Category Archives: Helping Hands

Another Close Encounter

Sometimes, all it takes is an invitation to be able to experience something communal and yet so uniquely your own in appreciating life’s little wonders.The Student Development Center (SDC) is one venue that provides opportunities in seeing the world in a new light.  As one of the representatives of SDC, I am a witness to that.

It was with the invite from COPERS (Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services) for a debriefing of soldiers formerly assigned in Basilan, that I reached another set of “first moments/milestones” in my life.  1. Visit Butuan City.  2. Travel overnight for volunteer activities.  3. Debrief soldiers in the likelihood of the “torya-torya” module of Dr. Gail Tan Ilagan, Ph.D. (author of the book War Wounded).

The travel was last Sunday (June 23, 2013) was quite uneventful (mainly because I slept all throughout the trip – from 12:00MN to 6:00AM approximately – with a few waking moments in between) since it was the ever-famous “Nonoy Legend” who was our designated driver on the trip, making sure we were all safe and sound in the van.  We arrived in Butuan City roughly around 6AM.  Had our breakfast in Dottie’s , took a couple of snapshots, and went on our way to our destination.

Arriving at the camp, we were warmly greeted by the officers and had our short introductions.  While we were taking a couple of minutes rest in our transient facility’s room, my roommates and I were able to discuss how to get on with the “torya-torya” (as some of them were new volunteers) and my ever-ready GLH engaged in practicing activities that may help in the debriefing.

True enough… her skills were called for during the lull periods in between (as evidenced below):


Ever-the-ready entertainer

Anyway, since there were only 20 volunteers accounted for and an estimated 360 soldiers to get to know better, the numbers became a bit overwhelming.  However, the actual number lessened so 15 of us were assigned to one team composed of 7 soldiers to talk to.

At first, I was having doubts on my capabilities… worrying that they might not want to talk to me about their life and if I would be of any help at all.  Or worse, would be at such a loss that I’d have to raise my own white flag in surrender!  Facilitating teambuilding I could handle, but this might be more than what I bargained for. Thankfully, the soldiers were very gallant and were easy to talk with that it felt like being able to see how they live their lives whenever they have operations.

Here are a couple of photos of the encounter.

Under the proverbial mango tree (not really a mango tree though).


Team A


Team Agila and Me


The A Team

After all teams were gathered and closing remarks were said, time for some photo ops!


Class Photo


Class Photo… Wacky?

A surprise token of appreciation for volunteers.


Copers Volunteers

Authentic Boodle fights.


Boodle Fight!

A surprise token of appreciation.


A Token Much Appreciated

Volunteers were also debriefed.


Volunteer Debriefing

Sharing This One: Making use of what you have

Most times you always come prepared.  Other times… not.  Sometimes, starting and progressing in an activity are easily prepared.  It’s the wrapping up part that blocks you.  Like how you would be able to capture each person’s insight in one statement.  Words make you clumsy.  Nearing the end of my personal “torya-torya” with my team, panic started to creep into my psyche as to how I should make a fitting closure for our group.  Thankfully I had a pack of Mentos with me.

My story of the Mentos.

Imagine that you are a Mentos candy.  It has a hard outer shell.  Much like every person.  How we were raised, how we were trained, and what we’ve experienced make us strong, tough, and – sometimes – hardened.  But no matter how hard and unyielding the exterior may seem, on the inside of a Mentos candy is a soft and malleable core that can easily adapt and mold in any way.  So regardless how hardened we may be of whatever life throws us, in the core of our being, we can adapt well with the changes that may come.  It changes us and we become refreshed and come out renewed.  Be like a Mentos.


A Mentos Moment… Be Like A Mentos

It has been a humbling experience in being able to meet the frontliners in the country’s defense.  To be witnesses of what each individual goes through for the service of others.  I truly admire their quiet reserve, candid openness, and their ability to rise up against the experiences that some people might see as dark and hopeless.  Sometimes it’s not the war that they fear.  But how civilians shun away from their presence… from fear perhaps?  Stereotypes?  May be.

So the next time you see a soldier, take time to say “Hi” to them.  Your smile and warm greeting will definitely go a long, long way.


Meeting Trauma Survivors (from Typhoon Pablo)

My hometown is well-known for its “typhoon-free” slogans and promotions.  In all my years of living here, I can honestly attest to that.  I’ve only experienced storms and typhoons in Cebu (during my vacation when I was around 8 years old),  in Manila (it was Milenyo or International name Xangsane that hit the Philippines while I was still working there – which I just thought was strong winds and harsh rains since I wasn’t used to storms), and in Bohol (I think it was Ofel – international name Son-Tinh that had me and my travel partner stranded in going to Bohol).

So when the alert was raised that Pablo (international name BOPHA) was entering our region’s area of responsibility, a sense of foreboding came over me.  I was reminded of a conversation I had with my dad before that storms are slowly changing their paths and it won’t be soon before long that the Davao region would be greatly affected.

Well my dad was no Nostradamus of his time, but his words rang truth as seen by the wake of Pablo.  I think it was the first time that schools declared “No classes” due to a storm.  And for my hometown, it was signal #2.  A couple of my officemates missed their flight to Manila for a seminar because all flights were cancelled as well.  All school activities were suspended or cancelled to keep people safe during such a time.

Although Davao wasn’t too affected, our neighboring provinces weren’t spared.  News of the devastation of the storm were plastered in news.  Families were greatly affected, livelihood such as banana and coconut farming were washed over, even fishermen weren’t spared since a lot of people didn’t want to buy their goods for fear that their captured fishes were able to eat human flesh. (morbid actually.)

It was around December 3-5, 2012 that the typhoon made its presence known to the Davao Region.  A first as most locals can remember thus people weren’t totally prepared on what would happen.  December 5, an invitation to extend our help to the affected areas were given to our office and I for one willingly confirmed my desire.  However, instead of a 2-day outreach, a change in schedule landed me on a 1 day outreach (for Psychosocial Debriefing) to one of the provinces that were hit – Caraga.

To explain better, here are some photos for you to see:

Raring to go

Raring to go

We left around 6am to start our 5-hour travel to Caraga.  I wasn’t able to take photos of the banana and coconut fields but along the road, you could clearly see how strong the winds were manifested by the bowing of the trees towards the direction we were heading.  The mountains that were once full of proud lines of trees, were now barren as if a greater being was playing pick-up sticks using the coconut trees for sticks.

When we reached Caraga’s Poblacion, the site that greeted us was very disarming.  Houses with no roofs, muddied roads, logs and debris around every corner.

Strong winds

Collapse of roofing from a new building in Caraga

Houses hit by Pablo

Houses hit by Pablo

Packed inside the evacuation center

Packed inside the evacuation center

According to our leader, Caraga was the fastest in responding to all the alerts and were even able to evacuate the local residents (especially those along the shoreline) and house them in their designated evacuation center.  Aside from that, they were proactively thinking of other designated evacuation centers should the first one collapse.

The Office that made the evacuation possible - saving lives of many residents

The Office that made the evacuation possible – saving lives of many residents

Relief Goods for Distribution

Relief Goods for Distribution

Going over details gathered

Going over details gathered

An overview of the shoreline in Caraga

An overview of the shoreline in Caraga

Residents could still remember how the events unfolded during those days that Pablo enraged the province.  Thankfully, they are still able to move past what has transpired and are currently moving forward in reclaiming their lives and livelihood.

Getting Together

Getting Together

What came washing ashore

What came washing ashore

Life still goes on

Life still goes on

After our sojourn at the Poblacion, we went to the broken bridge that highly affected the transportation of relief goods to more affected areas such as Baganga, Cateel, and Boston Davao Oriental.

The bridge leading to Baganga, Davao Oriental

The bridge leading to Baganga, Davao Oriental

Making ends meet

Making ends meet



Crossing Over

Crossing Over

This DPWH worker has been working for 24 hours in pulling across the line for travelling the river via man-made raft.  Some of our companions helped him in pulling while we were there.

Pull for safety

Pull for safety

Until now, relief operations are still ongoing all over the city (and perhaps even the country) to continuously aid the Pablo survivors.  Hopefully I can still come along to assist in another session of debriefing in the areas that experienced tropical storm Bopha.

Let us extend a helping hand to the survivors and make this Christmas season more meaningful.

A Closer Encounter (Part 2)

Remember my post more than a month ago on our trip to Brgy. Fatima in conducting a psychosocial debriefing? (Refer here) Well earlier this week (Tuesday to be exact), I had the opportunity again in returning.

Since it was a school day, no college students came along and some of their teachers had other things planned already.  So after having our meeting last Monday, we were all set to leave the next day.  Since this was the termination phase of our debriefing with them, it seemed apt to end it on a positive note.  With that in mind, the idea of having a program prepared – with games and magic show on the side – was just perfect.

I am proud to say that my ever-energetic GLH easily ironed out the rough parts in the preparation for the program along with our military friends.  Thus making the meeting short but productive (having enough time to tour our gallant friends around the campus).

campus tour


Anyway, words cannot express the experience of returning to visit our volunteer site.  I’d just be very clumsy with my words if I try.  Since a picture paints a thousand words, I’m sharing  here some photos instead.

Our arrival

impromptu storytelling

while waiting for instructions

a different kind of classroom instruction

radiant faces of children

Drawing their DREAMS for their Future

for the show to begin… order.

teaser moves that could beat Jagger

call to participate

clan photo. kidding aside… making memories

Along with my companions, I too wish that I could return and visit Paquibato once again.  Not just for debriefing but to share our my presence to them.  Hopefully we could go back soon.

For now, focus on what can be done in the present and always remember closer encounters to reality.

A Closer Encounter

I was roughly around 14 years old when I first encountered the term Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during my pocketbook collection frenzy of the works by author Lindsay McKenna.  With her Morgan’s Mercenaries series of literary novels that touches close to the turmoils and endeavors in coping of soldiers-of-war survivors, catching a glimpse of the world they revolve around – the horrors and the simple joys they experience – brought life to each protagonist and their healer.  Albeit fictional books by library category, Lindsay McKenna’s writings became one of my many “white rabbits” along the proverbial hole of my wonderland… the quest to be a catalyst for change… for healing.

I never had much of a chance in engaging in volunteer work during my undergrad years except for school-related activities.  In my previous working years, it was only limited to employee relations and information dissemination.  So when the invitation from one of my former professors (through one of my colleagues) to conduct a Psychosocial debriefing to the children who were victims of the latest incident in Paquibato district, I immediately confirmed my attendance for the said activity.  Although quite unfamiliar with what to do, I was eager to give my time for it.  Thankfully, most of my fellow counselors were coming along thus becoming a team effort in our office. (Refer here for the article about the Paquibato district incident).

We were scheduled to go onsite Sunday, September 9, 2012.  A briefing was conducted for the volunteers a day before to prepare necessary items and tasks to be at our optimum level of service regardless of the little time we were given.  Thankfully, we were all able to contribute in the preparation and made swift with the last minute add-ons.

The road to Paquibato was a relatively long one.  With our escorts opting to take the longer-and-out-of-the-way route rather than the closer-to-the-city-limits route, the journey took us to an opportunity to take in the surroundings and soak up on deep stories coated with humor that can only be labeled as military in nature.  It was such a privilege to be in the presence of those who put their lives on the line for the safety of others.

All Smiles at our first stop.

Upon arriving to the site, seeing the locals carefully watching us was quite daunting.  But nevertheless, the palpable eagerness of each volunteer to be of service was a reassuring atmosphere around us.

Briefing and other instructions

Most volunteers went off to the nearby school to start preparing for the rooms to be used by each volunteers team.  But due to the start of the Thanksgiving mass, we had to delay a bit on our activities.

While waiting by the classrooms…

It was way past noon when the mass ended.  So our group decided to return to our meeting site and have our lunch first (since most of the residents had to take their lunch as well) and move our activity from the school back to the covered court.  As a sign of communion with our military escorts, we were treated to an authentic boodle fight.

First time boodle fighters

Ahh… I remember my high school days as a PMT officer. 🙂

Grab your grub!

Our activity started with a short program to gather all the children within the vicinity.  And as the Ms. Pure Energy that she is, my Grade Level Head rocked the house down with her come-here-children sunny disposition.

Icebreaker c/o my GLH

We then proceeded to breaking down the children in groups based on their age and began talking to each one.  Afterwhich, a basic play therapy activity was utilized in exploring  more of their subconscious but enabling the children to have fun in the process.

Last (Wo)Men Standing


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