Humanitarian Worker

Posted September 2, 2021 from Philippines
As a humanitarian worker, it involves going beyond ourselves. We are capable of doing selflessness in helping others by leaving our comfort zone and risking our safety.

In the year 1990 of July 16, I was 12 years old when I experienced an earthquake that hit Northern and Central Luzon. A magnitude 7.8 that left massive damages and casualties. I was at our school at that time when suddenly, we felt the ground shaking. My classmates and I run towards a nearby playground and seated in the grass. We can hear a rumbling, scary noise beneath us and the ground is in motion from left to right.  

We are all crying, scared and most of us shouting "Mama" as the earthquake lasted for about a minute. After that, we felt relief, I looked for my cousin and we walk together to go home. Some parents came to school to fetch their kids. 

The aftershocks left  fear and trauma, whether in daytime or evening, either we are in our house or at school, we run to a safe place. 

It was the scariest disaster during that time.  

The only hope that I have is my faith with God.  

Every disaster has it's unique story to tell because there is a life involved in it.  

From a kid who experienced a very traumatized earthquake came to be a humanitarian worker. The organization I work not only devoted to helping poor communities but also response to disasters.  

We all know that the Philippines is prone to earthquakes and typhoons. And I can remember several disasters we responded. From 2002 I witness how the organization response to different disasters to mention some: Landslide in Guinsaugon, Leyte last 2006, Typhoon Megi last 2010 in Isabela (Maconacon,Divilacan,Palanan), Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) last 2009, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) last 2013, Bohol Earthquake 2013, Typhoon Mangkut (Ompong) last 2018 and others.

Deployment is one of the opportunities that the organization provided to staff. It is where you connect and embody yourself to face the unknown. I was deployed twice (Typhoon Megi and Typhoon Mangkut) from a task to set up a staff house, temporary storage, sourcing of suppliers for goods and transportation services. 

My job as a logisticians/procurement is to ensure that relief goods, equipment, and transportation should be available at the right time at the right place. There is no dilly dally during relief operation. 

During the disaster, there are many hurdles to overcome. If the road is not passable we need to think another route. If we cannot bring it by land we need to bring it by sea or by air. If all means of transportation are impassable, we use animals or manpower. All means should be possible. The aim is to bring relief goods to save lives. There is no break time, even when you use the toilet. With only less sleep, you have to rouse up to dispatch a 10 Wheeler Truck loaded with relief goods for relief distribution.   

Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) has affected 4.9 million people submerged in floods in Metro Manila (from Rappler report). We, who are living in Metro Manila were affected. There were people stranded because the roads were impassable due to heavy rains and flood is ranging from knee to neck level, up to the rooftop. Because of this, The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act was created. From that year, our government has been improving and preparing for the onset of any disaster.  

I remember our office parking lot and chapel/meeting rooms used as temporary storage where we pack and unpack relief goods. There are influxes of volunteers from different schools, churches, and friends. There were ongoing deliveries of goods, the arrival of trucks, hauling there and here, dispatching. Our office became a hub of relief goods.

The Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) was the biggest response we had because of the huge impact and casualties it made. It left more than 6,000 people dead and caused massive destruction in Eastern Visayas (from Rappler report). The aftermath was appalling. The effects were unprecedented and chaos.

Both Cebu and Manila airport flooded with relief goods and humanitarian aid. There were foreign humanitarian workers came to provide support. The government set up a "one-stop-shop" bringing several government agencies in one location to expedite customs clearances for relief goods and equipment. I was one of the so many staff from a different organization who's going back and forth to process the paperwork for the release of relief goods coming from Germany, USA, Dubai, and others. Now after five years, hope restored with the lives of those who receive help. 

Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong) wrath in Cagayan province. It affected more than 3.8 million people and damaged 300,000 houses according to the social welfare department's Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC). I was deployed for 3 weeks to source suppliers on agriculture, hardware materials, and transportation services. The hardest part of being a procurement is how to convince these suppliers to partner with us. Thankfully, some are willing and eager to partner with us. Now, the affected farmer who receives corn seeds awaits the harvest.

Amids the community's despair and fear because of these various disasters God sends hope through the help of Humanitarian organizations who are working hand in hand to save lives and to bring relief efforts. It is because of the donors who are willingly giving and staff who are going out beyond their regular work that makes a difference. Of course, all the efforts will not be successful if without the help and support of the local government units, volunteers and partners.

"Do No Harm" approach where I learned to apply whenever I am in a disaster-affected area. This tool is to design projects or programs to minimize harm and support local capacities to build peace ( The word "Do No Harm" inculcates in me that every kit that has a pack of food or hygiene kit, whoever receives it should be given with dignity and respect. It's the same thing with how I spoke to them, how I asked questions, or even how I listen to their stories.  

Nothing comparable when you see a smile and hear laughter's from children playing in a child-friendly space (a setup tent where trained staff gives counsel and games).  

Nothing comparable when a Mother or Father shed tears when they tell their story of survival.

Nothing comparable to witness a restored life.

When you are committed to your work, knowing that you are bringing impact whether you are directly or indirectly involve, as a humanitarian worker I should remember that I am a servant. I am serving vulnerable children who still like to enjoy childhood. I am serving young girls and boys who have a dream has the potential to become a leader and has a future. I am serving a community that has a life before the disaster strikes.

As a humanitarian worker, it involves going beyond ourselves. We are capable of doing selflessness in helping others by leaving our comfort zone and risking our safety. But it is always by God's grace we can do this. God's grace enables us to do the work in accomplishing His purposes.

There will be a more unprecedented catastrophe that cannot fathom. We are facing uncertainty but with uncertainty, there is an opportunity to strengthen the most vulnerable and weak.  


This story was submitted in response to Climate Justice.

Comments 9

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Tamarack Verrall
Sep 02
Sep 02

Maeann, dear Sister,
Your beautiful heart shines through every word. Those with the strength to step forward into the most difficult emergencies, the eye of every storm, do with such courage and love. Thank you for describing it here in its detail so that we can fully acknowledge this work. May you and all you work with know the love being sent to you all, and continue to protect each other.

"with uncertainty, there is an opportunity to strengthen the most vulnerable and weak".

Sep 05
Sep 05

Hi Tam :) thank you for the quality and heartily encouragement.. you are the best in everything you say and do.

Hello Maeann thank God for protection on you. God knows you were all angels and He knew you will one day be of help to others.
God will continue to bless you in every thing.

Sep 05
Sep 05

Thank you Honorine. Please be safe always.

Thanks so much for your kind words.

Rajyeshwari Ghosh
Sep 10
Sep 10

Dear Maenn,
Greetings from India!
You have written it beautifully. Your story has that gentle reminder that when we give, we must give with humility, love and kindness. We are only tools used by GOD for GOD's work. Thank you once again! Take care,

Oct 19
Oct 19

Helo Rajyeshwari, thank you and I agree to what you said, that we can be tools used by God for God's work. Keep safe.

Sep 19
Sep 19

Disaster relief work is such hard work. I alwasy say first responders literally risk their lives to help others during emergencies.

"Every disaster has it's unique story to tell because there is a life involved in it. " - This is a very powerful and very true statement.

Thanks for sharing, Maeann!

Oct 19
Oct 19

Helo Ruth, yes every disaster happened around the world has stories to tell. There is life involved in it. That is why I keep my salute and respect to those who are sent to help and response not only because it's part of their job but as well this include risking their lives as well. It's a big task. You are welcome, keep safe.