Before the chaotic transfer of Operationn Salubong (a volunteer group who welcome Yolanda Survivors as they come off the C-130 plane) to Camp Aguinaldo, a friend and I were already signed up to do the 8am-3pm shift at Villamor as counselors on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013- my birthday. The previous week and the one before that were very toxic and I wanted to make my birthday week as worthy as a thanksgiving offering to the Father and so I planned to do as much volunteer work and prayer that week. My sister, Irhys, and our friend, Gino, were volunteer marshals on Monday that same week. On Thursday evening, Nov. 21, 2013, we received the news that Oplan Salubong was moving back to Villamor and we also read posts about Oplan Hatid (a volunteer transport service for the evacuees of typhoon Yolanda who have fled their homes and are brought to Manila via the military planes) having to reassemble after packing up that same day. I was still in the office that time and my sister was at home preparing to sleep. Gino and I were exchanging messages about our planned volunteer work the following day. We were planning to volunteer at the Oplan Hatid if the Oplan Salubong didn’t work out since it was still unclear on how DSWD would manage the volunteers for this operation. After a few minutes, Gino suggested we volunteer that night since Oplan Hatid was in need of help. It was 10:00pm. I said yes. I called my sister and told her to get ready as I was going to pick her up in a few minutes. She was already in bed but she was quick to say yes.
We arrived at Villamor before 11pm and was told to proceed to Gate 5. Around 20 volunteer drivers were already there waiting for DSWD’s go signal for transportation. A few minutes later, we were told to transfer to the parking lot at the grandstand.
At 11:30PM, we got our first passenger, heading to Pasig Palengke. We were not familiar with the place but I was confident that Waze could navigate us where we needed to go. Our passengers were 2 male cousins and the baby daughter of one.
I asked Gino to set the waze app since I was busy driving. As geographically challenged as I was, I missed the exit to Magallanes. Waze recalculated the route and pointed us toward Osmena Highway going to Manila. I asked Gino to check the route again since I believed we were taking the wrong or a very long route. Gino disregarded the Waze and dictated which road to take. After a few minutes, my sister and I were surprised that we were somewhere in Sta Ana. Apparently, Gino took the wrong destination in the GPS map so he was trying to navigate us to a route he was familiar with—which turned out to be really really long. We spent the whole ride teasing Gino until he finally said he will shoulder the gas for this trip. After an hour, we finally reached our destination. My passengers bid their goodbye and their heartfelt birthday greetings then we headed back to Villamor. Another plane just landed when we got there. We were concerned that volunteers were needed at the grandstand so we headed to the volunteer registration booth to sign up as PFAs while waiting for passengers to be deployed. We got our IDs and headed to the grandstand. However, the DSWD didn’t seem to be in need of our help so we headed back to the Oplan Hatid tent. The bidding started. Our next bid was for Dasmarinas Cavite. Three young teenager siblings. Again, waze destination was wrong. Good thing, Gino knew the area. We passed by a road filled with colorful parols and it was enough to reenergize everyone. We got to Waltermart at around 5am and waited until our passenger’s sundo was able to pick them up. We bid our goodbye then we headed back to Villamor to check if they still needed drivers. It was already 6:30am when we got there. The tent was almost empty except for 2 sets of evacuees. The DSWD asked if we can take two passengers and drop them at the bus station. One was going to Apalit, Pampanga and the other one to Cavite. Gino and Irhys needed to go to work that day so we couldn’t take them to their destination but we were willing to drop them off at the bus station. We drove to Victory Liner, Pasay. I asked my sister to accompany Kuya Rey to the ticket booth and buy him a ticket since no one sponsored his ticket from Oplan Hatid. Our other passenger and I were left in the car chatting about the destruction that Yolanda brought to Tacloban. He said that his mother and aunt did not want to leave Tacloban and opted to stay at the makeshift house that he built before he left. He was going to ask for help from their relatives and return to his family. It was also sad to discover that the violence against women and children at the aftermath of Yolanda were real. He said it was true that a female doctor was raped and killed in Tacloban and that the prisoner’s were at large. A few minutes later, Gino, Irhys and Rey came back with the news that there were no trips to Apalit in that station. Apalit trips were only being carried out by Victory Liner in Caloocan. I checked my watch. It was almost 7am. I didn’t have any work that day so I told Gino and Irhys I could take Kuya Rey to Caloocan. But they were both quick to say they’d go with me all the way. We loaded Kuya Rey’s luggage again and drove off to Taft to drop our other passenger. He said he was familiar with the place and that he could catch the bus going to his Aunt’s house in Cavite. We bid our goodbyes and then drove off to the now busy roads going to Caloocan. I was starting to get groggy. We reached Caloocan by 8:30AM. After buying Kuya Rey a ticket, we headed back to Makati. EDSA was now at its busiest. Gino and Irhys needed to go to work and I had to renew my license since it was going to expire on that day. We got home by 11am. It was a day well spent and the privilege to help others was enough birthday gift. When we share ourselves with others we always, always get more than what we give.
I was able to renew my license in the afternoon which took me less than 15mins, drive back home, take quick nap, attend mass where Father Apacible told about a loving community being embodied in Villamor and I was happy to be a part of it, drive to Greenbelt, have dinner with my sister who has been awake for 36 hours already—we ate at … dyaran! MAX’s (my other sisters were quite surprised that we were not dining at a fancy restaurant. With everything that just happened it just felt inapt to be spending so much money on food) and to cap it off, watch the Hunger Games which ended at 12 midnight.
Before Friday, I disabled wall posts on my FB. I wanted to simplify my birthday this year. In our current social media era, it’s so easy to lose track of which friends are mere acquaintances and those who really care. I’ve always preferred a personal greeting, a personal message, a call, a real communication than mere HBD posts on my wall. It was really heartwarming to receive sincere greetings from family and friends, those who really matter, and from the strangers who were a part of that special day.
With only a few hours of sleep, I had to wake up early the next day for a roadtrip to Baler with Aiza — an epic adventure worth another post.
Irhys, Gino and Me in Villamor, waiting for our passengers. With Aiza in Baler -11.23.13