On November 21, International World Fisheries Day, our organization, Rural Women Advocates, went to Barangay Quilling in Talisay, Batangas to support the relief mission of Tulong Anakpawis and PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas (Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas).
We arrived at 10 in the morning and a soft drizzle greeted us. The fishing village is a few meters away from Burol Road. You have to enter a narrow path and park your vehicle beside the docked boats.
Upon arrival, Nanay Raquel* invited her neighbors to their house by shouting, “Sa lahat ng may bahay d’yan, punta na kayo rito.” Remnants of the ashfall from Taal volcano mingled with mud, water, sand, and rocks. The roofs were still begrimed with ash as well.
We held a simple program honoring the fisherfolk for their contributions to the economy and agriculture, and for securing our staple galunggong, tilapia, and seafood. No aid has arrived after two super typhoons blew parts of their houses this month. It has been almost a year but the residents are still reeling from the effects of Taal’s eruption.
While the locals welcomed us and the organizations delivered their messages of support, we gathered the children in a corner. We unfurled a folded tarpaulin and sat down. We distributed masks and sanitized our hands before we began the activity.
It was actually an impromptu storytelling activity and I would be reading “Rhino Romp,” one of the donated books, for the first time with them. I asked their names and the kids seemed excited to listen, despite the commotion, heat, dust, and the fact that we were strangers. I began reading the first pages and I knew it would be challenging. The children were between 2 and 9 years old, and we have never seen the animals in the book in real life. The characters included a rhinoceros, a gazelle, a Secretary bird, and hyenas. They were all foreign to us but we counted the herds together, spelled simple words together, and shared our favorite games. We loved the main character’s mother and aunt.
After the story, we felt closer. The children taught us a few hand games and we sang and played “Bahay Kubo,” “Leron, Leron, Sinta,” and modified versions of “Bato-Bato-Pick.” After the organizations distributed relief packs, the community offered us monggo soup with malunggay, fried and grilled tilapia (one whole fish for each individual), sawsawan, and steaming hot rice. The children followed us around, browsing the preloved books they received.
Before leaving, we went to the shore. Nanay Raquel shared her harrowing experience during the eruption and how their village turned grey. You can see the majestic volcano from her house. The water that day was still, a couple of fishermen were repainting their boats and reinforcing them with resin.
Of course, like the majority of our population, the fishing village was in dire need of aid. The children were very eager to learn, they wanted to hear more stories. It was a beautiful village but it was evident that they were suffering from lack of subsidy and support from the government, and were left to fend for themselves.
As a teacher, I wish I could return to the children and help them with their modules. Most of them shared that they chose modular learning instead of online learning. As a member of Rural Women Advocates, I recognized Nanay Raquel’s eagerness to organize her community, to receive aid while learning from the organizations, fervently listening to the speeches. Pride and hope radiated from her smiles.
Integrations like these give me strength to continue. During the lockdown, I suffered from major depression, muscle pains, headache, and nausea while stuck inside the house, teaching my students from home. When my students petitioned for a recovery week, I maximized the opportunity to participate in community kitchens, relief drives, and integration. I went home tired but my shoulders and head stopped aching. Like Nanay Raquel, I was brimming with hope, excited for the next relief mission and integration.
But while I am starting to gain strength after the devastating deaths in Cagayan Valley and massive flooding and landslide in Bicol, Rizal, and Marikina, I am still angry. I will hold the government accountable for all the deaths, for the gross negligence, for the quarry projects that made lands unsafe, the forests and mountains denuded. I will hold these images close: residents of Rodriguez, Rizal risking their lives as they cross the destroyed Wawa Bridge. I will protest against the images of residents queuing for lugaw and donations as huge trucks owned by compradors continue loading limestones from the quarry projects. Two days after the storm swallowed half of the houses and some of their neighbors, it was business as usual for these heartless capitalists. (davaotoday.com)
Rae Rival writes and does volunteer work for Gantala Press and Rural Women Advocates. She is a teacher and a mother. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in CNN Philippines, Rappler, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, university presses, and do-it-yourself zines. Read Rae’s opinion pieces here.Batangas, Community integration, Community quarantine, Fisherfolk community, International World Fisheries Day, PAMALAKAYA, pandemic, Rural Women Advocates, Talisay, Tulong Anakpawis