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What community work taught me so far…

Cali Transitional Site, Northern Barangays, Tacloban City, Philippines
Cali Transitional Site, Brgy. North, Tacloban City, Philippines

After super typhoon Haiyan swept away my home town, thousands of people were forced to flee Tacloban City. My bereaved family was one of them.

For several months, we struggled in darkness and scarcity in a municipality an hour away from the city. Everything we had left that we carried with us was treasured and valued, and no law such as the diminishing marginal utility ever existed, since most of what we can find, like food and water and few clothing were only limited, not even according to our needs. We just get and make use of what we can have. My father worked alone, for days. I was unemployed, because the school of which I was hired as an instructor was heavily damaged, and so the classes did not continue very soon than what has been expected. So, I hunted for another job, just to help sustain the family’s needs.

I was fortunate to be a part of an emergency response brought about by the Doctors without Borders (MSF), in a nearby municipality from where we had evacuated. While big organizations flock in the city which was mostly devastated, providing food and clean water and shelter assistance for it, MSF was providing Psychological First Aid to the less attended, nearby communities.

As a graduate of human behavior, I was honored that my community work began by talking to people, and listening to their stories of survival, struggles, of their worries and hopes for the future. In a way, that was also the cure to my aching soul from my own loss and scuffles.  Through being a community mental health worker, I recognize that we were all victims, and survivors but I was humbled by my clients’ accounts. They made me realize that I was not the only one who suffered enough, moreover some even endured more than what I and my family have gone through. Yes, I lost a lot, but they lost more…more things and more loved ones than what I have missed.  They inspired me by their perspectives and resiliency. The marginalized and less prioritized people of my community taught me many things in struggling, and getting up from the rubbles, may it be from a devastation of any kind of calamity, or from the neglect of their own government, or from the people who noticed less but could have helped them move on earlier. I acknowledge that this experience improved me deal with bigger responsibilities when I started my role as a social worker in Tacloban.

I have been engaged in managing and coordinating one of the temporary shelters in the city (which is also known as the bunkhouses) for almost a year now. This is also community work, but in a different lighting, perceiving and tasking. Likewise, this one is a tougher job than what I had before.

My camp is composed of 200 families, with 868 individuals. What I do is help them cope with their daily troubles, and coordinate their needs to the organizations which can assist me in serving them. When conflicts (which are inevitable inside a community) between two or among several people arise, I become a mediator. When a person comes up to me and asks for advice, I become a counselor. Sometimes, when there is food for the children, I become a day care worker.  I become everything that my people need me to be, except become a bank because of course, I can’t give them what I lack or do not have. Sometimes, people ask me how difficult is it to handle this huge number of people, every single day. What my work taught me is immeasurable. I can only enumerate a few that have struck me the most.

For one, patience is an asset that must be bagged every day to a work that includes the community directly. I meet and deal with a lot of different faces and walks of life, with different point of views, characters and attitudes, every day, and for each of them, I offer different hues of patience.

Second an enormous amount of empathy is a necessity. If I can’t do anything about their dilemma as for the moment that they approach me, the least I can do is show them that I am compassionate with them and give them my assurance that I know what they are feeling. It gives them the peace of mind and warrant that someone is trying to help them out of their distress.

Lastly, but should be the most prevalent, is to be a symbol of empowerment for them. I lay emphasis in the good in them and in what they do best for their own worth. What have they done so far to alleviate their situations without being dependent on anyone?

This, they should cogitate within themselves because no one else in the world can help them build back their lives better and faster other than themselves. Empowering them remains to be a challenge for me. The community taught me so much that I realize, there is nothing more arduous than to teach and alter it.

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I tell stories.

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