“I was in our boarding house when the typhoon hit,” said John Vincent Bionat. “I was talking to my mother on the phone, informing her that I would go home that morning before the typhoon got even stronger. But the communication went. I wasn’t able to reach them again. I was so worried – I had no idea what had happened to them.”
Trouble at home…
Vincent, who is 20 and a student, was with his six housemates at their boarding house in Estancia, in Iloilo province. “At first, we were on the second floor, but the wind and rain became so violent,” he says. “We opened all the windows and doors upstairs to lessen the impact of the wind, because we could see that the whole house was already shaking. Then we went downstairs and took shelter there. All of our school things got wet.”
His own family was also affected: the roof of their house was damaged. His father started to fix it; the cost, he said, was minimal but the day after he arrived home, his maternal grandmother was admitted to hospital. “She suffers from diabetes and all its complications. We spent a lot of money on the hospital bills.”
Instead of fretting, though, Vincent chose to don a Save the Children t-shirt and help others, first distributing supplies, then volunteering at a Child Friendly Space (CFS) in a local evacuation centre.
… But happiness in helping others
He also helped to organise a Christmas party for the children. “If other people like you are here helping those most in need,” said Vincent, “why shouldn’t I? I’m a Christian but my church doesn’t celebrate Christmas. But I was happy organising those activities, because the children were happy. For me, what we do is a way of giving thanks because they are safe.
“I feel so happy doing this – so happy. No amount of money could ever substitute for these experiences. No regrets. I also learned so many things – like how to deal with children. I’m short-tempered, but I learned to control my emotions.
“I also learned to teach children strategically, finding activities for different age groups. Save the Children is doing great work here. If not for you, I don’t know how these children would cope with the loss.
“Next month, I will be back to being a student – but a student with firsthand experience on humanitarian work. I have seen how the people of this place are trying to get back to their feet.”