Filipinos rally to help victims of volcano eruption

Communities provide shelter, food and comfort to those displaced by Mount Mayon’s deadly lava


Noreta Barnedo and her five children are staying in a temporary shelter in Salvacion village in Albay province. They fled their home in Lidong village after Mount Mayon volcano started spewing fire and ashes. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

UCANews Philippines  January 31, 2018

Marnel del Puerto could not decide where to run when the towering Mount Mayon volcano few kilometers from his village in the Philippine province of Albay started spewing fire.

As he helped organize his family and neighbors for the evacuation, the 22-year-old kept on thinking how crowded the temporary shelters awaiting them would be. “My parents will not survive in it,” he thought.

Nelson, Marnel’s 53-year-old father, is suffering from pneumonia while his mother, Maria Victoria, is paralysed. His only sibling, 18-year-old Jarmar, has mental illness.

After reaching the town center, Marnel posted on social media an appeal for help and for a place for his family to stay.

At least 427 people shared his post until it reached Christopher Palevino, head of the social concerns ministry of Our Lady of the Assumption parish.

Palevino searched for Marnel and his family. He found them taking shelter in a small village hall in the town of Guinobatan.

“We are helping people who need immediate aid, especially those who have physical limitations,” said Palevino.

The parish has already converted its facilities into shelters for the sick, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and children who need special care.

“We want to provide people with comfort, especially in their time of need,” said Palevino.

Basic ecclesial communities not affected by the eruption have been providing help to affected families.

“The concept is not only to act as first responders but to serve as a community that takes care of its members all the time,” said parish priest Father Diogenes Barja.

Families affected by the eruption of Mount Mayon volcano have taken temporary shelter in school houses. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

According to the Philippine government, 22,885 families or 89,109 individuals in 59 villages have been affected by the eruption.

Of the displaced people, 69,290 have taken shelter in 74 evacuation centers while 11,946 individuals are staying with relatives.

Father Barja said that if parishes would understand the “genuine spirit and purpose” of being a Christian community, “we will not be needing any external help.”

The priest said his parish has not asked for assistance from outside organizations to fund relief operations.

“Money or aid from outside organizations would be the last thing that we will solicit,” he said. “We will only do it when we exhaust the resources of our own Christian communities.”

He said the parish has also already activated a volunteer shelter program that opens homes near evacuation centers to affected families.

“People can help in so many ways. They may offer a roof to a family of evacuees, or even a toilet,” said Father Barja.

Roberto Ilan, a resident of the village of Iraya, did just that. He allowed the use of the toilet and kitchen of his rented home.

“I can always share a space where they can take a bath and cook their food,” he said.

In the town of Santo Domingo, Don Balin allowed displaced families to pitch their tents on his land. He said it has become a family tradition every time there is a disaster.

“There is no reason for us to deny them a safe space. We are all affected,” said Balin.

Father Rex Arjona, director of the social action center of Legazpi Diocese, said the national government should initiate plans to address the phenomenon of displacement.

“We should not wait for the worst thing to happen,” said the priest, adding that funding for aid must now be available.

He said the church can help and will always help. “But we could only give what we have. The government has all the resources,” said Father Arjona.

Mount Mayon, which is about 330 kilometers south of Manila, is the most active and one of the deadliest of the country’s 22 volcanoes.

In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed after a major explosion buried the town of Cagsawa.

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