It was a Saturday, five Decembers ago, when Tropical Storm “Sendong” ravaged Cagayan de Oro. In the small hours of dawn, a great flood crept in on the sleeping riverside communities, and before anyone was fully awake, it took away houses and properties and lives. By morning, the city was agape with thousands of newly homeless families and many more grieving.
Disaster relief operations quickly followed, and here I saw the one good sign that this country was not hopeless. The first to help in disaster relief weren’t politicians or paid workers, but volunteers.
In one operation, the first to set up help desks and donation campaigns were students who were supposed to have ROTC drills that morning, students who came in early to support their friends taking the nursing board exam that day, and students who were preparing for their Christmas parties. They did not hesitate to give their time (and party funds) to the relief operation instead.
After the initial disaster response, more volunteers worked 24/7 at evacuation sites and donation centers, contributing not only their time and money but also their specific skills to answer needs such as medical care.
During the resettlement and rehabilitation projects that followed, it was still that same sense of volunteerism that pushed the efforts forward. Workers spent long days and nights to swiftly sort out families for resettlement. In a short span of time, they conducted field inspections, household interviews, and an incredible amount of administrative work just to help displaced families into their new homes.
Through all these, the volunteers and workers carried on without seeking pay or recognition. They simply sprang to action, not even minding that only the tip of their colossal efforts was documented.
I have always been awed by these unnamed acts of selflessness since, and to this day, I try to give more attention to them. In these times, even when we are spared from another great disaster, finding glimmers of altruism among Filipinos is crucial. We may not be grappling with another flood or earthquake or typhoon, but we are weathering bad news every day, political bickering even among our friends, and a hammering of opinion and misinformation from all sides.
This is a time when it’s easy to get consumed by pessimism and disagreements. But while we’re busy tut-tutting and firing polemics at each other, millions of Filipinos still mired in need get caught in the middle—or are ignored outright.
Our squabbling makes no difference in their lives. What uplifts them is the work of heroes that barely gets reported in the news or talked about on Facebook: projects that help improve literacy and education, provide opportunities for livelihood, make health and medical services more accessible, and the like. The people behind such efforts make small miracles every day, and they are some of the most unassuming forces that carry this country along.
We need to hear more of these quiet heroes, to let their work remind us that despite the maddening issues we get battered with daily, it is possible for something good to happen—and we can make it happen ourselves.
The admired TV host Fred Rogers was quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The helpers, the quiet heroes, and their incessant endeavors to make the world a little more bearable for the rest of us—it’s a beautiful thing to give our attention to. It’s a much worthier movement to join than the social media wars that contribute empty noise and nothing else.
So as this turbulent year winds down to a close, I choose to look back on 2016 not with a dejected spirit, but with a toast to the countless quiet volunteers, nonprofit workers, and civic movers throughout the nation. Thank you for showing us that no matter how scary the world seems to be, we are here to take care of each other. Padayon.
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