Heroes and heroines are not only those found in comic books, movies or television series. They could also be ordinary people going the extra mil
e comforting victims of disasters, offering hope, and healing the traumatized.
When the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook Bohol on October 15, 2013, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office 7 (DSWD-FO7) based in Cebu City immediately mobilized its workforce to undertake disaster operations.
Men and women were deployed in the worst quake-hit towns in Bohol such as Loon, Loay, Loboc, Carmen, Sagbayan and Tubigon, sleeping in tents along with the evacuees, managing evacuation centers, distributing relief goods and coordinating with the affected local government units (LGUs), unmindful of the imminent danger that might befall them.
While on her last trimester of pregnancy, Chona Calamba, a municipal link of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, from the town of Sagbayan, still makes the rounds of families who lost their homes and loved ones due to the earthquake.
“I know most of these people, I know their struggles to escape from poverty. Taking time to listen to them during assessment is the most I can do to help them move forward,” Chona said.
Helping those in need despite her own difficulties, Chona is a prime example of the dedicated DSWD employee who goes about her task cheerfully and thoroughly.
Chona’s husband Danilo works at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources National Greening Program (DENR-NGP), hence, the couple is attuned to community work.
Organizing the townsfolks into productive members of society is a way of life for Chona, which her 10 and five year old girls have grown up with.
“Rendering service to the community takes up most of our time, that is why we are both looking forward to October 15 (Tuesday), a non-working day and a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice, since we could spend time with our children,” Chona recounted.
Early that morning, as the couple was playing with their children, they felt the ground shake. As they gathered the children to run, Chona experienced cramps, her legs refused to move, and she half-dragged herself outside. Her only thought – to survive for her children.
Living in Carmen, Bohol near the epicenter of the quake, she witnessed how the houses were destroyed, even the famous Chocolate Hills torn out of shape.
“I immediately thought of the affected families in our town, especially the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, if they are safe and how are they coping with the devastation,” Chona narrated.
Pantawid Pamilya is the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program implemented by the DSWD.
As soon as she has ensured her family’s safety, Chona braved the aftershocks and made the rounds to check the situation of the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, and how she could help them.
Twelve days after the quake, Chona is still on her feet, assuring the beneficiaries that things will get better. Chona believes that as long as she can still help others, she has a purpose in life.
“My baby will know selfless service even before she is born,” Chona uttered.
Legacy of service
Like Chona, Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator for the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) was one of those who immediately responded to the needs of those affected by the earthquake.
Much as he wanted to be with his family and ensure their safety, considering that his wife just had chemotherapy, Ruben chose to continue working with his colleagues in bringing relief goods to the affected families.
His enthusiasm kept his teammates going and his unwavering faith calmed his fears on the plight of his family, who were forced to camp out in front of their house.
“I know I should have been with my wife and children during those difficult times but whenever I feel the guilt of not being there with them, I take comfort in the thought that as I cross a broken bridge to reach the people who need help, I am actually doing a good turn for my family. Knowing that I am helping others, I entrusted my family to God’s care and protection,” Ruben related.
Each day, as Ruben copes with the demands of disaster operations, he vows to spend a day with his family as soon as things normalize. He plans to take care of his wife in every way possible to make up for each day and night he is away.
“Being in Bohol is enough to get me through the day, because it keeps me close to home,” Ruben recalled.
What lessons can he impart to his children, one might ask Ruben.
“I may not be rich, but I will a leave a legacy of selfless service to my children. Rendering service to those in need is my way of giving back, a simple gesture of thanks that my beloved wife and children are safe,” Ruben expounded.
A mother to others
Social worker, Merj Anunciado, who is also a first time mother, spends her days and nights carrying other people’s babies to assist mothers in evacuation sites, while they line up to get their share of relief goods.
Merj has to leave her own baby with her mother in Cagayan de Oro to answer the call to serve.
As she helps mothers in the evacuation camps, it also eases the longing she felt to be with her baby. Amid disaster operations, whenever she sees a baby cry because of being too warm inside a tent or lack of sleep due to the discomfort of sleeping on the ground, she says a prayer of thanks for keeping her own baby safe and warm even though they are apart.
“I realized how amazing a mother’s strength can be especially when it comes to protecting her children from harm and the elements such as the cold draft of the night or the tremors of the aftershocks. Hearing the tales of the mothers’ sacrifices in saving their babies from falling debris diminishes the pain of being separated from my own child. It keeps me going day in and day out while in the evacuation camp,” Merj recounted.
While she may have longed to be with her own baby, Merj shared that she “(has) learned that being away from (her) baby does not make (her) less of a mother because for just a few minutes everyday, (she has) helped mothers cope with the aftermath of the disaster.”
“I admire the strength, resiliency and courage of these mothers who have experienced fear and trauma, yet still go on for the sake of their children,” she adds.
There are more people like Ruben, Chona and Merj. Workers who stay awake at night packing relief goods to ensure that the evacuees have something to eat the next day, tending to the sick in a makeshift hospital tent or rebuilding bridges and roads to bring back normalcy. They are those who bear the yearning for their own children and put aside their fears to give strength to others, while fervently praying that their families stay safe.
In the midst of tragedy, there’s a hero waiting to come out in each of us.