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Lost ‘Yolanda’ boy reunited with mother

By: - Day Desk Chief / @umichaelNQ
/ 10:00 PM December 31, 2013

A typhoon survivor stands on rubbish in Tacloban, central Philippines on Dec. 8, 2013. AP FILE PHOTO

Ten days before Christmas, Gabriel Manatad was sitting on a pile of debris and filth on a deserted road in Tacloban City.

The 5-year-old boy appeared to have been abandoned, seemingly forgotten amid the ruins of a once progressive city left utterly destroyed by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in early November.

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A Red Cross volunteer, Mumar Avila, took pity on the boy.

“He saw him, brought him home and bathed him. Afterwards, he brought the boy to the Red Cross Leyte Chapter office,” said Jennifer Chico, the administrator of the Red Cross chapter in Tacloban City.

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The boy later told the Red Cross volunteers that he had been separated from his family, and that their house was gone, reduced to rubble by Yolanda.

Chico said the boy appeared to have been traumatized by the hellish storm surge unleashed by Yolanda on Nov. 8. He had been wandering in the typhoon-ravaged city for weeks, hungry, destitute and lost. Nobody, he thought to himself, seemed to care about him.

The Red Cross immediately gave the boy some food, water, clothes and toys.

“We also informed the city’s social welfare department. But before the social welfare officials could arrive, [Gabriel opened up] and said that he had a family and that they were staying [where the evacuees were]. Somehow, they had gotten separated and he could not find his way back to them, said Chico in an interview.

The Red Cross quickly located Gabriel’s house—or what was left of it.

They found the area that seemed to fit his description. “We saw an abandoned building, and from a distance we saw a woman,” recalled Chico.

“When the child called her, she immediately ran towards us, maneuvering through damaged concrete structures. She hugged the child tightly, and told us that she had been looking for him almost everywhere. It was Gabriel’s mother, Rosanna,” she said.

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Tent city

Making a big difference in the lives of disaster victims has become the byword of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which has found itself in the eye of countless disasters and conflicts since its inception.

The Red Cross, the international symbol of hope in times of war and disaster, has made its presence felt in Yolanda-ravaged areas in the Visayas in the immediate aftermath of the strongest storm to ever hit land.

PRC secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said the humanitarian agency under the leadership of ex-Sen. Richard Gordon “has undergone a modernization program that has enabled us to make a huge difference in other people’s lives.”

The Red Cross’ intervention goes beyond relief efforts, with its work touching most, if not all, aspects of disaster response and rehabilitation.

The Red Cross is now building a tent city in a vacant private lot—the South Road Properties—in Cebu City for the typhoon victims.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who provided the 1.3-hectare lot to serve as a temporary housing site, expects the tent city to be “ a place of love, a place of caring, a place of serving.”

On Dec. 23, the 38 families that were staying at the Barangay (village) Tinago gym when relief efforts first began for Yolanda victims, have been taken to the tent city.

So far, 60 tents, which can accommodate up to 10 people each, have been built in rows. Each tent has two sections, and is provided with a solar-powered lamp.

First to arrive, last to leave

From an agency primarily identified with blood donation, the Red Cross in the Philippines has reinvented itself, providing a plethora of free services.

Gordon, the PRC chair, said the Red Cross is involved in “everything,” from emergency relief to recovery efforts and the rehabilitation of devastated communities.

“In Tacloban, we’re currently engaged in constructing school rooms for nearly 3,000 children, in cooperation with the Chinese Red Cross,” he said.

The Red Cross will also be building houses for thousands of victims like Gabriel, he said.

In fact, it has already built 47,000 houses in different areas of the country where disasters had occurred in the past.

“The Red Cross often is also the only NGO (nongovernment organization) left in these disaster areas, after all the attention from the media has gone. We’re almost always the only ones who stay with these people, and work to help them get back on their feet,” said Gordon.

Affirmation of trust, respect

It was in the immediate aftermath of Yolanda that Gordon was elected, in absentia, as a governor of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), the world’s largest humanitarian network, during the 19th session of the movement’s general assembly in Sydney, Australia.

The Inquirer was with him in Cebu City on Nov. 14, when he got the news. Gordon was in the city to receive the first batch of aid arriving from Germany and Spain, which coincided with the arrival of a 12-truck convoy of the Red Cross in Tacloban City.

Noting the arrival of the two foreign planes bringing resources for its relief efforts, Gordon said the Red Cross had laid the “first step” to recovery.

He said his election to the IFRC was an “affirmation of trust and respect” for the Philippines, which has time and again displayed resilience in the face of disasters and tragedies.

As IFRC governor, Gordon will be involved in establishing, reviewing and ensuring that the global aid network’s policies are suitable and appropriate.

The former mayor of Olongapo City is largely credited with transforming the PRC from a mere blood bank and emergency relief and rescue mission agency into a dynamic organization that has expanded its scope of aid to the poor, the marginalized and victims of calamities, which include medical assistance, rehabilitation and recovery operations, and building houses for displaced residents in disaster-affected communities.

Under his stewardship, the PRC has acquired additional ambulance cars, tents, portable hospitals, modern rescue tools and heavy equipment, all in line with the PRC’s motto of “Always First, Always Ready, Always There.”

Yolanda aid

In Tacloban alone, which has a population of more than 200,000, the Red Cross has already given 71,440 food packs, 1,852 plastic mats, 1, 964 blankets, 8,737 mosquito nets, 10,410 hygiene kits, 16,923 jerry cans (water receptacles), 3,097 kitchen sets, and 34,170 units of bottled water.

For emergency shelters, 14,005 tarpaulins and 114 tents have been distributed to residents.

A total of 2,120,500 liters of safe potable water has been delivered to the affected populations in Tacloban, serving 180,808 individuals.

Some 14 water treatment units, producing an average of 170,000 liters of water per day, have been deployed, together with water tankers supplying water to various collecting points in the city.

More than 200 patients have also been served with 314 units of blood, thousands have been immunized, and 5,137 people have been treated during medical missions.

According to Pang, all of these services have been replicated in Ormoc City, Leyte, in Eastern Samar, Western Samar, Cebu, Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Boracay, Capiz, Negros Occidental, Iloilo and Surigao del Norte.

“Although Typhoon Yolanda has destroyed much of Tacloban, it was not able to break the spirit of the people. Our main priority now is to help these people rebuild their lives,” she said.

Victim-turned-volunteer

Rhea Ramos, 20, a nursing student at Kolehiyo de Santa Lourdes of the Leyte Foundation, Inc., was at the Burauen district hospital in Tacloban tending to her ailing grandmother, Honoria, when Yolanda hit the city.

“We brought my grandmother to the hospital to get medical attention, but when the typhoon came, we thought we were all going to die. We tried our best to protect her from the wind and rain. We didn’t even notice the roof was blown off already, and the windows were smashed by the wind,” said Ramos.

When floodwaters reached the hospital, “we were all panicking. We tried pushing the door open, but the wind was so strong. It was only a miracle that we got out alive,” she said.

But her friends and neighbors were not spared either as the village of San Benito, where her family lived, suffered massive destruction. The family residence was completely destroyed when an electric post crashed into it.

Ramos is serving as a Red Cross volunteer, joining the agency exactly a week after the typhoon devastated Tacloban.

“Before I joined, I thought the Red Cross only gave blood to those who needed it. But I was amazed when I found out there were so many things that the Red Cross is doing. I am serving as a volunteer, in the logistics section, providing relief packs for the people of Tacloban, ” she said.

As for the boy, Gabriel, it turns out that his mother was a single parent with three other children to take care of.

“(When we found the Manatad family), they were occupying an area of the abandoned building with a friend. They slept on a mat with a small piece of wood underneath it,” Chico said.

Chico said the Red Cross returned to the building the next day, “bringing dozens of diapers, powdered milk for the older kids, blankets, mosquito nets, vitamins, biscuits, a rubber mat and pillows for the baby.”

“We intend to check on [Gabriel’s mother] regularly to be able to continue helping her and her family. We believe that there are more people to care for, and they are just one of them,” she said.

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TAGS: Children, Gabriel Manatad, Mumar Avila, Red Cross, reunited, Richard Gordon, Supertyphoon Yolanda
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