Their eyes seemed hollow and empty, resembling only a sense of their former selves that now lives in the darkness washed out by the storm. They did not say much and their movements were very little. This new world by which they only came to know just by a couple of minutes was something they could not fully grasp yet. These eyes that I saw belonged to the people from the different parts of the Philippines that were devastated by Typhoon Yolanda.
Last week, my college classmates Chi, Euge, and myself were invited by Yzel to volunteer at the Villamor Airbase to do counseling for the victims. I can speak for all of us when I say that we were all feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness before we did the volunteer work. For one, though this seemed a perfect opportunity to help the survivors, there was a hesitation among us with regards to counseling these people. The victims of the typhoon would fall under PTS or post-traumatic syndrome. Though we all had psychology background, this was not only a whole other level, but in all essence, this was the real thing. Among us, Chi, Yzel, and myself were the ones who took up actual counseling classes in college. However four years later, only Yzel is the one who is currently doing anything psychology related. She is undergoing her masteral studies on developmental psychology and for this particular volunteering, she also underwent training under the Psychology Association of the Philippines. You can see on one hand, we had the education or the background to help these people in a unique way, but on the other hand, we are more than anything, simply ordinary just like any other human being. Furthermore, I had my own questions that needed to be answered like who was I to counsel the lost their homes when I have my own home waiting for me? Can we really make a difference?
Laying all hesitations and hindrances aside, we signed up for the 2am-9am shift at Villamor Airbase. We were expecting to be only a number of volunteers since this is a graveyard shift. True enough, they were lacking volunteers in all different sections. The Airbase was filled with different tents all with various responsibilities. There were tents for food, clothing, medical care, and the like. Each volunteer had a responsibility whether being a marshal, counselor, food distributor, and more. Since the operations were generally lacking volunteers we had to put aside our counseling duties but instead became marshals. Basically, marshals made the whole thing go. They are the runners, helpers, greeters, and overall person who do everything.
One of the things that struck me the most while I was there was the fact that we were the ones that would first greet the survivors coming from their tragedy. The survivors came in via C130 airplanes carrying hundreds of people in each plane. A C130 airplane is a military plane probably designed to carry supplies and not people so you can imagine that the survivors were cramped up in this huge plane without any seats or anything. And after a couple of hours in flight, we were the first people to meet them here in Manila. There’s so much intensity in this very fact that because we, the volunteers, have to make them feel safe and welcome.
As people were coming out of the planes, we as volunteers waited for them at the base. There were probably only about 50 marshals trying to shepherd in hundreds and hundreds of people coming in. Except for the military and government personnel who were there, the volunteers were just normal people no different from you or me. They were students, employees, teenagers, middle-aged men, transcending social status and gender differences. They were not coerced by anyone. They simply went out of their way and sacrificed their time more than anything else.
In the end, Chi, Yzel, and Chi’s mom were able to do counseling for the victims. Euge and I stuck to being marshals doing all kinds of errands. Euge put it perfectly when he said he just wanted to do mindless activities. I agreed with him simply because it was already almost 5:00am at that time and I was just too tired to put my counseling hat on. Counseling requires a lot physical, mental, and emotional strength to empathize and at that time in the morning after carrying shoes, blankets, and food, I was just not up for it.
All the people there are in every sense normal. They had jobs, school, parents, and families. Even the victims, though stripped off of their possessions, were people. They had their hurts, doubts, and regret. Through the face of the impending tragedy, we were all ordinary human beings bounded together by the circumstance our country was facing and with that I couldn’t help feel a sense of hope. Hope is what the survivors were looking for and it is what people like you and me try to offer. Each of us has his or her own battles that we face everyday and that makes us ordinary. But through the ordinary also lies our own unique gifts and it is when we share them with others that make us more than ordinary in the eyes of others.