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On The Move

Preparing youth for emergency volunteerism

I have lived long enough to have witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the Taal Volcano eruption in September 1965. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), that eruption left 200 casualties. It was a violent, phreatomagmatic eruption that spewed rock fragments and ashfall, leaving a 25-centimeter thick deposit causing acid rain.

When Taal erupted in 1965, the Tarlac Boy Scout Council gathered relief goods and organized a delegation to deliver these to the Taal victims. I was a 15-year-old senior scout leader from Tarlac High School who was selected to join the delegation. The delegation was headed by engineer Jesus Barrera, the chair of the council. We members of the delegation were proudly in our scout uniforms. I do not remember how many vehicles were involved, I only remember being in a Volkswagen Beetle along with other officials. We left at dawn. As we neared the disaster-stricken area, I began to hear unfamiliar names of Batangas towns like Talisay, Lemery and Cuenca. When we reached our destination at around noon, we were met by officials, and we turned over the relief goods we brought. As the officials talked, I was on the lakeshore gazing at the lake. The waves were rough all the way to Taal island. The lake was filled with debris, much of it colored black. The shore and the lake were strewn with ash and black rocks that had a plastic-like texture. These pieces had bubble holes on them.

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There was a lot of frenzy, a lot of people hurrying about. There was also a sense of silent desperation, a tinge of both relief and resignation, as one can feel after a devastating storm. I was born just five years after World War II ended, when stories and first-person accounts of the war’s devastation were still much in daily conversations. I imagined the 1965 Taal scene as like a war-ravaged place. Looking back, that is where I think I began growing a sense of empathy. But this is not a story about me. This is a story about how the youth are motivated and capacitated to assist in disaster situations, without putting themselves at unnecessary risk. My heart goes out to the La Salle students who died while on the way home from delivering relief goods to the Taal victims. When impelled to do things that they do not habitually do, our youth are exposed to unpleasant surprises, especially on our dangerous roads. Ironically, they go out on a limb when they go out of their way to help.

The skills I have learned about emergency situations and staying alive come from fortunate camping and hunting situations that my larger family was able to make available to me. Even when I was only in elementary school, I had already joined camping and hunting trips in the early 1960s that my uncle, a Death March veteran who was an auto mechanic instructor, would organize several weekends a year. He had an orchard of mangoes in Tambo in the vicinity of Mount Pinatubo on the Capas, Tarlac, side.

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Among the risks that had to be managed was the fording of fast-moving rivers that were filled with huge stones. Sometimes, the jeeps that we used got stranded in the middle, and it took an exciting, problem-solving process to get them out and repair whatever got damaged. This could be a tricky situation; most of the time, we used only one jeep with a trailer.

There were, of course, the usual snakes and dangerous plants. One learned to hunt for pungapong, a wild fleshy plant, and cook it without ingesting the dangerous outer layer. One learned never to try to hit a fish in water with a bolo, as you would likely cut your left or right foot.

There is no better way to prepare the youth for emergencies than for them to go on on-the job training under competent adult guidance. Whose responsibility is it to provide these emergency response orientations and skills to the young? Well, they say that it takes a whole village to raise a child. When one looks today at the village processes and institutions that provide this kind of training and orientation, one feels a bit disappointed — there are hardly none. We do not have the summer camps that are so instrumental in giving the youth a dose of outdoor skills plus leadership and volunteerism orientation.

As we brace for the various Taals yet in our country’s future, we need to remember that civic engagements are social capital-generating activities. They need scripts, and they need rehearsals. We need civic producers and directors, actors and actresses, stagehands and propsmen.

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TAGS: disaster response, emergency volunteerism, On The Move, Segundo Eclar Romero
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