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Revisiting a disaster zone to restore a community to its pre-disaster state

The Philippines was slammed by the strongest typhoon of the year, Typhoon Goni, at the start of November 2020. In the aftermath of the disaster, Tzu Chi volunteers had set out to conduct disaster assessments and launched a cash for relief operation to restore the homes of the locals.

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Volunteers arrive at Tierra Verde in Batangas City on 4 November to launch the first cash for relief operation to clean up the streets. (Photo by Tzu Chi volunteers) 

In the early morning of 4 November, the first cash for relief programme was launched in Tierra Verde Subdivision of Batangas City in the aftermath of a severe typhoon disaster. Known as the most powerful typhoon of the year, Typhoon Goni has caused widespread devastation in many parts of the Philippines. When the disaster situation eased on the 3rd of November, Tzu Chi volunteers set out to conduct a disaster assessment to help restore the homeland of the victims.  

Recovery work underway in disaster hit Batangas

At half past six in the morning, a team of eight people led by Brother Li Wei Song from Tzu Chi Philippines departed to Batangas Province, which is located 110 km away to the south of Manila, for a disaster assessment.  

Upon arriving in Tierra Verde Subdivision, Tzu Chi volunteers visited every street in the community to bestow help and care to the victims while assessing the disaster situation. The affected residents shared that when the typhoon made a landfall at where they are living, it brought along with-it strong winds and torrential rains which led to a flood with a water level reaching the waist. In some areas, the water level was so high that it could submerge a whole person.

There were about 380 affected households in Batangas City. When the volunteer team arrived at the disaster area, some residents had already taken the initiative to clean up their home. Government departments had also activated heavy machineries to assist with the cleaning work, but support was limited, and progress was slow.

The disaster assessment team then discussed with the government officials in the community regarding their disaster relief plan. They proposed a cash for relief method which would not only help restore and spruce up the homes of the victims as soon as possible, the cash relief would enable the victims to purchase their daily necessities too.

The local government officials were very grateful for Tzu Chi’s timely assistance and agreed fully with Tzu Chi’s disaster relief principles of directness, priority, respect, practicality and timeliness. Combining the resources from both parties, the government provided additional excavators and gravel trucks to support Tzu Chi in carrying out the cleaning more efficiently so that residents could settle down at their own place sooner.

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Strong winds and torrential rains have flooded houses and left the streets muddy after the water has retreated. (Photo by Tzu Chi volunteers) 

Enabling disaster victims to help themselves and help others

At five o'clock in the morning on 4 November, the volunteers brought with them cleaning tools and set off again to Tierra Verde in Batangas City to begin the first cleaning up operation. Before the cleaning begun, the team seized the opportunity to introduce Tzu Chi to the locals. Pandemic prevention measures were also fully complied with where volunteers and locals all masked up and observed social distancing during the cleaning up work.

During the briefing and sharing session, Brother Lee Wei Song shared about the first large scale cash for relief operation that was held in the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. There was also a cash for work relief operation in 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan. Volunteers had also introduced Master Cheng Yen to the locals using a portrait photo which they brought with them to the site. The briefing was conducted with the purpose of enabling the residents to understand that every donation made by Tzu Chi comes from donors from different parts of the world. It is hoped that every resident would not underestimate the power of 1000 pesos. The fund is a show of collected goodwill and accumulation of love and blessings from people around the world.

After the sharing session, the residents went on to start their cleaning work at their designated spot. The volunteers had also joined the locals in cleaning up the community. Everyone shared the workload and worked hard together with the hope of restoring the community soon. A total of 562 residents were mobilized to clean up nine streets and alleys at Tierra Verde on that day.

"I am very grateful to Tzu Chi. Because of your initiative, we have managed to clean up the muddy streets and alleys. Now we can concentrate on restoring the things at home," said a local villager who was excited about the outcome of the cleaning and the cash she received for joining the cash for relief programme.

Another affected villager by the name Nelson said, "The residents in Tierra Verde are very happy to receive the presence of a charity organization at our community. You have showed your sincerity and sympathy for us in this disaster. We are very grateful to Tzu Chi and for the help from all the kind souls from around the world."

After bidding goodbye to the locals, the volunteers took off to return to Manila at half past nine in the evening. Everyone wasted no time in getting enough rest as there are many disaster victims in Albay Province who are still in need of assistance.

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Volunteers joining the locals in cleaning up their community. (Photo by Tzu Chi volunteers) 

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