On the ground: We drove a family of 5 from Villamor to Tarlac through Oplan Hatid

My husband and I volunteered for DSWD’s Oplan Hatid yesterday, moved by Tessie Fajardo’s compelling call for Manila-based volunteers published on Coconuts Manila. The Department of Social Welfare and Development had sent out a call for volunteers because survivors who had been evacuated to Villamor Air Base from Tacloban did not have means to get to their relatives in Manila and neighboring provinces in Luzon. 

We and other volunteer drivers provided free transportation using our personal vehicles by taking survivors directly to their families in Manila. If the destination is too far and the survivors are physically able, volunteers drive them to the bus station where they can get a ride.

At 8:30am, my husband and I arrived in front of the grandstand of Villamor Airbase, where Oplan Hatid holds operations under a big white tent. We were able to drive a family of five (youngest is one year old) to their relatives in Pasay, a woman to Valenzuela, and a family of 4 in Meycauayan, Bulacan. 

Our longest and most memorable drive was with the Fornillas family of five (with three children aged 4-9) whom we brought to Capas, Tarlac. After enduring a 1.5-day wait in Tacloban airport under rain and sun, subsisting on water and crackers, struggling against others who were cutting through the line to the C-130 planes, they arrived at Villamor at 8pm. Because no one could take them to Tarlac, they waited four more hours before they could make the trip with us. We set off for Tarlac at 12:30am and arrived in Brgy. Cristory Navy, a resettlement area in Capas, where they were warmly welcomed by worried relatives.  

Among the people we drove, the Fornillases were the ones who had the most stuff with them. As a way of making small talk, we remarked it was good that they were able to save many of their things. But it turned out that they only picked up these items at donation booths, as they had lost absolutely everything during the typhoon, including their youngest child, a two-year-old girl, who was swept away by the water: “inanod.” Hearing this was like being punched in the stomach. The plight of those who have very young children is especially poignant to us because we ourselves have two young sons.

There are times during the day when Oplan Hatid is inundated with volunteer drivers. The numbers start dwindling during the graveyard shift and during weekdays. This situation is not permanent.

As more people become aware of this effort, the need for volunteers will fluctuate. However, the coordinators expect to continue Oplan Hatid for 3-4 more weeks. Today, more than a week after the typhoon, people are still being evacuated out of Tacloban.

Apart from the Oplan Hatid effort, the grandstand is also the location for debriefing activities. Volunteers in the debriefing area welcome survivors upon disembarking from the plane, talk or give them counseling, help them register, give them meals, direct them to medical aid, and assist them in finding transport through Oplan Hatid or other efforts.

Volunteering as drivers gave us a chance to really reach out to the victims and to show them we care about them. With no electricity, telecoms, access to news, let alone enough food and medicine in Tacloban, they feel cut off from the world. The volunteering opportunities we have seen at Villamor made us feel empowered to make a personal connection to the people who have lost everything and are unsure of their future.

We will be going back to Villamor in the coming days to volunteer again.

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