Conducting relief operations for Typhoon Ambo, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, was not an easy task. The country was on lockdown and the ADRA emergency response staff that was supposed to lead the relief operation was not able to travel to Eastern Samar because travel was highly restricted if not prohibited.
As a result, it was decided that Samar Adventist Mission (SaM) would become the Emergency Response Team (ERT) for the relief operation to Typhoon Ambo in Eastern Samar headed by SaM President, Pastor Emerson Lucion. They were to assess, validate, and distribute P1,500 cash assistance to 975 families in the five target municipalities.
To begin the relief operations, Pastor Lucion and Pastor Jonathan C. Intanto, Adventist Community Services (ACS) Director, needed to visit the Catbalogan City Hall to process the papers that were required to be able to travel from Northern Samar (where the SaM was located) to Eastern Samar. And at the same time, in Eastern Samar, Pastor Rolando Ronato, the district Pastor of Borongan Area, processed the acceptance letter that would allow SaM to distribute the relief assistance to the five municipalities that were badly hit by typhoon Ambo.
As soon as SaM was granted the travel documents, Pastor Lucion and Pastor Intanto began their journey to Eastern Samar.
Expecting that they would be apprehended at the checkpoints, the two were surprised that they were allowed to pass through without any hassle. When asked where they were going, they were waved through as soon as the soldiers heard that they were going to conduct relief operations.
After meeting with Pastor Ronato, and proceeded to the municipalities of Can-avid, Dolores, Oras, San Policarpo, and Arteche to meet with the local government officials and gather data about the affected families. They travelled back to Catbalogan because their travel pass was only valid for that day, and they needed to map out their plan of action on how they would to distribute the cash assistance to 975 families in the coming days.
The SaR-ERT returned the following day with a bigger team and “checked-in” at the Can-avid Adventist Church, that would serve as their base camp for the operation.
The following day, the team travelled to Arteche, the farthest of their five target towns. They divided themselves into two groups. One group, armed with the list of affected families from the municipality and escorted by the barangay health workers, visited and revalidated the names on the beneficiary list before giving them the claim stub with the instruction to go to the barangay gym to collect the cash assistance. The other group was at the barangay gym and managed the distribution, making sure to arrange the beneficiaries at least one meter apart for social distancing.
As the beneficiaries began to arrive, a short orientation was held by Pastor Emerson Lucion where he explained where the cash assistance came from and requested it be used for food and/or house repairs and not gambling, drinking, and other non-essential things. Then the distribution proceeded until all the beneficiaries were catered to.
This was the system that the SaR-ERT implemented in the following days to expedite the distribute process. At the end of each day, they evaluated what they could do better, and directly enforced it in the following day.
Each ERT member and ACS volunteer had an important role to play. From the preparation of meals and snacks to the distribution of cash, everyone cooperated and worked well together.
There were some areas that were riskier than others, where the risk of robbery and possible disruption from rebels was high, but with constant prayer and an efficient system, the team was able to successfully complete their distributions.
“Each of us had a role to play. We prepared pack lunches and snacks for the trip so we never experienced hunger. We were all happy and enjoyed the work. I believe the secret to our cooperation and respect for one another was that we were always praying and we all loved to serve. And if one loves to serve, then blessings of joy will be his/hers.” shared Pastor Emerson Lucion