“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
These simple yet powerfully commanding words of Muhammad Ali remain impactful to a person’s conscience until this day. Even more so can be said for the team of GE Volunteers in the Philippines who decided to take a stand and help the victims of the Taal Volcano natural disaster in the country.
As the unrest enters its third month since the volcano’s eruption in January, the communities affected in the Batangas Province remain strong and determined, ready to put the past behind them once and for all. But that was not the case at first.
“I was in transit to Manila from the U.S. when the Taal eruption prevented me from connecting in Narita,” said Jocot de Dios, CEO, GE Philippines. “The anxiety and inconvenience I felt even then could not compare to the life-threatening situation that the affected residents were likely experiencing. The subsequent stories and images that greeted me when I finally landed in Manila were simply gut wrenching. It pained us to see so much helplessness, suffering and pain. We just needed to help.”
Every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. As one of the Philippines’s most active and dangerous volcanos, Taal Volcano has had some of the country’s deadliest eruptions, with over six eruptions since 1572. A 15x20 kilometer-wide lake sits in the middle of the volcano presents more dangers upon eruption; notably tsunamis produced in the crater lake.
The recent eruption left a desolate landscape on Taal Island and its surrounding communities, with significant impact on agricultural land, livestock and the livelihood of families surrounding the volcano. Houses were buried, access to drinking water and air quality became a cause for concern.
As a developing country, the Philippine government also needs the support from the private sector to reach these isolated areas. Businesses across the country must learn to adapt to the emerging natural disasters and GE Philippines is not an exception to this.
“Our employees have been working across energy and healthcare projects in Batangas to provide accessible electricity and healthcare to the community,” said de Dios. “The health and safety of our employees and the surrounding residents is important to us and we’re working closely with the local authorities to ensure the basic needs of the communities that we operate in are taken care of.”
Putting actions into motion
Impacting over 134,520 families in the provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon, the effects of this volcano cannot be understated. It didn’t take long for GE Volunteers to step into the picture. With most in close contact with the survivors of the eruption, it was only too clear that they needed to lend a helping hand, and preferably a fast one.
Within three days, the team appealed to over 1,000 employees in the country for donations. Collecting beyond cash, employees were also quick to donate essential items needed for the victims to last the disaster. Cavans of rice, boxes of canned goods, biscuits, hygiene kits and essential food items were put together to form 250 family relief packs by the GE Volunteers team.
It was made obvious that neither time nor effort was sacrificed to prepare the relief packs for distribution among the families seeking shelter at the Cupang Elementary School Evacuation Center. With over 285 volunteer hours spent for this activity, the team was invested in making sure the families were well provided for during this hard ordeal. Through the help of the local government of Barangay Cupang in Bauan, Batangas, GE Volunteers successfully made the victims happier and stronger in spirit.
Although the volcano is still described at a ‘restless’ stage by local authorities, GE Philippines is hopeful about the future of the country and continues to engage with the local authorities to support relief efforts.
A colourless landscape lies ahead in the eyes of the many affected Filipinos, as they focus on rebuilding the city, and most importantly the community, away from the blankets of volcanic ash that has been stuck in place by rainfall. What they can be sure of, is that they will not be walking through this challenge alone.