By Kat Bulan
We were able to give out 1,250 Noche Buena packages
The Noche Buena project started out as a simple programme to give out Christmas packages to just 100 families in the community of one Bukas Palad social center. When I started it with a single post on my Facebook account, asking my friends for support, little did I know that it would evolve to something as amazing as what it had become.
I started to collect pledges from individuals to sponsor a Noche Buena for one family as early as September. The response I received was enormous such that I decided to share what I would collect to other Bukas Palad centres as well. When the super typhoon Haiyan struck the Visayan region, we felt that it is them in that region that needs to remember what it truly means to celebrate Christmas. We were amazed at how the original recipients of the Noche Buena packages willingly let go of their share in order to give them to the families in Leyte as to give them hope in the coming of Christ. And so we began our journey of preparation for the Visayan leg of the Noche Buena project.
We decided to visit seven places in Visayas (Tacloban, Palo, Ormoc, Bantayan Island, Sigma, Antique and Kalibo). One of the heartwarming experiences we had was when we learned that in Palo, there were 600 families who have lost everything and would really need the Noche Buena packs. The original allotment for them with the amount of money we had was just 300 packages. But with great trust in the providence of God and the generosity of the Filipino spirit, we said our yes, and we will give 600 packages to this area. And immediately, the money needed for this additional 300 Noche Buena packs arrived. We were also amazed at the response of people to donate toys for the children of Visayas, especially with the stories of the willingness of children to give their most loved toys for the Visayan children who have lost everything.
The experience in Visayas was one we will never forget. We felt the great hope in the hearts of the people we have met. Even with enormous losses in terms of homes, properties and even loved ones, they continue to strive to rise up again and bring their lives back to normalcy. We gave out Noche Buena packages, gave gifts of toys, conducted debriefing sessions and played games with the kids, and held Christmas parties for the whole family. These were greatly appreciated by the people of Visayas as they were used to just receiving relief goods, but instead, we took the time and effort to be with them, listen to their stories and bring the Christmas spirit back to their lives.
One of our companions was playing with a group of children in an evacuation center in Tacloban. He noticed one of the older boys was acting as the leader of the group and not participating in the activities. He stayed with them, played with them, and to his amazement, this older boy gave him a box of snacks after the program, as a thank you gift. He was so touched because we were there to be the ones to give out gifts, but this kid was reciprocating the love he saw by sharing the food that he had to us as well. This kid also performed for all of us and became more involved in the program.
We heard a lot of stories of the families who received the Noche Buena packages to be fascinated of its contents. They were used to receiving and eating sardines and noodles since the typhoon, but instead we gave out ingredients for pasta, fruit salad and other treats. A lot of them also said that it was the first time that they will have Noche Buena with real ham, but some had to eat it the same day they received the packs because they had no food for dinner.
The children were also very excited to receive the toys that we brought. Whether they received a small toy or an old one compared to some of the bigger toys of the other kids, there were no comparisons with each other, and they simply played with them together. A lot of them were playing in the streets as soon as they received them, as if it was the best gift that they received in their lives. They also said that they were amazed at how much we interacted with them as they felt that we were just one of them, telling stories and playing with the kids.
In Palo, Leyte, we conducted the program and distribution right beside the mass graves of almost 400 people who perished during the typhoon. It was a very moving moment for us as we saw how the people mourn for their families who lost their lives, but at the same time, having so much hope that things will get better. At first, we were afraid that the distribution of the Noche Buena packs to the 600 families will be chaotic as it was already getting dark and there were a lot of people. Amazingly, the residents organized themselves well and there was a joyful atmosphere amidst the destruction surrounding us. After the distribution, one of our companions and I noticed a young man who was staying alone by the mass grave for several hours already. We decided to give him a Noche Buena pack as well as sympathize with his loss. We learned that he lost his youngest brother of 11 years old in the typhoon and he felt so much guilt as he was in another city when it happened. He felt that if he was there at that time, maybe his youngest brother could have been saved. He recounted to us how his brother was a naughty but sweet kid and how his whole family misses him dearly. What touched me very much was how he was thankful that the rest of his family was saved and that he was full of hope that his brother was in a better place and as a family, they can move forward and begin their lives again.
All in all, we were able to give out 1,250 Noche Buena packages. This experience reinforced the thought that indeed, even if everything is destroyed, only love remains. The hope of the people of Visayas inspires us to work harder in order to help them start again with their lives. Now, with other individuals who want to help the people of Visayas rise up again, we are moving the Noche Buena Project into the next phase: the START AGAIN Project, which will provide roofs for the schools, give out school supplies to the kids, have a soup kitchen for the children for one whole month, construct a memorial for the dead, give out scholarships, have a working potable water system and hold a medical mission. We felt that that these survivors of the supertyphoon needs all the support that we can give them in order to rebuild their lives. And there is no stopping us until together, we get past this tragedy.