“Seeing the devastating effects of the earthquake that struck the Philippines on October 15, 2013 – with a magnitude of 7.2 on some islands – we immediately began doing something for the victims. We especially wanted to make them feel God’s love, even in such moments when it seems all hope is lost.
At first we were frightened by the aftershocks, which continued on, but we soon realised that this was just a small thing compared to the suffering of the families who had lost everything: houses and dear ones.
With the support of the local Focolare community, we went to Bohol (the region that had been hit by the earthquake). There were 15 of us Youth for a United World (YUW) and several adults from Manila and Cebu. We prepared 200 sacks containing what they seemed most in need of (sleeping mats, blankets and material for making tents) and we set out on the long journey to our destination: Sandigan Island where it was difficult for help to arrive. We brought 200 litres of water with us, the 200 sacks which had been prepared the night before, biscuits and other general necessities.
One difficult moment was when we had to pass through a narrow steep path in the mountain, removing from the camions all the bundles and carrying them to the boats that were to bring us to the island. It took several hours, all the way until midnight; and then we had to push the boats because of the low tide.
But our decision to help these people – thinking of doing it for Jesus who identifies himself with those who are suffering and in most need – made us overcome the obstacles.
We went 6 km inland of Brgy Canigaan. There was no water supply because the water pipes had been destroyed by the earthquake along with the houses. The majority of the population was sleeping in the open, under tents, for fear of aftershocks. It was a painful sight. We reminded each other that we were there to support and help them, and so we began distributing water and the packages we had prepared. And the atmosphere became festive. We created a space in which the children could talk about their traumatic experiences during the earthquake, and we played with them, along with their mothers. And they were able to forget, at least for a bit of time, the painful tragedy they were undergoing.
One elderly man shared how he was living through the tragedy. He had been out fishing when the earthquake hit. He was terrified as he watched his city trembling because of the violent shocks. He was alone; the sea became rough with whirlpools and large waves. He also saw a tiny island popping up and down in the midst of the sea . . . He thanked God for the miracle of surviving, although his house was completely destroyed. We offered him a soft pillow: such a small gesture, but it moved him to tears.
We had given up our vacation holiday and had to overcome the language barrier and other difficulties, but we feel that it was more than worth it! The road back to normality will be long, but seeing these people smile showed us that God remains even when everything else is taken away.”
Compiled by the Manila Secreteriat of Youth For A United World