January 22, 2020 - Wednesday
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Davao City, Philippines

The motivation to help

November 07, 2019 - Thursday 4:11 AM by Grace Gaston Dousel

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Over the past week, my FB newsfeed was filled with updates from friends who have engaged in relief efforts for the earthquake victims in Kidapawan and Tulunan, which they themselves together with family and friends have organized. I myself was busy the past couple of days coordinating with our homeschool community and our partner martial arts school for donations to be solicited, received, and delivered.

 My husband and I are not new to this kind of work. We both grew up in the church setting and then as adults worked in the NGO context where community relief and rehabilitation work were among the regular major activities. I wept bitter tears while working on a communication packet to rally for help for tsunami victims in 2004 that devastated Banda Aceh in Indonesia, Thailand, and parts of Sri Lanka and India. The raw reports, photos, and footage from our colleagues on the field were just too much to bear and I had to pause and sob while writing. I had to gather up courage to go back to my work so that help could be facilitated the soonest. My husband and I oversaw relief aid somewhere in Northeast India when a famine resulted from a marauding army of rats that wiped out acres of rice and corn fields ripe for harvest. Again we had to gather stories of pain and suffering and process these to see where we could help or ask for reinforcement. When we were serving coastal urban poor communities in our home city of Davao, we had two instances when we badly needed to mobilize for relief work. The first was when nearly 97% of the community was razed by fire and the second was when a strong habagat followed by huge waves wiped out the shanties of the community. In almost all these instances, visiting the affected families and simply sitting beside them in silence, sometimes in tears, was the first help we could give.

Every time we engage in relief work after a natural disaster, we experience physical and emotional exhaustion but receive nourishment for our souls. This is because giving is healthy for the soul. No wonder it is said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. My newsfeed this past week illustrated this truth. Photos of devastation were juxtaposed with people with weary eyes but with the sweetest smiles arm in arm with those who carried boxes of goods and those who received them. People from across Mindanao were fast in bringing help to their contacts in the affected areas. Local governments across the island were quick to put up relief centers for orderly donation collection and dissemination. Friends from across the country and abroad took time to get in touch with me by posting on my FB wall or by sending a private message to find out how my family is doing and how they could send help. I think many Mindanawons would have received similar messages the past week. All these tell me one thing: people are motivated to help when help is badly needed.

 Being in NGO and humanitarian work for almost two decades, I know that relief is but the first step to a long journey of recovery from anything as tragic and devastating as a 6.8 intensity magnitude earthquake. Relief is easy to mobilize partly due to the media coverage and the emotional appeal that automatically comes with the images on TV and on social media. Being human, it is but natural to feel a prick in the heart when you know people are suffering. Being humane moves you to take action.

 I was discussing with some friends and we realize that though we have done our bit to help in the initial relief work, we will need to stay the course to help in the rehabilitation phase. This is where the road becomes lonelier and harder for the victims. Rebuilding their lives becomes a solo effort most of the time. After canned goods, bottled water, tents, and clothes have been delivered, the struggle to get back on their feet have only just begun. In our experience doing relief and rehabilitation work in various places, we found ourselves journeying with communities for a period of two to three years until the people have found themselves capable of standing on their own. Those years were a season of recovery and rebuilding, which included trauma debriefing, counseling, construction of shelters, and livelihood development. Those were years of helping people find themselves and their inner strength to live and try again. By God’s grace we have witnessed communities rise from the ashes literally and figuratively. And those people look back with thankfulness for the tough days they had endured because those days made them the resilient individuals they are now. I have never seen faith so strong as the one that had gone through the refiner’s fire. And this is the kind of faith I see in the eyes of those who have suffered much loss and were determined to rise up.

 The paradox of tragedies and natural disasters is that suffering brings a profound sense of spirituality in everyone involved: the victims and the helpers. This is a spirituality that springs from the common experience of being wounded, of having been hurt, of incurring losses, of staring death in the eye. This is a spirituality that moves people to help beyond their means, to love in a capacity they never knew they had. This unexplainable capacity to love is the best motivation to extend help. As inspirational author Cynthia Heald puts it, “Love should be my basic and motivating factor.”