STORIES of how Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) brought out compassion and the best in humanity from civic-spirited people here and abroad who volunteered time, resources and expertise to help the victims flood the social media and online versions of newspapers.
One such story, posted by Narciso Inlong on Facebook, narrated how (on his flight back to Manila from Los Angeles) an 81-year arthritis sufferer, Dr. Angela Ramos, retired pediatric expert and teacher at University of Southern California, flew back to the land of her birth to render her service to the victims.
Inlong said, Dr. Ramos was carried to the plane via a wheelchair, and told him of how determined she is to go to Tacloban and look at the health of children, regardless of her personal condition. “Many are dissuading her from going but she won’t listen,” Inlong says.
“I saw on television the image of a dead child on a box and I knew I wanted to come home and help. I could not just sit at home and let those children alone without medical help,” Inlong quoted Ramos as saying.
He said the medical alumna from the University of Santo Tomas had always wanted to be a contemplative nun but was ordered by her father to take up medicine instead. So she obeyed but she vowed to still serve God as a volunteer for the homeless of California.
Inlong said of her: “I don’t know if Dr. Ramos would make it to Tacloban. Everyone had been dissuading her, but the small woman whose face had the radiance of Mother Theresa just could not be stopped.”
Another story, written by Lisa Falkenberg, again posted on FB, narrated how 34-year-old Alex Tang, supervisor at the Bush Intercontinental Airport, rushed to organize a fund-raising among Vietnamese refugees, who were previously “housed” in Morong, Bataan by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in the nineties, to help the victims of Yolanda as a sign of their gratitude to the warm people of the Philippines.
Tang became a refugee in Bataan at 9 years old and grew up with his parents there. Though life was difficult, he said, he enjoyed the fence-less and wall-less freedom of going around the woods and fields, where he interacted with the residents. He recalled that when Mount Pinatubo erupted, food was scarce but still people had a big warm heart to share their food with the refugees.
He gained American citizenship and out of gratitude for that country he served at the US Air Force. Now living in Houston, he recalls his two years in Morong after the fall of Saigon. He recalled the kindness, warmth and generosity of the people of Morong.
When news of Haiyan spread the world over, Tang immediately raised funds by passing the hat among employees of the airport and then reached out to the Vietnamese Community of Houston and vicinities with the help of Kim Nguyen, former group president. They planned a walk-a-thon that would hopefully raise $150,000 for December 1 and the funds raised would be donated to the American Red Cross. This amount will match the previous donation of the Vietnamese community to the ARC.
Locally, we hear of local companies, civic groups and individuals lending their time, resources and expertise to the ravaged provinces and towns affected by the Yolanda until this time. Some operated from Manila through Oplan Hatid to ferry the victims to their relatives in Metro Manila or to halfway homes. This now mutated to Oplan Trabaho to provide employment for the Yolanda victims now in Manila.
Those involved in Oplan Hatid were professionals, who rushed each day to Villamor Air Base for three weeks after work, to ensure a ride for the “refugees” from Eastern and Western Visayas who have been rendered homeless and grieving over lost loved ones in the storm surges. The volunteers worked until the wee hours of the morning, took a short nap and then back to work and back to Villamor for three straight weeks.
Some of them were expats, who are least familiar with Metro Manila yet go through shantytowns and dangerous streets to bring their refugee to their temporary shelters without fearing for their own safety.
It was almost inevitable that Oplan Hatid, or #oplanhatid as it is known on social media, would become a obvious recourse for people who wanted to go beyond the usual cash or relief good donation but were unable to fly to Leyte, Eastern Samar, Samar and Cebu—the hardest-hit places, recalled Hill Alicbar from Muntinlupa and her New Zealander boyfriend, Rob, who volunteered for the duration of Oplan Hatid said in her post.
James Deakin, Oplan Hatid’s unofficial spokesperson, sat with me under a tent by the Villamor Air Base grandstand. Yet another C-130 Air Force plane full of Typhoon Yolanda survivors landed as he told the story of their operations, Jill recalled.
“It’s more than transport, it’s support,” was the Oplan Hatid slogan, according to James, who has a day job as Editor-at-Large of C! Magazine and motoring columnist at a major daily. The unique relief effort was also spearheaded by Deakin’s friends, Junep and Cel Ocampo, Bugsy del Rosario, Leah Lagmay, Golda and Carly Benjamin, and Che Reginaldo.
They had heard through friends at the Air Base that the C-130 planes were coming in but not everyone who arrived had the means to get to where they were supposed to go, much less the money to pay for it.
Some just ended up outside the base, sitting on the sidewalk. Thus, Junep Ocampo thought of the name, Oplan Hatid, and being in the PR business called on James to help rustle up some drivers to well, make the survivors “hatid.” #oplanhatid was born.
A social media campaign was launched with the sole purpose of mobilizing volunteers, people willing to lend their vehicles and drive Yolanda survivors to their Luzon destinations safely. The response, to put it mildly, was overwhelming.
”James has hundreds of stories of good deeds to tell. He told me of volunteers who have driven survivors to Baguio, and then come back to do it all over again. He told me of drivers who had been asked by their bosses at car rental companies to go to the air base and drive as part of their jobs. These drivers had gone back to the office and refused their pay, overtime or otherwise, saying that driving without receiving pay was their contribution to the effort for the survivors,” Jill said.
Hearing the anecdotes about Oplan Hatid [which ended on December 1]in the tents full of volunteers, in the general atmosphere of selflessness, had me once again wiping my eyes several times. This was a chance for everyone to help. A remarkable 2,000 volunteers have driven untold kilometers to bring almost 17,000 survivors safely to their destinations.