Okay, I’ll admit something: I’ve never been into camping. I never joined the camps kids usually attend to during scouting years. Yes, I did some overnighters but the real “roughing it” kind has remained a fantasy (I envy my best friend who is a mountaineer and who can survive in the wild). So imagine my anxiousness when I was sent to Calauan, Laguna to spend a different kind of earth hour last March 26, 2011.
It was actually the group Emergency Research Center, Inc. (or simply “E”) who invited Business Agenda to join them on their Weekend Prepper. But it turned out that I will learn more than urban surviving in that 24-hour immersion.
A day before we drove to Laguna, I found out that I need to bring with me three essential things- a tent, sleeping bag and a bottle of mosquito repellant. My panic button just went on: I don’t have a sleeping bag let alone a tent! I tried asking everyone in proximity who can lend me his/her tent. The last resort would be to buy myself my own. I ended up shopping that night. I realized a tent and a sleeping bag are both worth spending for.
Call time was set to 5AM the next day. Call it serendipity but it was just well that Veron, one of the volunteers of E, lives near my area so we didn’t have a hard time fixing our meeting place. So even if I barely had an hour of sleep (I was having a bad case of colds, I couldn’t breathe that night)
The drive to Laguna was spent getting to know the group. I chatted with Veron and Louie (one of the directors of E) and that early on, I was able to learn a lot about the concept of E. It’s a great feeling when you discuss current events and the issues that surround them. Of course, you also share the frustrations over the same controversies. We all agreed that Filipinos are reactive, we wait for the disaster to happen before preparing for it. And when we are in the middle of emergency and disaster, we expect the government or other rescue groups to save our lives. (more on this topic here)
We had breakfast in Iskargu along National Highway in Barangay Dayap, Calauan. Here I met sir Regi, the other director and founder of E and Cris, another volunteer. We continued discussing more about their work and experiences in E.
The place is called Southville 7 (some also call it Bayani Juan). It is home to residents who were relocated from different areas in Metro Manila and those who lost their homes to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. When we got there, we saw the residents were busy. There was a group of people lining up for a job fair organized by the local government and Ayala Corporation. I met Father Boy and Father Pat of Don Bosco. The Salesians have been tapped to provide holistic guidance to the residents there – from character formation, community empowerment and entrepreneurial endeavors.
There was barely a time for me to sit down. So many things were happening all at the same time. The E group was preparing food as part of their Urban Survival called Prepping. Aside from the job fair, a tree planting and house building were taking place. A Van Aralan courtesy of AIHU Foundation Inc. was parked at one side while its volunteers were screening residents who would receive a free training on the basic computer skills. There I was in my leather jacket (the weather was so unpredictable-one moment it was all bright and sunny, the next time it was so gloomy and windy) going around Site 3, talking to Alvin of AIHU (apparently “aihu” is a Chinese/Mandarin term for “love and care”) then to Mang Hermie who was selling his packed salabat while taking photos (which I need more practice on and more charged batteries next time!).
Back with Sir Regi, I watched them cook the pinaupong chicken sa beer (after dressing the whole chicken with spices and herbs you will let the chicken ‘sit’ on an opened can of beer). And then Fernando Zobel de Ayala passed by. Apparently, it was that time of the month when volunteers for Habitat for Humanity build houses in that site. So after Sir Regi asked the community’s local photographer to accompany me, I was sort of stalking Mr. Zobel. He was really nice though. He was with his family. I also saw other volunteer groups such as employees of Pepsi, families, and students. Even celebrity Grace Lee was there. All of them were busy putting cement blocks together. Seeing them work made me envious. I had this secret wish to be part of building houses like what Gawad Kalinga and Habitat do. I just don’t know how to start. Hopefully I get the courage to take the first step.
Lunch was delicious. We were like in a picnic actually. My hosts prepared a “prepper pot” where you put everything that you can find in your ref to a single pot and cook them in a single dish. The idea is that when disasters occur and we have power outage that could last for days, we usually don’t know what to do with the food stacked in our kitchen. Since most of them are prone to spoilage, you might as well cook them in one go.
Afterwards I got to sit and talk to Father Boy over coffee (coffee!) and found out more about the community. He also showed me his collection of firearms. Yes, this priest is a licensed shooter. Having been assigned to Papua New Guinea and Tondo, he said it helped that people know that he was armed. He also founded a security agency where local residents of Tondo were trained to guard one’s life. He is also fond of motorcycles. He even broke some ribs during a race he joined before (it didn’t stop him from riding the powerful bike though). I would love to go back there and get to know more of him and the community.
Dinner was prepper pot again. We had to eat early in time for the earth hour celebration where they prepared a camp fire for the young locals. It was a joy seeing those kids have fun. They live in another site (there are still no habitants in the site where I was staying in except for the Salesian group) which was a long walk from where we were but that night was a special occasion for them.
We were already putting up our tents when I was informed that a resident is in need of a better splint. I was invited to join the rescue team to witness how they will replace the splint applied to a girl who got into a bike accident earlier. Apparently, the girl was asked to return on Monday for her arm needed to be put in a cast since there was no schedule during weekends. It was also my first time to ride an ambulance (which somehow sends me into anxiety everytime I hear its siren because it reminds me of those times we had to rush our dad to the hospital). It didn’t help that one of the local residents mentioned that someone already died in that vehicle (gee, thanks).
You have to give it to that little girl though. She was so brave! The whole time they were replacing the wood (yes, it was a plain wood and they used a ribbon to secure it) with the splint the group was fortunate to have with them, she didn’t cry or even manifested any pain. The next day when we saw her, her mom said she slept soundlessly. Good on her.
It was a long day but I stayed up for a few minutes to have a chat with the team. Cris and I shared my tent. I was glad I was able to sleep and that I didn’t have the hard time to breathe.
The next day, I woke up early enough to see the sun rise. It has been ages since I heard mass and I was glad I was able to join the community there. There was a feeding program afterwards where residents lined up for the hot lugaw.
Then we had to leave. I really hope I can go back there and get to know the residents better. My one day stay made me realize how small my problems are compared to the residents’ ordeals. Here they are, uprooted from their hometowns where school and work were near their houses only to be put in a place where there was no electricity, water, and livelihood. I was told that before, the place was considered inhabitable. It was just recently that lines for water have been installed. It’s also a good thing that people here are being taught how to be independent, giving them means of livelihood through organic farms and other entrepreneurial means. E also trains them how to be self-sufficient amid emergencies and disasters. This is a good example that any community can be independent and sustainable if public and private entities will just teach them how to stand on their own feet. It’s not enough for you to give them houses to live in. You have to teach them how to better their lives so that in the future, they will no longer seek your help because they have learned how to look after themselves.
As for me, I look forward to using my tent and sleeping bag in my next adventures and discovering communities like that in Calauan and groups like E and the Salesians.