For everyone here living in the Philippines, rains are a common sight. This is due to the number of tropical cyclones that visit the country, averaging at about 20 a year, not to mention the torrential summer monsoons that seem to get worse with every passing year. During my time in Xavier, countless school days have been cancelled due to the heavy rains. People often bring umbrellas wherever they go, ever wary of a surprise thunderstorm that would ruin one’s day. Even as recent as last week, the Philippines was battered by heavy monsoon rains brought about by typhoon Maring.
Last Sunday, after reviewing extensively in preparation for the quarterly tests the following day, I decided to open my laptop and check what was going on on Twitter. My newsfeed, as well as everyone else’s, was abuzz with expectations, assumptions, and hopes on whether or not the heavy rains would force the local government units to suspend classes the next day.
I had scarcely noticed the heavy downpour. Among those living in a condominium situated in the busy, and not to mention, noisy metro, and the utmost importance I had placed on acing my QTs, I was completely ensconced in my very own little bubble filled with equations and their respective solutions, El Filibusterismo quotes, and Greek Mythology.
Regardless of that, though, once I had wind of the slight possibility that a suspension of classes might push through, I instantly dropped the reviewers I had on hand, and turned my attention to Twitter for news of my “deliverance.” True enough, the rains continued in intensity, and eventually, after quite some time, San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez decided to suspended classes. I was thrilled. Granted, I was a bit annoyed that the QT’s were going to be postponed, but I didn’t care. Classes were suspended. The trend repeated itself the next day.
Come Wednesday, though, assured of the fact that there wouldn’t be any school that day, I woke up early and decided to watch the morning news with my mother. The glass shattered. What was written on my face right there and then could be called nothing else but pure and unadulterated shock. I automatically assumed that since I was safe and dry, everyone else must have been too.
I could not have been more wrong. I saw chest to head-deep floods. I saw the water level in the Laguna dam rising steadily, ominously, and continuously as the rains poured on and on. I saw pictures of people’s homes completely and utterly ruined by water. I heard stories of how people were stranded for hours on end, and so on and so forth. I was shocked, but more than that, I was ashamed. I was so concerned with me, myself, and I that I forgot that even if I was hardly affected, save for a few school days of suspension, there were less fortunate people than I who were affected—people who were hurt, lost their belongings and life savings, and maybe even their loved ones. I found out later that the total death toll was then at 22, making it the deadliest weather disturbance so far this year. In addition, the damages caused by the one-two punch of typhoon Maring and the habagat is estimated at almost 700 million pesos, a staggering amount by any count.
That very moment, I made a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn on my perspective on the matter. I needed to help. I needed to do something. My countrymen have been languishing in evacuation centers for days in cramped conditions, and often lacking food and clean water.
I joined a rising student movement that called for the Xavier School authorities to give a green light for a relief operation, similar to the ones that were held in previous years, to provide relief goods to beleaguered flood victims. Soon enough, our calls were answered. Relief operations entitled, Xavier Sulong, or the XSulong, had been approved. However, the Xavier administration thought it would be best to have the relief ops started only once the QT’s had been done with and completed. That pushed the start of XSulong to Friday.
Come Friday, right after the QTs, I stayed in school for the first day of the relief ops. Out of the five hours set for that day, only a meager amount of relief goods and a few boxes of clothing came. I was demoralized, but I had hope for the next day. After all, the public only had 14 hours to respond to the official announcement of XSulong, so it would be understandable that the first day would be uneventful.
Saturday came. I dressed up, went to Xavier, and was absolutely shocked by the number of bags that were already ready to be shipped. I approached our Student Council President, Lorenzo Arceo, who was arranging the lines, and told him, “Wow, dude. Where did all these bags come from?” I was so overjoyed that the Xavier community was able to respond in force. I was simply overwhelmed. After getting over the initial shock, I rushed over to help. I packed rice into bags, transferred the rice into the eco-bags, and a myriad of other tasks. It was amazing to behold.
Another thing that surprised me was the efficiency with which the participants of XSulong dealt with packaging the relief goods into ready-made relief bags. For example, when we were placing the rice bags into the eco-bags for distribution, a queer thing occurred. The volunteers, rather than crowd around the rice bags and possibly cause an accident or two, instead, arranged themselves into a quasi-assembly line, wherein one person would get an eco-bag that would still be lacking a bag of rice, pass it on to someone who, after putting the rice bag in, would pass it to the line of people who then passed and eventually placed the bags in the place where they were amassed. It was amazing, really. These were youngsters, grade school kids, but that didn’t matter. They knew that if they hampered the operation, people who needed the goods would be affected. They knew that this was an important thing, not a petty trifle, but rather a crucial and potentially life-saving operation. They were united in a common purpose. At the end of the operations, the Xavier community was able to contribute over 3,000 relief bags.