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by Joyce Rojo, Erika Vizcarra and Nyanza Nakar



Just right about the time of the flooding brought by typhoon Ondoy, a fire reportedly broke out and consumed a row of shanties on Agno Extension in Barangay Tatalon, Quezon City. The fire site was just a house away from the Tzu Chi Recycling Center on R. Familara Street. It is also a few blocks away from the Tzu Chi Still Thoughts Hall, which is located on Agno corner Cordillera Streets.


On the early morning of September 27, volunteers of Tzu Chi Foundation, Philippines, some of them also victims of typhoon themselves, temporarily left their flooded homes to extend help to the fire and flood victims in Tatalon. 


A brief meeting to discuss the appropriate response for the victims was held at the Still Thoughts Hall, which was also not spared by the typhoon. The hall experienced flooding and black out but these did not stop the volunteers to push forth their decision to give the victims warm food, clothes and footwear as an initial response to their needs.


With this, the volunteers dispersed in groups to accomplish different tasks and expedite the relief missions. A group quickly headed to the market to buy rice and other food items. Some went back to their homes to get more provisions.


At the Tzu Chi kitchen, and with only flashlights and candles as their source of light, volunteers united their efforts to prepare and cook food in large quantities.  Others busied themselves packing clothes and slippers.


Another group headed to the disaster site to see the damage of the fire.  The volunteers saw only ashes and remnants of the many houses that once stood in the area. The residents were already out on the streets and had no food and dry clothes on. Most of them, young and old, were even covered with mud and ashes.


As the volunteers talked to the residents, they learned that the fire was caused by electrical wirings that sparked due to the incessant rains. At around 6:00 in the evening, the sparks grew into a fire that razed through the area and burned the houses made of light materials owned by hundreds of families.


Residents explained that the fire trucks were unable to go inside the area to extinguish the fire because of the narrow alleyways. They believed that the high level of floodwaters might just have doused the fire. They said that an estimate of eight people reportedly died from the incident.


A casualty, 32-year old Melanie Garcia, 32 was last seen by her neighbour Jun Jaca being carried away by the flood waters.


“The flood was much higher than us. I saw her [Garcia] clinging to her husband who was swimming through the waters while carrying their baby. At some point, she lost hold of her husband and was taken away by the waters 500 meters off,” Jaca recounted.


“We really had a tough time last night. If we had not risked our lives riding the current, the fire would have probably killed us. When the fire started to engulf the first few houses, we immediately ran to the back end of the street. Even the children took off with us. We ran to the neighbouring area but the waters were as deep. Thankfully someone kindly prepared a rope for us to hold on to,” Jaca added.


Garcia’s husband, Edgardo, 33, was looking for her at the evacuation centers.  Someone told him that some victims were rushed to the hospital nearby so he went there in hopes that he will find his wife alive and well. But to his despair, he found her dead.


Tzu Chi volunteers immediately comforted the disheartened spirit of Edgardo. “In Tzu Chi, we have this saying that a living person should harbour a heart that’s at peace so his deceased loved one could leave the world at peace too. What happened has already happened. The life that was lost cannot be claimed back. What is important is that we continue on with our lives and take care of our families and children,” one volunteer said.


Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte and other local government officials also visited the disaster site and talked with the Tzu Chi volunteers about the situation of the fire and flood victims.


Meanwhile, one resident named Paul dela Torre narrated how five people, including a baby, were trapped by the floodwaters inside their house when the fire broke out. They, too, were not able to survive.


Back at the Still Thoughts Hall, the volunteers were busy packing the newly cooked food inside Tzu Chi lunch boxes. Beating out lunch time, the volunteers quickly headed to the Tzu Chi Recycling Center where the victims were already waiting in line.


With utmost respect and consolation, Tzu Chi volunteers handed the packed food, bread (ensaymada), a pair of rubber slippers and a pack of old clothes to each of the hundreds of individuals.


A total of 808 lunch boxes, 600 pieces of bread, 180 packs of old clothes, and 200 pairs of slippers were distributed.


“We would like to thank Tzu Chi for helping us for we have been victimized by the floods and fire,” said Calextra Caras.



Surviving through recyclables


The Tzu Chi Recycling Center, which houses the abode of the Awel Family, was also filled with floodwaters. The Awel twins, Leah and Rachel, were the conjoined twins that were successfully separated in Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan.


The rest of the neighbourhood was nevertheless submerged in floods.


“We climbed up to the roof. When people were rescuing us, I hung my baby down by a blanket for the rescuers to reach. I just saved by children first. I wanted the rescuers to secure my children first before me,” Marianne Daong tearfully recalled.


Daong also narrated that the sacks filled with recycled plastic bottles and polystyrene foam, widely called Styrofoam, saved them as those were what they used to ride the currents with the help of the rescuers who pulled them through a safe place.


Jerry Banatao, cousin of Marietta Awel, told the volunteers that the victims of the fire in nearby area have climbed up the walls and exited through the recycling center because no other exits were available. He said that they used the sacks of recyclables to bring about 30 people, mostly were children and pregnant women, to the other side of the street and secured their safety.


“We did not expect that the water will rise higher than us yesterday. We observed that the water ascended and the garbage went afloat. So we climbed up to the top storey and stayed there for five hours. When the waters subsided, we immediately took off to the nearby Sto. Domingo Church by riding through the sacks of recyclables,” Awel explained.


After the meal distribution, Tzu Chi volunteers headed to the homes of fellow volunteers which have also been flooded by the storm.



Cleaning up Tatalon


On September 30, Tzu Chi Philippines staged a clean-up drive on Kaliraya Street in Brgy. Tatalon, where piles of trash had been left outside of the households after the typhoon’s devastation. Streets had been blocked by heaps of garbage that give off an unpleasant smell and an unhealthy environment for the residents.


A total of 146 Tzu Chi volunteers, youth members and staff here in the Philippines and from Taiwan attended the clean-up drive that aimed to give the residents dirt- and disease-free community. By eliminating the wastes right now, the spreading of major life-threatening diseases like malaria, leptospirosis, cholera and the dreaded dengue fever will be prevented.


At around 8:00 a.m., the volunteers met at the Still Thoughts Hall to discuss about the day’s events. Armed with shovels and brooms, wearing hand gloves and face masks, the volunteers filed up and tramped along Agno Street to Kaliraya.


Upon arrival at the Kaliraya community, Tzu Chi volunteers and workers from John Vincent Construction Company raised their shovels first and cheered on, “Kaliraya Community, Jai you! Jai you! Jai you!” (“Kaliraya Community, More power! More power! More power!”)


The Tzu Chi volunteers, with the help of the residents, then proceeded to clean the long stretch of Kaliraya.


While the volunteers were cleaning the streets, the residents recounted to them the painful experiences they went through as the floods rushed in their community. They said that they were not expecting it at all.


“The floodwaters rose higher than us, most of the residents here climbed up to the top of their roofs just to avoid the current. Some families have also vacated their homes and went to the barangay hall for safety,” Ricky Gaspan, 15 years old, said.


As the volunteers paid attention to their stories, they also conveyed words of hope to appease the distressed victims and let them know that there are people genuinely concerned of their welfare. “Cleaning your community is our way of helping you. Please be strong and remember that when there is still life, there is hope,” one volunteer told the residents as many other Tzu Chi volunteers scooped up trash with their shovels and swept off dirt and trash from the street and drainages.


The clean-up drive that continued until October 1, proved to be a success as the Tzu Chi volunteers were able to free Kaliraya from trash and made the roads passable to motorists and pedestrians. The piles of garbage amassed by the volunteers were hollowed out by a payloader that was rented by the foundation along with 10 dump trucks for the collected trash. The payloader had a total of 41 trips collecting and unloading the garbage, producing a total of 246 tons of garbage collected in the area.


Residents were very grateful to the efforts of Tzu Chi Foundation. Haisey Arambulo, a staff of Carmelite Missionary located at Tatalon, shared “I am really very grateful for this cleaning operation done by Tzu Chi Foundation. I am starting to worry about the development of diseases after flooding. With all these heaps of garbage scattered around us, it would be easy for disease-carrying insects to propagate. It is really good that you are doing this for our community. Thank you so much.”


Nineteen-year-old Gerald Babon was also thankful for the clean-up activity that Tzu Chi conducted. Babon’s family owns a small carinderia (a small roadside restaurant that serves Filipino dishes).


“When the floods disappeared, garbage was all over the street and people are very much affected by it, especially our family because we are selling food. With garbage just lying in front of our house giving off an unpleasant smell, people won’t buy our food anymore, thus, the food that we cook just spoils and can’t be sold anymore. The rubbish greatly affects our family income,” Babon said.


“We are very grateful because the trash that distracts us and affects our health are being swept off. Now we will be able to think about what to do next .The stinking smell of the garbage really do affect our thinking,” Babon added.



A compassionate way to start


After the clean-up drive, Tzu Chi volunteers staged a relief distribution activity in the afternoon for the families who befell victims to the fire on Agno Extension. The event, which was staged at Dr. Josefa Jara Martinez High School, benefited 439 families who each received 10 kilos of rice, thermal blanket from Taiwan, basic household products, clothes and other personal effects


Deeply saddened that the victims of fire are also suffering from flood concurrently, Master Cheng Yen, Founder of Tzu Chi, instructed the Tzu Chi volunteers to also provide cash assistance to the said victims. This is to help them in the construction of their houses, and to purchase their other needs such as milk for babies and medicines.


To ensure orderliness in the release of financial aid, the volunteers first issued cash certificates, which the victims claimed the following day at the Still Thoughts Hall.


Four more families affected with fire and flood, were given monetary aid, bringing in a total of 443 families benefited. Here, families with at least four members each received P3,000, while those who have more than five members obtained P5,000.


Present during the cash distribution was Congresswoman Nanette Daza of the fourth district of Quezon City. “We all know that these tragedies and calamities affected us so painfully and until now it’s still hurting us. Up to this day, many of us are still weeping. That is why this help of Tzu Chi Foundation is a big blessing for us.  It helped lessen the pain and suffering. I truly appreciate all these because the people could use the money to fix or reconstruct their house and buy their other needs.”


“This experience was really devastating so I will use the cash we received to buy materials for the rebuilding of my house, like roof and other household items. I will also buy other things that my kids need in school. Thank you very much (Master Cheng Yen) for the help you’ve been giving us all,” Jocelyn Lopez expressed.


Amidst the tragedy that befell the residents of Tatalon, Tzu Chi volunteers all the more gave the residents a chance to counter the accumulation of bad karma by planting their own seeds of love through their heartfelt donations. Tzu Chi volunteers also distributed coin banks for residents to fill up and eventually donate for other people who may be in a situation far worse than theirs.


“As soon as I have money, I will fill this coin bank by saving any amount like 50 centavos or one peso, so that we too, can help other people in need,” Crispola Embudo concluded.


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Tzu Chi Philippines

Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Philippines - Jing Si Hall

76 Cordillera cor. Agno Street, Barangay Dona Josefa,
Quezon City, 1800 Philippines

(632) 8732-0001 & (632) 8732-0002

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