“A little effort goes a long way.”
The flooding in Thailand has left thousands of people homeless and in danger. While a lot of people particularly those in safer zones were busy discussing how things came about and who to blame, others were busy volunteering at evacuation and relief centres. We decided to join the latter.
On Saturday off I went with friends Anake Lekkon and Nesszi Lapin to Don Muang airport to help pack goods for the flood victims. Being a VSO volunteer not so long ago, I thought I was ready – just a T-shirt, short pants and slippers – then I realized there are a few things that I should bear in mind. These may be simple but still worth sharing.
What to bring
When our mind is too focused on what we can do, we tend to neglect what we can bring. With houses submerged in water, some people have barely anything so bring whatever you can. This is the best time to clean your closet and let go of things you haven’t used for the past years.
When we reached there, the first thing I got involved with was unpacking cartoons and packs. How I wished then that I had brought my cutter, it would have made the job a lot easier and faster.
Comfort is one important factor to be able to work efficiently. So, bring a mask as there will always be different kinds of odor to deal with. Better yet, have a menthol inhaler in your pocket. Don’t forget your handkerchief and for ladies, anything to tie your hair. It also pays to bring a band aid.
What to wear
Wear a T-shirt bigger enough to allow you to move comfortably. For ladies, this helps when you have to squat. Shoes will allow you to move or run quickly than slippers and it can protect your feet better too.
What to do
This actually never crossed my mind before I went there because I expected that we will pack goods. However, when we reached there we were greeted by a crowd of people – and I mean massive crowd. Some were busy working but a lot just stood there without doing anything. The manpower was not maximized and it was not very systematic.
In this kind of situation, just try to use your initiative and start working without being told. You don’t need to have a specific task. In my case, I went back and forth distributing and tying sacks, carrying packed goods and even gathering trashes. Just try to help the other volunteers do their job more efficiently and easily.
On Sunday, we decided to go to the ThaiHealth Relief Centre instead. As there weren’t as many people as there were in Don Muang airport, the organisation staff were able to manage the volunteers and gave us specific tasks to do. Our group, composed of friends from the Youth Engagement Summit Nyo Min Ko, Pimsiri Danphitsanuparn and Ruby Manchada, made EM (Effective Microorganisms) balls which will be thrown unto the flooded areas to reduce water pollutants that can cause the spreading of diseases. We learned that sending donations to ThaiHealth is better as they send them off to the affected areas right away.
What we did last weekend were just simple acts of kindness to our affected Thai brothers and sisters. But these little acts when put together can already make a difference. After all, caring for others is more meaningful when it becomes a verb.
ThaiHealth Relief Centre
BorBorSor Bldg, near Paholyothin Soi 3. By BTS, get off at Sanampao Station. Get out at Exit 3 and walk towards Aree for about 100 meters. The center will be on your left. For more information, call Ms. Patsy Tapasan at 0898148800
It’s already 3:30 AM in Bangkok but dreamland seems to be so far away from me. I read a book “Conflict and Stability in Southeast Asia” but it didn’t help me doze off. Instead, it led my mind to meander over what’s happening around the globe at the moment.
Environmental catastrophes wracked several countries such as the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand and the eruption of Mt. Bulusan in my beloved country Philippines. Political unrest continues to escalate in the Middle East not to mention the conflict over a parcel of land and a temple between Cambodia and Thailand.
Perhaps, talking about war is not a new thing. War seems to be a never ending tale arising from both absurd to serious issues. I said “absurd” having Helen in mind, the face that launched a thousand ships resulting to the Trojan War.
Talking about war may not be new but being where the war is puts one into an entirely different dimension.
More than two years have passed yet my memories of the uprising in Iligan, the capital city of Lanao del Norte in Mindanao are still freshly embedded in my thoughts. Too much reading of news on Middle East made me remember my own war experience.
I was a Global Xchange volunteer then. We were a team of 9 Filipinos and 9 British volunteers who came to Iligan, the magnificent city of waterfalls, for the second phase of the Global Xchange Programme.
Me and my work placement counterpart Dee Mills volunteered at the Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities (RIDO), a Muslim non-profit organisation established mainly to settle disputes between Muslim clans.
At that time, clashes between the government troops and rebel groups as well as kidnappings were rampant in Mindanao particularly in Marawi City, an hour away from Iligan.
Our work placement supervisor, a highly respected Muslim leader and peace advocate, brought us to Marawi City to attend the wedding of one of the Muslim volunteers in the organisation. It was my first time to attend a Muslim wedding and I had so much fun and learning.
On our way to Marawi, Kuya Pogs shared his experiences as a conflict mediator. He mediated between kidnappers and the authorities and between clans, amongst others. His sister explained to us the history of Muslim rebellion against the government and their plight for self-determination.
Seeing the face of Marawi was a bit surreal for me knowing there was an encounter between the military and MILF few days before we came. The place gave a historic feel emanated by the preserved historical structures and artefacts.
On our way back to Iligan in the evening, my mind drifted on negative thoughts. What if we will be ambushed or caught in crossfire? Then I told myself, “so this is how it feels to live in a war zone”. There is no peace in the community and peace of mind among the residents.
Who would have thought that I will experience more than just fearing the possibilities that played in my imagination? Few weeks before GX ends, a bomb exploded in Iligan City which marked the beginning of upheaval in the town.
It was never easy to be in such turmoil. Anything can happen anytime at any place. We heard explosions anywhere. The fear we were feeling was tormenting.
Our host family were already talking about leaving the place until things settle down. Then again I thought, “How can things happen so quickly that the other day they were going about their business normally and now they are faced with the predicament of uncertainty?”
They are a well-off family, I am pretty sure they can manage even if they have to start over again in another place. They have a car to take them to where they can be safe. What worried me were the thousands of people who have no resources to support them, people who have nowhere to go.
Witnessing things unfold, seeing the agony in people’s eyes, hearing different tragic stories was heart-breaking.
At dawn the following day, the whole team were evacuated to Cagayan de Oro. Everyone was devastated at the sudden twist of events. We were then looking forward to our community farewell and it turned out we were not even able to say proper goodbyes to those people who have been a great part of our 3-month sojourn.
On our way to Cagayan de Oro, we came across military trucks full of armed troops heading to Iligan. It was just one of the many things I thought I will only see on TV.
We stayed safely at South East Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute (SEARSOLIN), a unit of the Xavier University. We had a session to discuss and let out our feelings and plan what we can do for Iligan. How we wished we can go back and help the displaced people who were staying at the evacuation centres but we were not allowed for our own safety.
We felt defeated at the thought of leaving our host community when the very reason why we came there was to work for peace and development. But then, there are a lot of means to an end. Our team tapped several organizations where we can get involved in their relief efforts. We visited every class at Xavier University and encouraged students to donate goods and food.
My experience with war may not be that worst but the mark it left in my life was something I wouldn’t have acquired if I only read the news or watch it on TV.
It reminded me that material things, conflicts, ambitions, hatred and stuff of that sort will no longer matter when we are at the verge of fighting for our life. It made me wish for only one thing, to be beside the people I love most. It made me count the time I wasted not saying words to people who mattered so much to me. It opened my heart even more to other people and strengthened my compassion.
Perhaps, I can go on with my realisations but at this point, I want to end this by saying, we will never run out of ways to make a difference and help others, all we need is love and everything will follow.