Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Star!

Back in the home front. Today, Star turns 8. Our baby is another year older. I miss the days when I can carry her like a huggy bear. She's always been on the heavy side and so very cuddly indeed. Oh, how time flies! It was election time when I found out I was gonna have another baby, and how it sparked controversy in my former office. Ano, buntis ka na naman?" People would ask me, as if it was hard to imagine a married woman getting pregnant for the third time. And I wasn't even the "top baby maker" in the office.

Among the reporters though, I was the highest pointer, so to speak. Knowing I always had difficult pregnancies (all three kids were premature), my bosses probably foresee I'd be gone again for another 48 years. And true enough, shortly after covering Erap's inagauration at Rizal Park, I experienced bleeding and had to be confined for three days.

Because the previous two pregnancies were between 27 to 32 weeks, the doctor advised me to go on complete bed rest until after the second trimester.

Finally, Star came out this time 8 years ago -- a heavy weight at 4.4 kilos. And to think she came out a month before her due date. Her dad was with me to welcome Star. And how she cried! UHA-UHA-UHA! She had the biggest voice in the world!

We already called her Star even when she was still in my tummy. Her Kuya would talk to her, telling her how excited he and Ate were to play with her. He would tell her stories and tickle my tummy.

Shortly after I gave birth to Star, I tried to apply Kuya Ben and Ate Pia at UP's Child Development Center. But as fate would have it, they didn't get the much sought after slots, instead Star got in.

So it was, Star started going to school by June of 1999. She was barely six months when she was admitted at the Infant Development Program of UP-CDC. Practically, all her life, Star has been in school. Yet, she didn't seem to tire. She has always been enthusiastic about school.

We see her growing up to be a conscientious and strong-willed child, yet obedient and God-fearing. She's so passionate about things. As her teachers say, she lives up to her name -- she is a star. She loves it when I repeatedly tell her she's the prettiest girl "in the whole wide hand of God." (It's her terminology. "Hand of God is bigger than the universe," she tells me. She's right!)

We are so blessed to have Star in our lives. While we weren't really prepared to have another baby, I always tell her I can't imagine life without her. We've learned so many lessons from Star. She is like the child Jesus describes in the Bible -- pure in heart.

Happy birthday to our favorite bunso!

Turning fear into better disaster response

It may take a long time for Bicolanos to shake off the trauma caused by super typhoon Reming. With so many lives lost and destruction so immense, it may be considered the worst disaster in the Philippines. May we all learn from Reming and turn the situation around for the better. Here's an article I wrote for the Inquirer...

By Andrea Trinidad-Echavez
Last updated 02:37am (Mla time) 12/21/2006

Published on Page A17 of the December 21, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

“TATAKBO na naman ba tayo,’Nay? (Are we going to run again, Mother?)” Inday Surapas’ 10-year-old son asks every time rain starts to fall.

“Takot na takot na kami tuwing umuulan (We have become very scared every time it rains),” said the 34-year-old mother of six, who lost one of her brothers when Supertyphoon “Reming” wrought havoc in Albay several weeks ago.

“We had already been warned,” Surapas admitted in Filipino. “But we didn’t expect the rains to be that bad. It never flooded before, not even during Typhoon ‘Milenyo.’”

And so on the fateful morning of Dec. 1, Surapas went on with her regular routine of selling vegetables at the public market in Daraga town, confident that “Reming” would just be like the other typhoons. (Read full story)

Monday, December 18, 2006

A thousand bears and more

It's such a joy to see a seemingly impossible task turn into a reality before your very eyes. Early today (it's just 4am as I'm writing this), I received a happy news from my friend Cathy, who started Thousand Bears for Bicol two weeks ago -- we have reached the thousand mark! Thank you everyone, who prayed with us and supported us in this endeavor. For those who want to help, contributions are still accepted. :-)

On Dec. 21, we'll be distributing the bears and their furry friends in different evacuation centers in Bicol. This is just be the beginning of a big work. Operation Compassion will soon start trauma debriefing in areas mostly affected by "Reming."

Still on TBB, an article came out in Manila Times yesterday:

A thousand bears for Bicol

By Andrea Lopez-Vito

IT ALL started as a personal crusade. But barely 10 days after making an appeal for support on her blog (, Cathy Babao-Guballa’s “Thousand Bears for Bicol (TBB)” campaign has almost reached its target—to gather at least 1,000 teddy bears and other “furry friends” for the children staying in typhoon-ravaged Bicol’s evacuation centers.

A grief counselor who lost a son a few years ago, Guballa got struck by a front-page photo taken by award-winning photographer Edwin Bacasmas. It showed a distraught father hugging his little child. They were standing in the midst of debris left by super typhoon “Reming,” presumably where their house used to be. Ironically, behind them majestically sits Mount Mayon—the cause of the massive destruction and loss of lives in Albay.

“One can only imagine the horrors of what the other families went through in those two days when the world seemed to be coming to a close. Bicolanos are staunch veterans of typhoons but this time around they have been badly battered and beaten,” Guballa notes in her December 3 blog entry.

“What does tomorrow hold for father and son?” she continues. “With all material possessions gone, they only have each other, and for now, that is all that matters.”

Guballa says that adults and children alike who lived through this kind of tragedy will definitely go through months of nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But in tragedies such as that wrought by super typhoon Reming, children are naturally the most affected. How will they ever feel safe again?

“Play and toys have been very effective tools in helping children heal from trauma and tragedy,” explains Guballa, who teaches at the Ateneo de Manila. “Stuffed toys have been known to be effective comfort givers in times of extreme stress and fear. To children, stuffed animals are more than toys, they’re imaginary friends who are always ready to give comfort or play. They provide a certain amount of security in a sometimes scary world.”

Taking off from this, Guballa appealed to her readers to help her raise at least a thousand bears, which she targets to distribute to children before Christmas. Amazingly, within three days, the first 100 bears came in mostly from friends and regular readers of her blog. The wonders of the net paved way for Guballa’s campaign to spread like wildfire. Friends and friends of friends either forwarded Guballa’s appeal or posted it in their own blogs. Support have since deluged with bears and other stuff toys of various colors continuously coming in. As of this writing, TBB has collected close to 600 not counting those in the drop-in centers.

In addition to the stuffed toys, fast-food chain KFC sent 500 care-bear pillows and 15 sacks of small cereal packs (100 pieces a sack).

Guballa then partnered with her home church, the Greenhills Christian Fellowship, and Operation Compassion, a Christian organization involved in relief and rehabilitation work. Operation Compassion has already distributed the first batch of bears in its medical mission in Legaspi City earlier this week.

More than relief work, however, Guballa envisions TBB to be “an exercise in watching the way God’s hand works and seeing how wonderful and awesome He is in His kindness and faithfulness toward all of us.”

“God cares for all the little children and is especially loving of widows and orphans. I know that through you, He cares for His children in Bicol,” Cathy adds in her blog.

How God put things together amazes Guballa no end. When word about TBB spread, friends far and near offered help. Filipino associations in Manitoba, Canada, and Sacramento, California, pledged to send over some bears. The Philippine Air Force through Col. Mike Asperin likewise volunteered to fly the toys and other stuff to Legaspi.

“I am amazed at the power of His hand when it moves the hearts of people everywhere,” says Cathy.

By December 21, she along with her husband Hector and several friends, will join Operation Compassion in distributing the toys to various evacuation centers in Legaspi, Daraga and Guinobatan. They also hope to raise funds to be able to throw a Christmas party for at least 1,000 kids.

The distribution of toys is part of the psychosocial therapy being conducted by Operation Compassion in partnership with the Ministerial Fellowship of Albay. Operation Compassion’s Rev. Dong Cucio says psychosocial therapy in disaster areas is inherent in its rehabilitation work.

The group has also been involved in rehabilitation work in Gen. Nakar and Infanta in Quezon, several areas in Aurora, Mindoro and Sorsogon provinces and Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte.

Indeed, TBB has yet become another testimony of the innate kindness of Filipinos.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas is for the little children of Albay, too

Bright day ahead. Surely, resiliency will enable Bicolanos to rise above the gloom. But a little help would make the load much lighter. This photo was taken at a relocation center in Daraga.

I just arrived from Albay this morning and I am still overwhelmed with what I saw. The devastation is far more than we can imagine, not to mention the depth of pain super typhoon Reming caused to the Bicolanos.

We went around the evacuation centers in Daraga and Legaspi and my heart bleeds especially for the children who can hardly comprehend what struck them. I've interviewed several mothers and most of them shared that every time it starts to rain (after super typhoon Reming), their kids would ask "Tatakbo na naman ba tayo?"

One mother in Daraga who lost 12 members of her family (children, mother, sister, brothers, grandchildren, daughter-in- law) said her 16 year old son is still dazed up to now. I could only cry as Manang Gloria narrated her story.

"We were warned," Manang Gloria admitted, in Filipino. "But we never imagined it would be as hard as that."

And despite the warning, she went ahead to sell vegetables at the market that fateful Dec. 1 morning. She reasoned out: "What will I feed my children if I don't go out and make a living?"

By 9am (Dec. 1), it started to rain heavily. It was so hard one could no longer see anything five feet ahead. Manang Gloria had no choice but wait for the rains to stop. By the time it ended around 3pm, she hurriedly went home only to find out that it was no longer there, her family included.

Providentially, Manang Gloria earlier left four of her 8 children with her husband's relatives in another part of the town and so the they survived the tragedy.

"Hindi ko kayang isipin kung lahat sila iniwan ko sa bahay. Siguro hindi ko kakayanin," Manang Gloria told us. (I can't imagine if I left all of them in our home. I wouldn't have survived at all.)

Really, I haven't seen destruction so widespread as what I've just seen in Albay. I could only cry along with the people I interviewed. My God! Even the very able head of PDCC (Provl Disaster Coord Council) couldn't hold back his tears when he narrated to us what happened on that fateful day.

"The rain was just too much. When we could no longer see beyond 5 feet, I knew there would be casualties. At that point, we just gathered and pray. There was nothing else we could do..." Cedric Daet, chair of the PDCC told us.

True enough, after the water subsided, hundreds and hundreds have died. More than 200,000 families are left homeless. Hundreds of millions worth of crops and properties damaged.

Obviously, Christmas will never be the same this year for the people of Albay. This must be the saddest Christmas especially for the kids. I am just so glad Cathy started TBB (Thousand Bears for Bicol). How I wish we'll be able to give bears and a simple Christmas party for all the kids.

To date, the TBB campaign has passed the 500-mark (not including the uncollected ones at the drop off points) -- praise God for all the people He touched. But the more bears and toys, the more kids we bring joy. The distribution of toys is actually part of the trauma debriefing to be conducted by Operation Compassion.

In behalf of Cathy and Operation Compassion, I am appealing for help for this endeavor. Let's make the little children of Albay smile again especially this Christmas.


What do we need?

Teddy Bears - new or clean and in good condition OR friendly looking and cuddly stuffed toys that can be hugged by the children

Art materials - notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons that we can pack and give to the children. In addition to play therapy, art therapy is also a proven effective tool in helping heal the children.

Where can you drop off the materials?

Quezon City -- 41 Milkyway Drive, Blue Ridge, Quezon City contact - 0918-906-8852

Makati -- The Room Upstairs, 2nd floor, LRI Building, Nicanor Garcia (formerly Reposo), Makati City tel no. 899-9318

Alabang - Room 306, Medical Arts Building, Asian Hospital (clinic of Dr. Noemi Guloy)

Can we have the bears picked-up?

Some companies and schools are doing "bear drives" so yes, we can pick up a minimum of 30 bears from your school or office.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Please support Thousand Bears for Bicol

Originally uploaded by cathyguballa.
My friend Cathy Babao-Guballa, a grief counselor (who lost her son Migi a few years ago) is spearheading a campaign called THOUSAND BEARS FOR BICOL (TBB). This campaign is aimed at raising at least a thousand bears before Christmas so we can distribute them to children in Bicol areas badly-hit by supertyphoon Reming like Guinobatan and Daraga.

There is no telling on the pain the super typhoon caused to thousands of children in Bicol and their families. We know that it will take long for the kids to recover from the trauma they suffered. But we are hoping that through the TBB campaign, the grief will somehow be eased.

We at Operation Compassion, a relief and rehabilitation organization, are so blessed that Cathy has partnered with us in this endeavor. Cathy and I (along with our families and friends) will personally oversee the distribution of the bears (and other gifts we hope to be able to raise too) on Dec. 21.

I hope you will prayerfully consider helping us in this endeavor. Please see Cathy's blog for more info: Thousand Bears for Bicol