Let me start this journal entry with a confession: I hesitated a lot when I got the invitation to be part of the relief ops for Bakun. My knee-jerk reaction was to say “no” to this opportunity. Just thinking about going to a relief operation site made me anxious. The last time I went to a disaster-stricken community for volunteer work was three years and 10 therapy sessions ago.
But for some reason, when Orvin Hilomen extended wife Meah (Kaisa president)’s invitation, I was moved to at least consider it. Eventually, I said yes, despite my fears. Ate Meah put me in charge of documentation (also known as Official Photographer).
Spoiler Alert: I ended up enjoying the experience. My bones not dry, but my spirit renewed.
And because I am into lists, I’ll break down the most notable parts of the Bakun relief operations from my perspective into three bullet points:
The boy and the pink bag. Even after almost 13 hours of traveling, the Kaisa team did not stop to rest but immediately mobilized operations. First to receive the donated goods were the elementary kids. They fell in line, each waiting their turn to choose between a blue or a pink school bag. I particularly want to note that the team let each kid choose what color they wanted. Naturally, the boys chose blue bags and the girls chose pink. Except for one kid.
A little boy, not older than six years of age, surprised everyone when he chose the pink school bag. Some people laughed, which caught my attention. I followed him with my camera so I can take pictures and I saw him run to his mom and little sister. His sister is not old enough for school so she was not on the list of beneficiaries. And so the little boy chose a pink bag to give to his sister. I had to consciously stop myself from shedding tears because I did not want to make a scene. This act of selflessness and generosity melted my heart.
The feast and the sack of cabbage. The way I understood the situation was that there is a need to supply food to the Bakun community and that is why we had to go there in the first place. So when we were met with a feast for lunch, I was pleasantly surprised and a little bit confused. Each time we finish a round of distribution, the team was given a token of appreciation – a large bag of cabbage, some fresh bananas, a bottle of homemade rice wine. The appreciation shown by the locals inspired me. I am reminded that even in times of scarcity, people can still be generous.
The watercress garden. On our way to the munisipyo where we were to stay for the night, some members of the team spotted watercress by the side of the road. I suddenly remembered the cost of watercress if you get it from a grocery in Manila – and here, you can literally pick it for free. It dawned on me – the realization that wealth is relative. The Bakun community is rich with fresh food that they can grow on their own. They have an overwhelming amount of resilience and grit. They have selfless, service-oriented neighbors, family, and friends.
Who’s to say that the people who can afford to send their hard-earned money to help those who are in need are the only wealthy ones? I say it is all relative.