cherish Blessings store in Sta. Mesa, Manila. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】