Over 50,000 families were displaced when the Taal Volcano erupted in Batangas, Philippines on January 12. Tons of volcanic ash devoured villages while a menacing plume of smoke hovered above, accompanied by rising magma and volcanic tremors stealing the homes and livelihoods of many thousands living in the surrounding area.
Naturally, news about the heavy ash fall flooded social media sites which gave volunteers, NGOs and the national government the chance to be heroes. Donations came pouring in; great news for victims but not so great for the planet, with the influx of plastic water bottles and single-use plastics creating a plastic pollution problem of its own.
The issue prompting some volunteers to mull over the long-term impacts of their efforts especially after the Environmental Management Bureau of Calabarzon posted this reminder about what could happen with donated plastic water bottles:
“If you are going to donate drinking water, donate something like this instead. It’s economical, refillable. Avoid donating bottled water which may cause garbage disposal problem in the near future because this tragedy may take months or even years. Areas affected by Taal eruption would take some time to rehabilitate. We need to start thinking about the future. There are 53,025 affected individuals as of this day, imagine if each of them drinks 3 bottled water per day, that’s 159,075 PET bottle garbage you are creating daily. Thank you.”
Several days ago I, along with a dozen others from across the country, headed to Alfonso Central School in Alfonso, Cavite to volunteer for Project ARK’s relief drive for the day. The school was set up as an evacuation site, taking in roughly 7,000 evacuees who had all been divided into cluster groups.
It was the responsibility of the camp managers and army officials to ensure that each cluster received a fair share of relief goods donated by different organizations. Project ARK was assigned to help three cluster groups, about 1000 individuals in total.
When a natural disaster hits, access to food is limited, so we started the outreach with a feeding program. Instead of opting to distribute fast food value meals to evacuees, we stayed up all night to cook and prepare healthy plant-based meals for the evacuated families placed in our care.
Not only did we serve nutritious meals, but plastic waste associated with fast food items such as Styrofoam, plastic cups and plastic utensils, were also avoided. As an additional treat for the children, we also served homemade ice-cream; to our good fortunate, we had just enough to equally distribute a couple of scoops to all the little ones.
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When the last group of family received their bag of relief goods, the team prepared a quick two-part lecture from a couple of our co-volunteers, Dr. Dot Romero and Dr. Isabel Grace Young-Ngo. The program kicked off with Dr. Dot, a dentist passionate about educating kids and their parents about dental care, how to brush their teeth and the importance of oral hygiene.
Dr. Isabel, a pediatrician, focussed on educating the families about personal hygiene such as proper handwashing and explained the health effects and consequences of poor personal hygiene.
The day concluded with a series of games for the children, with each receiving a prize for participation.
Project ARK is considering a second leg of the outreach, where volunteers will educate the families about climate change, caring for the environment and possibly an arts and crafts session for the little ones but this has yet to be confirmed.
Overall, the volunteer outreach was a rewarding and humbling experience where we could make a small difference and create positive impact in the lives of those who are desperately in need.
Having the chance to work alongside compassionate people who share my desire to instill hope in the hearts of the victims of Taal volcano made this mission extra special, as well as showing the rest of the world that even during a disaster, an eco-friendly relief drive is possible.
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Feature image of Project ARK volunteers at the Alfonso Central School basketball court. All images supplied by author.