A volcano erupts, and this family is grateful that Compassion has stood by their side through years of typhoons and volcanic eruptions.
“It was frantic. People were panicking to get home as it turned dark all of a sudden when thick ash covered the afternoon sun,” said Jennifer Pindo, center director of PH0408 Shepherd Child Development Center. “After the first volcanic disturbance, my thoughts were quickly on the beneficiaries, especially those living within the 7-km danger zone.”
On January 13, 2018, Mayon Volcano began rumbling and spewing ash onto the communities of Ligao, Camalig and Guinobatan, where PH0408 is located, about 8 to 9 km away. The local government quickly declared a Level 3 alert as the volcano’s crater had visibly turned bright orange with magma, threatening a major eruption that could destroy and bury villages as far as 10 km away, as it had in the past.
Dominic Openaria, 11 years old, was one of those beneficiaries living within the hazard area. The imposing perfect-cone-shaped volcano loomed over the jungle where Dominic’s home stood, as though it was just on their backyard. Mayon Volcano did not let up and early the next day the local government ordered everyone living within the danger zone to leave and begin their march to several designated evacuation areas. Calmly, Dominic and his family gathered their things – clothes, birth certificates, Bibles, Dominic’s medals from school, and Dominic’s letters from his sponsor in the US, safely kept inside a shoebox.
“Those items are important to us and so we made sure to keep them safe,” said Alicia, Dominic’s mother. “My son’s joining Compassion’s (child sponsorship) program (CDSP) is one of the most important things that have ever happened to our family. We are grateful to his sponsor and to the program because it gives us hope that someday Dominic could finish his studies and have a better future.”
Dominic was registered at PH0408 when he was 5 years old. Alicia learned about CDSP from Compassion’s church partner, the Soldiers of Jesus Christ Ministries in Guinobatan when the church actively recruited children who were residing very near Mount Mayon. Alicia recalled that as she was writing down her son’s name on the list of would-be CDSP beneficiaries she already cried with joy. “I knew such a program would be a big help to us because we have very little in life,” she explained, as she again began to cry. “There are days when my husband doesn’t make a single peso when the trucks (to gather stones from the quarry) didn’t come.”
Dominic’s father, Domingo is a farmer and occasionally works in the quarry to earn about PHP 100 to PHP 400 (USD 2 to USD 8) per day for his family of five. Due to the boulders deposited by Mayon Volcano through the years on a clearing not far from where their family lives, quarrying has become a leading occupation among the fathers of beneficiaries in the area. Fifteen beneficiaries reside within the 7-km diameter, while over 200 are situated within 9 km. The church is about 10 km away.
“We intentionally targeted to register families within the hazard zone because we knew that the volcano could erupt any time and therefore those families are among the neediest in our municipality,” explained Jennifer.
Mayon is known to erupt every three to five years or so. Evacuating for safety is not news for most of the families, including Dominic’s. The last most devastating eruption was in 2006 when Mayon teamed up with a major tropical cyclone, burying several villages and killing more than 2,000 people. Guinobatan is a municipality of the province of Albay, which is a storm-prone area as it faces the Pacific Ocean.
In 2014, a super typhoon hit the province and thousands of homes, including Dominic’s bamboo house, were completely destroyed. Compassion would later reconstruct Dominic’s house using concrete and sturdier materials. Alicia could not be more thankful. In tears she said, “Before CDSP, we simply looked for bamboo shoots, bamboo leaves and some felled lumber to rebuild our house, only to be destroyed again by another typhoon. We could not afford to construct a concrete house and so I am very thankful for Compassion’s help.”
Still without paint and not completely finished, Dominic’s house stands strong against major typhoons, but they had to leave it as they hiked to the evacuation center. Dominic was worried for his pet dogs and chickens but he and his family had to go. In the week after January 13, families moved from one to two to three evacuation centers (public schools and government buildings) further and further away from the volcano. Finally, they have settled in several centers not far from the Soldiers of Jesus Christ Ministries. Four weeks after the initial eruption, thousands have returned home but those living within the 8-km area remained in evacuation centers. The centers were crowded with 20 families per room, but with a steady supply of food and clean water coming from the local government and several local charitable organizations. The remaining evacuees were thankful although they could not wait to march back home where there is fresh air and enough space to move about. A total of 273 families from PH0408 have sought refuge in evacuation areas, and over 600 more families from five other affected church partners of Compassion.
On February 11, Dominic was happy to finally attend worship again at the Soldiers of Jesus Christ Ministries. He made sure to be at church that day since it was his birthday on the 10th. Dominic wished to return home soon to check on his pets and clothes, especially those that were given by his sponsor. Until the government lowers the alert level to one, only his father can visit their house from time to time to safeguard their belongings. Although their home was neither touched nor damaged by the volcanic activities, the family is worried about their source of income in the months to come since quarrying may be put on hold and farming could be difficult due to the ashes that have settled on the soil.
Dominic also can’t wait for the Shepherd Child Development Center to resume their weekly learning activities on 24 February 2018. He said he enjoys hearing Bible stories. Just before the eruption, they were taught that God made everything, including mountains and volcanoes.
“When Mayon erupted,” the 11-year-old said, “I wondered why Jesus allows volcanoes to destroy people’s homes. But then I realized that he protects and takes care of us at the same time, too, anyway. I was afraid and sad when we had to leave our home for safety, but I know God will make bad things good. For my birthday this year I wished that no one would get hurt”.