- Tropical Storm Washi hit the Philippines in December, killing more than 1,000 people
- Areas near Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City are still rebuilding from the storm
- Vince Avena and friends collected supplies to distribute to those affected by the storm
- Avena named the trip Operation VALENTINES and hopes it brings the victims joy and happiness
As Tropical Storm Washi washed over the southern Philippine island of Mindanao last December, heavy rains triggered deadly floods and landslides.
More than 1,000 people died and at least 1,500 were injured, according to the Red Cross. The storm, locally called Typhoon Sendong, left tens of thousands homeless.
When iReporter Vince Avena from Quezon City, a Manila suburb, saw the destruction spread across the southern part of his country, he knew he had to act. He and a group of seven friends planned a trip to Mindanao for the first week of February so they could help in the effort to rebuild. They named it "Operation VALENTINES."
iReport: Operation VALENTINES under way
Shortly after the group arrived in Cagayan de Oro, Avena shared his thoughts and hopes for the trip with CNN by e-mail in this Impact Q&A.
CNN: Tell me about your trip. How did it start?
Avena: A handful of iReporter friends of mine, along with myself, wanted to do something for the victims of Typhoon Sendong other than just writing or talking about it. We felt the need to at least do something to show the people that there are those who do care about their situation. We started to plan a quick trip to [Cagayan de Oro] a day before the new year.
But it was not enough. We needed to do something more. Thus, a second trip was planned, this time over a month after the typhoon. That is because we figured that by that time (this February), the attention of the general public would have shifted elsewhere. The victims would have been just statistical data and forgotten.
What better thing to do on the love month of February, than to do something that will show these people the love and concern we do have for them. To give them the "Christmas" they didn't get. To bring to them some joy and happiness.
CNN: What are you doing?
Avena: We each tried to gather things, relief goods from friends and relatives, even our own personal belongings that we felt would be useful. We coordinated with people in the area -- Cagayan de Oro and Iligan -- who would accompany us in our relief efforts.
Personally, I gathered the elementary school books of my kids from grade one to six for all subjects which the people in Iligan can use to start a small library. I do have almost half a ton of clothes ready just in case the people would need clothes.
We hope to go back to the area and see what else we can do for the people we've met if possible, to help them rebuild a schoolroom at least, and help them with their water supply as they have only one source of water for the entire barangay (or district).
CNN: Why is this project important?
Avena: For all the hazards and disasters that occur, be it natural or man-made, the children are the ones that suffer the most. They are the most vulnerable. Though not related to us in any way, even as total strangers, our hearts lead us to do something, anything, that can help lighten the load of these people. We may not be able to help everyone, but those that we can help by whatever means possible, then it is something worth doing.
CNN: How are you making an impact?
Avena: By creating awareness. By getting others involved. By giving a way by which people, ordinary people, can help others through our joint efforts. By planning what we want to accomplish, and following through on our promise. By starting to help -- one life, one community, one step at a time.
CNN: Why should other people get involved?
Avena: Life has got to be more than just working and having a good time. We have to stand for something. There is a time when we should just stop criticizing, stop staying on the sideline, stop being a spectator. It is about time that people get involved in what's happening around them. Rather than being a part of the problem, let us be key to the solution.