By: Nathan Mari
GK1MB USA National Director
Three typhoons struck the Philippines starting Saturday September 26 2009 bringing extreme flooding and devastation. What they showed on TV and in the newspapers couldn’t have prepared us for the task ahead… all we knew was that disaster struck and we needed to respond. That’s the GK way you know, no blueprints, no templates, just heroic response! While most people in the country have already stopped relief work because, well that’s just the way it goes I guess, after a week eventually the news gets stale, “Operation GK: Walang Iwanan” will keep going well into Christmas. After a week and a half of feeding the hunger cannot be subdued. Unlike the homes we build, at least there is something that remains, but hunger is something that passes. Many of the people we went to hadn’t had any sort of relief before we got there. That means for those who lost everything, they haven’t eaten properly for almost two weeks.
I was amazed at our volunteers on the ground! Having done this for 11 days and returning day after day didn’t seem to faze any of them. There were also some previous beneficiaries there who were familiar with the pains of hunger. They stood in line passing sacs filled with rice, canned food, spaghetti sauce and bottles of water into the “Bulldogs.” Once all fifteen army trucks were filled, we were off. We sat in the back and with me was Kat. She shared with me her story the day before while she was out feeding with the military escorts. As people began to realize that there was no more food and her truck was the last, they began to storm towards her. She had just finished passing out bread to an elderly woman when all of a sudden hands came from everywhere to take whatever scraps they could from this old lady. Kat was in tears and yelled “Lola!!” She was sharing how guilty she felt and how she blames herself for the hurt that this old lady went through. When people are hungry, their predatory instincts come out like a lion in search of its next meal. When people are in survival mode, it’s a battle of the fittest. This is what we reduce people to when they are deprived of the most basic human needs such as food.
On our way up to the site, the situation was far worse than what the media covered… water absolutely everywhere.. . whole houses were swallowed up by the floods. Streets became rivers and people carried their families in anything that could float. Walking to their homes was done through boats and makeshift paddles made from scraps of plywood. But it wasn’t the fact that people had lost everything, or that their belongings remained submerged, or clothes still wet and dirty. People were hungry! They were desperate for food. When Kuya Luis told me that the feeding would continue well into Christmas I was shocked! I thought why would you need to do that? But when I saw that even after 11 days the waters still hadn’t come down, I understood. So I took my place in the line and began distributing food. The hours passed and the lines never diminished. I was there for almost 6 hours and I was exhausted! My back was hurting, my shoulders painful from passing over 4,000 food packs, and I was hungry because by that time it was already 2pm and I hadn’t eaten for almost 7 hours -but what right did I have to complain?! Look at these people who have gone without eating for almost two weeks! I kept my selfishness to myself and kept on going. We packed and distributed 7,500 food packs that day! I felt proud at the extraordinary achievement. .. I can finally say that I fed the hungry and add that to my list of corporal works of mercy. But why should I feel proud? The true heroes are the GK people on the ground, because long after I return to the US to tell their story, they will still be here packing and feeding the millions of Filipino’s going hungry every day.