Love delivers

Love delivers.
And towards the last stretch of 2021 in the island of Negros, through the worst of circumstances, it surely did.

Vice President and now Presidential candidate, Leni Robredo, distributes starter shelter kits for those who lost their homes.

On the night of December 16th, when people were starting to get excited over the prospect of a post-lockdown Christmas, what seemingly began as a cheery holiday breeze turned into violent gusts of wind that ravaged whatever stood in its way. Lightning, thunder, and torrential downpours followed as power lines were cut off, swallowing the land in darkness. People fled their homes and huddled together for warmth and shelter as the onslaught of Super Typhoon Odette carried on throughout the night.

When dawn broke in the east, the sun came up only to cast a gloomy light on the aftermath left by the catastrophe. Uprooted trees lay horizontally, blocking numerous passageways as floodwaters receded through the debris of what were once happy homes. Like a thief in the night, Odette arrived uninvited, robbing families of their life’s work, callously leaving nothing but scraps scattered in pieces. Several national transmission line power posts all over the island were severely damaged, and network connections were also down indefinitely.

Despite this apocalyptic scenario, the Negrense spirit ceased to falter. Manifesting the Filipino tradition of bayanihan, the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC), a foundation headed by Millie Kilayko, stepped up to heed the call for help. NVC spared no time and immediately jumped to the rescue on the morning of December 17th, responding first to the more accessible urbanized areas before moving outwards to coastal communities and mountain villages when the roads became passable.

With a shortage of potable water, NVC made sure all the victims were hydrated.

Since its establishment in 2010, the organization has garnered years of experience in dealing with calamities of different sorts, and the wisdom to realize the value of preparation and urgency when it comes to mounting an effective response. They have since developed systems for food production, most notably their Mingo Meals, which are nutritious instant packets made of moringa leaves, mung beans, and rice. The NVC has also established a network for sourcing, distribution, and storage that provides them the agility needed through what NVC calls the “phases of the relief effort,” which comprises relief, restoration, and rebuilding of the stricken areas. Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 served as their baptism of fire.

Kids enjoying the different flavors of Mingo meals, which are instant meals packed with nutrients and processed by NVC.

Hours before the super typhoon entered the Philippine area of responsibility, 30-some NVC volunteers were tirelessly rallying to gather and pack essential items in anticipation of the worst. Some members were also tasked to monitor Odette’s whereabouts to understand better which areas were to be hit first and the hardest. Even their Mingo Meal production team willingly waived overtime and holiday pay to donate to the cause. This amazing display of empathy is the essence of NVC’s expedient and efficient efforts in making this world a better place.

But Millie Kilayko admits, their resiliency as a group is met with its own storms as well. “We are a small home grown foundation, and we do not have a fixed source of funds. We are not a family foundation with an endowment fund or a corporate foundation with a company’s share of profits as a stable fund resource. That means what our right hand gives, our left hand has to work for at the same pace that we give. Sometimes it is a hard balancing act, especially when you do not have the luxury of time. When the needs are for emergency relief, the stress levels are higher because we receive a deluge of requests, while many times, the start-up of donations coming in is not as fast. But when we begin to post on social media about what we have covered in such a short time, we usually begin to receive the assistance that we need,” she says. This is why creating avenues through technology between the private business sectors and the Local Government Units continues to be the primary catalyst for optimizing their results.

Super Typhoon Odette ravaged through farms and destroyed fishing boats, creating a huge food shortage which the NVC addressed first.

In the case of Typhoon Odette, Millie Kilayko praised the generosity of local school alumni groups, clusters of friends and families, as well as fellow foundations they have worked with in the past, for giving a part of their blessings, primarily through these tumultuous times. She also credited NVC’s quick response to her fellow volunteers for their selfless service. She shares, “We have a dedicated team that is willing to work and rise above even personal struggles. Time and again, they have proven to be most reliable, serving the disaster-stricken even during holidays like Christmas and New Year,” adding, “The Negrense does not fill the demands of the time. It goes beyond. Always.”

250 families in the towns of Cauayan, Hinobaan, Candoni, and Ilog, as well as the cities of Sipalay and Kabankalan, hope for a fresh start with their starter shelter kits.

As the sky clears for a while and hunger and thirst are quenched, the larger problems of homelessness and the loss of livelihood are looming in the background. Pleading for national assistance proved to be a challenge due to communication networks still under repair. This obstacle seemed all too gigantic, even for them, but Millie’s conviction is solid as a rock. She tells us, “One thing I can say is, what we do have a lot of is faith, and when prayer becomes our last resort, resources never fail to come.” And true enough, blessings followed. An unexpected lightning-quick response came from Vice President Leni Robredo, asking NVC what was needed most. Millie recounts, “The biggest single chunk came from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in the form of starter shelter kits to 250 families who lost their homes to Typhoon Odette in the towns of Cauayan, Hinobaan, Ilog, and Candoni, and in the cities of Kabankalan and Sipalay. The project was funded entirely from private-sector donations through the Tanging Yaman Foundation, then coursed through the NVC, which acted as the OVP’s private sector ground partner for project management.”

As radical and idealistic as it may seem, love truly delivers. And we have faith that it will continue to do so, as much as we believe that the most radiant pink sunsets come after the gloomiest storms.

Text By: Mayumi Espina
Photo Courtesy: NVC Foundation/ Millie Kilayko

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