Bearhugs for Baguio: A Project for Typhoon Pepeng’s Smallest Victims

Bearhugs for BaguioIn the aftermath of Typhoon Pepeng which devastated Northern Luzon, much of the relief efforts were concentrated on providing food, clothing and shelter for the displaced families. Recovery and rescue efforts filled most of the efforts in the hours right after Typhoon Pepeng passed over the area.

While all these are indeed needed for the basic survival of families, what has been largely forgotten or neglected was the state of mind of the youngest victims of this natural calamity — the children of Baguio, Benguet, Pangasinan and surrounding areas.

Recognizing this need, my friend Cathy Babao-Guballa put up Bearhugs for Baguio. Cathy is a regular writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer where she has a Sunday column, Roots and Wings. She is also a blogger at Midlife Mysteries and Grief is a Journey (she put up Griefshare, a grief support group in the Philippines). Together with her daughter, Cathy co-wrote a children’s book, Heaven’s Butterfly, to help small kids cope with grief. So Cathy knows her stuff when she realized that just as much as they needed rehabilitation on a physical level, the children had to be aided in coping with the psychological trauma from this disaster.

Below is the message that Cathy posted on her Facebook wall:

BEARHUGS FOR BAGUIO-The children in many of Baguio’s evacuation centers have been severely traumatized by the typhoon. Reports say that many of them stare blankly at walls, and have no appetite. A stuffed toy is a small thing, but for a child who has been through a nightmare such as the recent floods and typhoon, it can mean everything and help him or her, break out of that shell. Together with PINE, a Baguio NGO, a group of friends and I are trying to raise at least 500 bears or stuffed toys to send to Baguio’s children. If you would like to donate your old teddy bears or stuffedtoys, please email or send a text message to 0917-529-1964 so we can advise you of the drop-off point. Thank you very much!

If you have teddy bears and other stuffed toys lying around your homes, if your kids have outgrown these, and if you find it in your heart to share the joy of hugging a stuffed toy with a child who has known nothing but suffering these past weeks, please send an email or text the mobile number indicated.

I have been meeting up with friends who had toys to donate. If you will be in any blogger events in the coming days, I can receive the toys on behalf of Cathy.

As of this writing, the plan is for a volunteer friend of Cathy to bring the toys up to Baguio on October 25.

The Ultimate ‘Survivor’ Show: Let’s Reverse Climate Change Effects NOW!

My country, the Philippines, has just been hit by a one-two hard punch when Tropical Storm Ketsana (Ondoy) and Typhoon Parma (Pepeng) hit us one week apart.

Gen. de Jesus St.

The view from a street very near home

Tropical Storm Ketsana which was overly underrated by everyone since it was just like a typical storm passing over our lands, unexpectedly dumped one month’s worth of rains in just about 6 hours, flooding most of Metro Manila and catching everyone unprepared.

Typhoon Parma, which at its strongest was a Category 5, missed Metro Manila by a miracle but slammed into Northern Luzon, lingered, went out into the South China Sea, drawn back to Northern Luzon by another super typhoon east of the Philippines and devastated Northern Luzon a second and a third time. Several dams had to release water to ease the pressure on its walls but the amount of water released and the speed with which it ran down the surrounding areas, caught many people unprepared in the middle of the night. By morning, so many people had drowned, were caught in landslides, homeless and cut off from the rest of the island.

The damage is not only to agricultural farm lands and personal property. The trauma owing to loss of lives has hit both young and old. We are still in the midst of understanding exactly what has happened and WHY it happened.

The Philippines has always been in the path of typhoons. I remember as a young girl, typhoons were regular fare. Once in a while, a pretty strong one would hit but these were few and far between. Why is it that these days, the typhoons’ intensity has grown immensely that Category 3 or 4 storms are coming in more regularly?

I can only think of one thing: CLIMATE CHANGE.

Today is Blog Action Day 2009 and the theme, very aptly, is just that – climate change. It’s not a concern for just a community or country. This affects all of us on planet Earth, whether we live in a 1st world country or a 3rd world nation like the Philippines. The bottom line for us all is this – if we want to have a shot at surviving on this Earth much longer, we need to take better care of Mother Nature because all the abuse that we have reaped on it for decades is boomerang-ing and coming back to us with a vengeance.

In my own country, there are so many points of action that the government and the individual citizens can take to reduce the dire effects of climate change:

1. Urban planning that makes sense – My heart was heavy as I watched a show with a highly respected urban planner who said that Metro Manila had an urban plan from 32 years ago which was never implemented. Instead what happened was that people were allowed to set up house and purchase land in places designated as no man’s land (meaning, it was not safe to build on it) or to put up houses, malls and other buildings in areas designated as agricultural land or park areas. Had we heeded this plan and had our government had the willpower and tenacity to carry it out, there would be no people stranded in low-lying areas which were designated as unsafe for housing and yet were somehow allowed to build on it.

2. Strict recycling policies – Enough of the start-stop programs! We used to have recycling programs which stated which kind of trash should go in the color-coded trash bags. There was a time when I saw green, black, yellow, even red trash bags in the supermarkets and citizens were supposed to segregate properly or else trash would not be collected. So what happened to that program? I don’t see it being followed although here at home I still try to segregate those which are non-recyclable from those that are. I heard that even during the short life of that program, there were people who diligently segregated trash, only for some garbage collectors to dump them all together once these reached the waste dumps.

3. Cut out the plastics! – Truly, we are choking our planet slowly to death with plastics. In fact, while relief operations are a welcome sight these days, they pose another threat, which is the proliferation of plastic bags and pet bottles which may not be properly disposed by the flood victims. I hope we get to the day when all of us will use biodegradable materials in all our products and deliberately buy eco-friendly products instead of those which further harm our planet.

4. Support the Kyoto Protocol – This map, taken from Wikipedia, shows the countries that have ratified this agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

Countries supporting Kyoto Protocol

I am happy to note that the Philippines has signed this treaty (although signing and doing are 2 different things!). What saddens me is that the United States is shown here as NOT having any intentions of ratifying the agreement. All I can think of now is — WHY?????

5. Actively support the move to renewable energy – My dear friend, Vince Perez, who used to be Energy Secretary, is now very actively involved in a company called Alternergy, which aims to be the leading renewable power company within emerging countries in Asia. Bravo, Vince! We need more proactive people like you who are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and seek alternative energy sources. He and his partners are looking at harnessing the power of wind, small hydro, biomass, geothermal and solar resources. I hope the next administration, come 2010, and all succeeding administrations, will put its executive power solidly behind companies and efforts such as this.

If we address these 5 items above as starters and we move both as responsible individual citizens, as a nation, and as a community of nations, I believe we can still mitigate the dire and fatal effects of climate change.

The time to act is NOW!