January 29, 2020

Taal Volcano evacuees head home

Unbound families are now returning to their homes as the threat of eruption from the Taal Volcano near Manila, Philippines, diminishes. Unbound will continue to help on the path to recovery.


Mothers of sponsored children gather at Unbound offices in Quezon City, Philippines, to organize relief supplies for people in evacuation centers after the Taal volcano began spewing ash. From left are Corazon, Maricar, Thelma, Evelyn, Imcel and Aida.

Families face difficult road back to normalcy

For more than two weeks, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines have had their lives disrupted by threatening activity from the Taal Volcano, including 438 Unbound members and their families who were evacuated after volcanic ash began to spew on Jan. 12.

The volcano is located on an island in the middle of Lake Taal, a popular tourist location 45 miles south of Manila.

“There were affected sponsored families in [Unbound’s] Manila Project living around Batangas, where Taal Volcano is located,” Risa Vereña, coordinator of Unbound’s program in Manila, said. “They all evacuated their homes. Some of them are with their relatives who have a safer place outside Batangas area and some of them are inside classrooms that serve as their evacuation centers.”

When sponsored individuals and their families are severely impacted by natural disasters, Unbound notifies their sponsors personally.

While Philippine authorities have lowered the threat level and many families are now returning home, not all are able to do so.

“There is one particular community with 38 families that are no longer allowed to go back to their homes,” Pritha Hariharan, international program director for Unbound, said. “The project is working on how best to assist these families because, at this point, they are essentially homeless.”

Even for those able to go home, recovery will be long and difficult. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, volcanic ash has long-term consequences for crops and livestock, and there will be ongoing health risks for those returning to the affected area.

The economic impact has already been significant and, for some subsistence farmers, could be devastating. Reuters reported that agriculture experts are estimating the damage to crops to already have exceeded $11 million.

May is the mother of sponsored child Maea and earns her living selling flowers and plants. Her inventory was seriously harmed by the ashfall, which turned to mud when it rained.


Vegetation in the countryside south of Manila, Philippines, is weighed down by ash from the Taal Volcano. The ashfall will likely have long-term negative consequences for area farmers and the local economy.
All the plants that used to be green turned gray, all of the crops we are about to sell died.

– MAY, SPONSORED MOTHER
 

The Philippines has been hit hard this year by disasters, and the Manila program has depleted their emergency reserves. According to Hariharan, they will be applying for funds from the Unbound Disaster Response fund, but the amount has yet to be determined.

Neighbors looking out for each other

Accustomed to dealing with weather-related adversity, the Filipino people have shown great resilience in recovering from natural disasters.

“The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, whether it is typhoons, earthquakes, or most recently, the threat of volcanic eruption,” Hariharan said. “One might be forgiven for giving in to despair in the face of such odds. But our Unbound communities in the Philippines have proven time and again that their resilience, commitment to family and community, and their adaptability are bigger than any natural disaster.

“While Unbound provides a space for forming community connections, the families self-organize in the face of disaster to help each other by mobilizing resources and supporting each other through trying times.”

Some members of the Unbound community receive special training for crisis situations. This includes the ERPAT disaster response team from Unbound’s Antipolo program, a group made up of the fathers of sponsored children, who assisted with evacuation and relief efforts in Batangas. Meanwhile, Unbound mothers and youth, along with staff, helped organize efforts in the evacuation centers.

As the scope of the evacuation became evident, neighboring Unbound offices offered assistance to the Manila staff. Malou Navio, project director for Unbound in the Philippines, said, “There is inter-project mobilization. The Antipolo and Quezon projects are collecting clothes, beddings and food from families who want to help the affected families of Manila Project.”

The collected items began arriving the day after the evacuation was announced.

What you can do

  • Make sure your contact information is updated. In times of natural disaster, we notify sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, so keeping your information updated is important.
  • Pray. The Unbound community holds all those affected and those assisting with relief efforts in our thoughts and prayers.
  • Donate to Disaster Response. Unbound’s Disaster Response fund provides assistance to families in the aftermath of events like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, severe storms and fires.