Filipino group delivers hope

Updated 4:41 PM ET, Mon February 13, 2012
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iReporter Vince Avena (far right) joined fellow humanitarians to form Operation VALENTINES. Members of the group left their hometown outside Manila, Philippines, and traveled nearly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south to Barangay Mandulog to help residents still recovering from Typhoon Sendong. "We do what we can with what we have," Avena said. "That's way better than doing nothing at all." Others in the group are (seated) Andrew Go and Lia Ocampo, and (standing, from left) Natrisha Navarro, Natasha Navarro, Sherbien Dacalanio, Veronica Lon and Shine Antonio. Courtesy Vince Avena
Before leaving for the trip, the members of Operation VALENTINES gathered supplies, including 170 books. "We also got school supplies for the children; something to help them pass the time with and get their young minds away from the loss and pain, and focus on something more productive, which is learning," Avena said. Courtesy Vince Avena
Operation VALENTINES also arrived with a half-ton of rice. "When support has slowed down and the attention of the people is elsewhere, here we are going to areas where the people still live in hunger, despair and loss," Avena said. Courtesy Vince Avena
According to the Red Cross, at least 1,000 people died in the storm and more than 1,500 were injured. Flooding left tens of thousands homeless and affected the lives of more than 600,000 people. Here, a 4-year-old boy hides a bag of rusty nails he's collected to sell for Filipino pesos. "This is why we do what we do," Avena said. "They are the most vulnerable. May each of us find in our hearts enough humanity to help the children." Courtesy Vince Avena
Operation VALENTINES members colored with local children. Avena says it is clear these young people are changed forever. "Some had pouring drops of rain covering their pages. Others drew fallen trees, but there is more. They drew not only homes and fallen trees, they drew the toothpick images of people lying on the ground, representing their loved ones, relatives, friends, classmates. It was heartbreaking." Courtesy Vince Avena
"These children have seen it all and have been through it personally as well. They lived through the pain and the loss," Avena said. "Though they may afford to give a smile now, that smile is but a façade. Their tears have all dried up. Their sorrow has depleted their spirit. Their laughter hides their wailings. But as much as they try to hide their pain, the images of their personal masterpieces tell a different story." Courtesy Vince Avena
Avena and other Operation VALENTINES volunteers pose with local children near their newly donated collection. "Though we left about half a ton of clothes, we decided to pack books; books enough to start a small library for elementary school children," Avena said. Courtesy Vince Avena
iReporter Andrew Go prepares chicken soup for children in the resettlement area of Mandulog, Iligan. "Of all the things we bring with us, there is one thing we hope to bring to the people that would stay with them: hope," fellow iReporter Vince Avena said. "It's not something we can pack in a box, not something that we can weigh or put a price tag on. It is in showing them that in their suffering and pain, they are not alone; that there will always be people -- ordinary folks -- who, when given the chance, can do a little something to make a difference in someone else's life." Courtesy Vince Avena
Avena said naming his group "Operation VALENTINES" is apropos. He said he can't think of a better thing to do "on the love month of February to do something that will show these people the love and concern we do have for them." Courtesy Vince Avena