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Page added on July 28, 2013

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Calamity and Community

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By: Paolo Oliveros, Task Force Fil-Can Alberta

Nelson Mandela once said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. <> ”

It was like watching a scene in a tragic movie. We saw how the recent flooding claimed houses and livelihood of hundreds and hundreds of families and individuals in Alberta. Cities and towns like High River, Canmore, Black Diamond and some parts of Calgary were hit by the flood. In High River houses, schools, and establishments were soaked in water like a Barbie house in a pond. Everybody knows the story of how the flood started and how much damage it has cost but I want to tell you the story of how this calamity brought a community as one.

While watching the news of the flooding on TV I got a text message from Vangie Caoile, executive secretary of the Philippine Independence Organizing Committee of Calgary requesting for an emergency meeting. The community quipped with courage formed Task Force Fil-Can Alberta to help provide immediate needs for our fellow Filipinos. Led by the Philippine Consulate in Southern Alberta, Filipinos in Calgary got together for a relief drive.

The office of Greatway Financial turned into a center for donations and volunteers who wanted to help. There was an outpour of aid, from clothes, canned goods, beddings and baby stuff.  It was a brilliant display of a community united in times of calamity.

Collecting, sorting and packaging relief goods were one thing but distributing them was a new challenge. More than 500 Filipinos were evacuated to different areas. Our mission was to cover at least 3 of the dozens of evacuation centers where there are Filipinos. Luckily, we met husband and wife Ernie and Doris who knew the area. 11 vehicles and after two hours of driving, we got to our first stop Nanton, AB then Blackie, AB and finally Okotoks, AB.

Task Force Fil-Can visited Vulcan, Blackie and Okotoks and delivered more help on June 29.

The government of Alberta and Red Cross Alberta were kind enough to extend their help to our kababayans. Providing them temporary shelter and food. They were also promised a hand for the clean-up of their devastated homes.

Many of the victims were our own kababayans. But as we handed out relief goods it became clearer to me that these people are not victims they are survivors.  I saw different faces of strength and endurance confronting adversities.

Filipino immigrants and temporary foreign workers alike have their own heart-breaking stories of how this calamity has affected their lives. Being away from their homeland and being displaced in a foreign one are probably more than enough reasons to break a heart. But a story of heroism of a worker from Cargill was outstanding.

Carilitos Biso, 32, living with his wife and 2 children was trapped together with his family and a friend at their basement house in High River. Carlitos was woken up by his wife when the flood water was starting to get higher. He then had the instinct of saving few important belongings but it was too late. There was no entrance to the upper level from the basement and the water is rapidly getting higher. They then decided to leave everything and look for a possible exit. The bathroom window was too small that they wouldn’t fit. Carlitos then went to his friend’s bedroom to smash the glass on the window. Water was gushing into the house. With the help of a neighbor from the upper level, he first took his 2 month old baby Carlene out then his 5 year old daughter Cianette who got an inch cut from the sharp glasses. The hole won’t still be able to fit him and his wife and friend. He decided to use his own arms to break the window pane. Carlitos suffered deep cuts and broke a finger. He then pulled his wife and friend out of the house. Luckily, they all got to the roof where they were all rescued.

Carlito’s heroism was testament that fathers would do everything to save his family.

The spirit of Bayanihan is very much alive in Calgary. With all the donations combined, the task force has packed more than 700 bags of food, rice, cup noodles, and canned goods.  We gathered 50 balikbayan boxes of clothes and beddings and infant needs. We raised around 2500 in cash donations. More than 200 rice cookers were also donated.

We often overlook what we have and ask for more. Misfortunes like this bring us grounded and make us realized that we are blessed with genuine and sincere neighbors. We’ve traversed different calamities. Names after names of different typhoons have hit our own country. Who could forget Ondoy? The super typhoon that claimed thousands and thousands of lives and brought our country to a state of emergency. But as one people we stood up and didn’t let Ondoy crushed our dream as a nation. Mandela was indeed right. This incident turned our common suffering into unity and our endurance to hope for a brighter future for our family and fellow Filipinos.  It was and is our endurance that continues to fuel our community’s hopes of a better life amidst this tragedy.

***Special thank you to all the volunteers. Greatway Financial, Miguel and Vangie Caoile, Alicia Cabagan, Roberto Tamayo, Jojie and Anita Ferrer, Oscar and Gelyn Buera,  Consul Ferdie and Grace Aguirre, Estrella and August Casta, Rey and Cheryl Guinsatao and their kids, Reth Barnachea,  Evelyn Lopez, Tata Delos Reyes, Marietta Pangan, Marlon and Elsa Antonio, The Filipino Channel Tatoy, Carmen and Jun Baladad, Daryl, King, Maui, Judith, Star Cargo Express, PIOCC, Bryan Ymbang, Tonette, Des Ines of UMAC, Connie Raz, Allan Torres, Perlita Ocampo. Haya, Sheena, Philippine Calgary Public Accountant Association,  Mapua Association, Perla Woo, Leo Casuga  and The Hon. Manmeet Bhullar MLA  and  the thousands of  heroes who rose to the occasion to give their  help



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