By Afrhill Rances in Manila
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Quezon City. On a normal day, parents would take their kids to the church, park or mall and have some time to relax before the work-week starts.
But for Josephine Santos, this was not the case. As the Red Cross 143 coordinator in her village, she is leading other volunteers for the cleanup drive which is part of hygiene promotion activities in response to the massive Manila floods.
In Barangay Mariblo, Quezon City, where she lives with her 13 children, the floodwater was up 10 feet high following the torrential rain that hit the capital in the first week of August. Days after the floods, health officials were concerned by the amount of dirt and mud that had accumulated on the streets. In response, Philippine Red Cross conducted the cleanup activity to promote a cleaner and safer environment.
Standing under the heat of the scorching sun that afternoon, Josephine explained what happened to her during the floods. “We didn’t mind the bad weather, as we know there was no typhoon. So during the first day of the heavy downpour, I was just staying with my kids inside our house,” Josephine says.
A few hours later, she noticed that the flood water was rising quickly. It was a good thing her house had a second level, to where she brought her children immediately. To her surprise, the rain didn’t stop so she waded through floodwaters towards the nearest evacuation center.
Apparently, the area was full as all of her neighbours were also seeking temporary shelter there. With no choice, she saw a jeepney standing nearby and brought her children inside. The tiny vehicle, mainly used for public transport in the Philippines, served as their home for five days.
“Never had I imagined that I would live inside a vehicle. It was so crowded in the evacuation centre and I know there would not be enough space for my children there so we fit ourselves in the jeepney instead,” Josephine says.
The village is no stranger to floods as it lies beside a river which overflows during heavy rains. But according to Josephine, it was the worst flooding she ever experienced throughout the 16 years of living there. It even surpassed the level of flood water which Ketsana brought in 2009.
Having been affected by the floods as well, it didn’t dim her passion as a Red Cross volunteer. “There’s so much cleaning we have to do in the house but I left the chores to my children. They are supportive as well.”
Armed with shovels, stick brooms and other cleaning materials, at least 700 volunteers participated in the activity. Fire trucks were also used to wash away garbage and mud along the street of Barangay Mariblo. After a few hours of cleaning, the joint efforts paid off as the street is back to its original state.
“I am grateful to be part of this activity. Through this, I was able to help not just my family but also my community,” Josephine concludes.