Surviving Taal: Scenes from the evacuation centers
A week after the phreatic eruption of Taal volcano, January 18, thousands of people have already fled their homes to seek temporary shelter in evacuation centers across the province of Cavite. These families come from towns in Batangas that were severely affected by the eruption of Taal last January 12, while some are from towns within the 14-km danger zone and were forced to evacuate. Donations from different sectors across the Philippines poured over these evacuation centers. Some groups take the extra mile to support needs that are not in-kind, like entertainment and emotional support through mascots, bands, and programs.
Alfonso Central School currently shelters roughly 3,000 individuals displaced from their own homes. Some of the families were already transferred to other nearby cities such as Tagaytay, Silang, Dasmariñas, General Trias, and Imus, where the arrival of new evacuees is continuous. Although the place is far enough from the scenes of destruction, the face of displacement, vulnerability, and uncertainty can be seen from the people around.
The vastness of the school’s grassy field gives enough space for people to build a makeshift community of elders, children, volunteers, and military personnel with a common goal of bridging everyone to recovery and survival.
Volunteers are dispersed everywhere to provide human services and drop off donations. In fact, a church in Alfonso serves as the main drop-off location for donations to be distributed to evacuation centers across the town. Vehicles transporting relief goods line up to enter the church, among which many are also loaded with people willing to do volunteer work. From sorting and packing donations to organizing and patrolling, people have come out of their way to paint an inspiring and surreal picture of camaraderie amid calamity.
Meanwhile, evacuees in Matagbak Elementary School, also located in Alfonso, Cavite is currently preparing to be transferred in nearby cities to decongest the center and give room to new arriving evacuees. Families temporarily living in this area are staying in tents densely built in the school’s covered court. In the center stage, a mound of donated and mixed clothes was placed for the evacuees to choose from. This setting where people live and spend their days in these tents, and where access to basic needs are limited and scheduled makes you think of how much longer Filipinos have to make up for the lack of government funding and action.
In times of calamity, it is the elderly, children, and disabled who are generally affected the most. This is the reason why activities that help children cope through entertainment and creativity are important.children.
On that day, children currently situated in Matagbak participated in a psychosocial activity in which they are tasked to color the animals different from their natural colors. The activity aimed to boost the creative thinking of children all while trying to divert their attention from the trauma brought by the calamity.
True enough, there are stories of innocence that can only be translated through strokes and colors. And although some stories are drawn in grey and black, there is strength in telling and dealing with survival. Taal victims are the glaring evidence of a bigger mural of camaraderie among Filipinos. There is more work to be done, as the bigger picture needs to be seen further.
The Department of Education has already ordered schools to accept Taal victims as emergency transferees despite a lack of sufficient transfer documents and credentials. As of today, roughly 30,000 students from Batangas are displaced from their schools. However, the bigger question is where the families with no homes to return to are going. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology or PHIVOLCS still raises Taal volcano on Alert Level 4 as of press time, while several towns in Batangas affected by the eruption are in total lockdown.