Zambo volunteers risk lives to keep evacuees safe, nourished PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 21 September 2013 11:59

For one meal, eight sacks of rice and 1,500 cans of sardines are prepared by about 10 volunteer-cooks at the evacuation center AT the Zamboanga City High School’s main campus in Barangay Tetuan. The viands would of course vary, but the amount of food prepared remains the same.

There are 2,295 people currently at this center, who are mostly residents of nearby Barangay Mampang and Arena Blanco, where the gunfights and explosions have been intermittent but unremitting.

Janet Mohammad who is in charge of the food preparation committee said the cooks, mostly women have been doing this for an entire week now on a daily basis.

On regular days, you would see them in teachers’ uniform, reporting for work at about 7:00 p.m. and leaving at 9:00 p.m. But now, they have been coming in as early as 5 a.m.; some leave after suppertime at about 9:00 p.m. Some would stay overnight.

Pacifico Dela Cruz, the school’s administrative officer, said the evacuees started arriving Thursday last week when the standoff between the Moro National Liberation Front and government forces was at its peak. At one time, bullets would zoom past the vicinity and hit the school buildings.

In spite of the risks, the school teachers have never missed a day in preparing the food.

But cooking is only one of their tasks.

Dela Cruz shared that in addition to the 15 teachers, 17 more volunteers composed of students and members of the school’s alumni association are also assisting the evacuees. Some of them, deputized as “peacekeepers” and armed with two-way radios are assigned to patrol the place alongside the soldiers. The volunteers work round-the-clock, who are in rotation for day and night shifts. They are always on alert since the conflict area is merely within earshot.

Arturo Cabidog Jr. of the City Legal Office has been volunteering since Thursday last week. He is responsible for the arrest of two suspected MNLF men, who came to the evacuation center claiming to be evacuees. Doubting about their responses to his interview, Cabidog asked them to open their bags. He discovered suspicious documents that had orders to “inflict injury if they refused to walk.”

He immediately reported his discovery to the police, who took the two to the Tetuan Police Station for questioning.

Dela Cruz said the evacuees in this center are properly taken care of. City Social Welfare personnel are present to ensure that their psycho-social needs are met. Day care service is also provided for the children.

Meanwhile, at the neighboring evacuation center at the Immaculate Concepcion Archdiocesan School, 1,298 persons are accommodated. Here, members of the Knights of Columbus Centennial Council are assigned in different committees to see to it that the evacuees are safe and their needs addressed.

In addition to the KoC, members of the local Youth for Christ and the Tetuan Parish Youth Ministry help in preparing seventy kilos of rice for every meal as well as the viands, and distributing this large number of food to the evacuees. Their kitchen is located at the nearby St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, where one stained glass window was hit by a stray bullet.

Like in the ZCHS center, the volunteers here work round-the-clock. Sister Marian of the Biblical Apostolate says that other Tetuan residents help them prepare the food, among others, and that most do not go home for the sake of their displaced brothers and sisters in need.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reports that as of this time, there are 56 evacuation centers scattered all over the city with over a hundred thousand registered evacuees. The number continuous to increase as each day passes.

The tremendous task of feeding and caring for these people remains and is increasing.

Councilor Myra Paz Abubakar had earlier expressed concern over the supplies and resources from the donors. “It is a reality that resources are depleting,” she said.

But one good thing about Zamboanga in the midst of this crisis is that the city will never run out of good, caring and noble hearts who risk their lives to help those who are victims of the tragedy.  (FPG/DIS/PIA9-ZBST)