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My First Relief Operation (An
excerpt from my memoirs)
By Susano B. Balais III
[This was a week after the tailend of a cold front surprisingly hit the province of Misamis Oriental. Due to the floods, thousands of families were left with no other option but to leave their houses and stay in evacuation centers. It was Balay Mindanaw’s first involvement in any relief operations. Though not a relief organization, we seized the opportunity to be primarily involved in the relief operations. After all, Misamis Oriental is a partner province.]
January 20, 2009, six o’ clock in the evening, while I was driving my motorbike to Cagayan de Oro, it was just then that I realized that my front tire was flat. After two days of driving -- to and fro the municipality of Jasaan to Gingoog City -- coordinating and monitoring the relief distribution in 14 evacuation centers, my front tire finally gave up.
Not minding the rain, I opted to continue riding my bike, slowly driving through the poorly lit highway of the municipality of Sugbongcogon, hoping to find a vulcanizing shop. I found one 20 minutes later, after carefully and slowly driving through the highway.
I had nothing to do but wait for my tire to be repaired. But instead of wasting time, I took out my cell phone and browsed the pictures I took during the relief distribution. Then I got my notebook and pen and started scribbling some notes on my experience. I realized what a meaningful, self-fulfilling experience it was. I really don’t have any experience on relief operations. But for the past four days, I’ve experienced not only a crash course on disaster relief operation but also concluded on its effective implementation.
I was tasked as the over-all field coordinator for the relief operations. For four days, I sat aside my other work (reports and project proposals due, among others), literally forgot about them and focused on the task at hand. It was a privilege to be involved in the planning stage, mobilizing and budgeting resources -- both the items for distribution and the volunteers -- up to the actual relief distribution to 14 evacuation centers in 7 municipalities and 1 city.
Distributing more than 3,000 packs of relief goods, both food and non-food items, to more than 3,000 poor families affected by the flood is not an easy task. Yet within two days, we were able to distribute them successfully with the help of more than 100 volunteers, including staff and friends of Balay Mindanaw, partner communities, local government units and institutions.
It was my first time and, as I expected, the relief operation was very exhausting, physically and mentally. And because we were under time pressure, tension with my fellow volunteers were unavoidable. But looking at the bigger picture, it was a very self-satisfying experience when you know that you have accomplished and contributed something to alleviate the lives of victims hit by the calamity that struck the whole province, and gain new experience in life.
Looking at Balay Mindanaw, as a family, we move together, work together without hesitation in order to contribute something significant. Some people call this energy of coming together, working together, as synergy. But whatever it is called, this energy fascinates me. It inspires me.
The experience once again proved to me that if people come together, cooperate together, work together, many things will be achieved. Nothing is impossible.
In this time of global financial crisis, I hope that this experience will always remind me and my family -- Balay Mindanaw -- to come together, to work together, to synergize, in facing such a great challenge.
Well, so much for inspiration and synergy, the repair man already signaled that the tire is ready. For now, may I still have the energy to drive my motorbike to Bulua, an 80-kilometer ride on a badly lit highway, worsened by rain shower.
[Susano B. Balais III, 30, is the team leader of the Business Development Service of Katilingbanong Pamahandi sa Mindanaw Foundation Inc., the social enterprise institution of Balay Mindanaw Group of NGOs.]