Several days after Typhoon Sendong unleashed its fury on a city sound-asleep, food manufacturer and exporter Del Monte Philippines sent one of its backhoe/loaders to help clear debris on affected residential areas.
College student John Sumintang, 20, who grew up along Carmen’s riverdike, said he’s glad Del Monte is clearing away debris where houses of friends once stood in sitio Acacia. John said: “This backhoe does not only clear away dirt; it sweeps away grim reminders of death and destruction – so we can move on.”
Since then, the clean-up team has grown to three backhoes and two dump trucks for hauling debris to landfill sites and two water trucks for washdown of cleared areas. As the team hauled away fallen trees and torn houses that litter muddy streets, communities slowly get back on their feet. Students are back in school; business is slowly perking up.
Cagayan de Oro City Councilor Atty. Alvin Calingin earlier requested Del Monte for assistance to shore up rehabilitation work in key areas. Kag. Calingin has also asked the assistance of other generous benefactors who have willingly loaned a payloader and two dumptrucks to complement the clean-up effort. Even with three backhoes and two dumptrucks working full-time, the task is simply too big for one group to do. The task calls for an entire community to come together and share in whatever way it can.
The idea of a bigger cleanup drive was sparked by a simple bayanihan spirit initiated by volunteers from Del Monte’s residential areas or camps. Mostly members of Plantation’s “eco-brigades” who undertake tree-planting and cave clean-ups in Bukidnon, they came down in jeepney loads to the city to help several dozens of cannery employees clean their homes so these can be ready for reoccupancy by New Year’s Eve. Bringing their own showels, pails, brooms and brushes, these eco-volunteers took turns to scrub clean muddy floors and walls and dig away dirt. Their presence brought the sunshine back into the life of grieving families and a desolate landscape. A doctor who lives near a cannery worker’s family, and was herself a beneficiary of the cleanup, said she’s happy that Del Monte has fanned out is efforts to clean up homes of neighbors of its employees. She said: “These kind people from Del Monte started the work for us, and gave us back hope. Now, we’re ready to finish the job ourselves.”
But bringing out debris stacked inside homes only kept litter piling up on the streets. Del Monte sent in its mechanized clean-up team to augment the bayanihan effort of its eco-brigades.
This second phase of Sendong emergency efforts is actually a challenge to the company’s logistical requirements as equipment for the planting season are now on city streets. But reaching out to the community in both good times and in emergencies has deep roots in Del Monte’s 85-year history. From a tradition started by its pioneers, the company values the support of communities from which it draws strength to grow its business. Then as now, Del Monte believes in “Helping communities help themselves.”
Del Monte employee Sonny Buenvenida, whose house was completely washed away in Acacia Street, Carmen, welcomes the efforts of Cannery colleagues who volunteered to distribute relief goods (food, vitamin-rich juice, clothes, beddings) across 10 barangays of the city since the floods. Goods and services valued at over P10 million were distributed here as well as in Iligan City. Relief operations continue as some 20,000 liters of water are delivered every day to various points in the city. During the early days of the calamity, Del Monte Foundation provided up to 5,000 free cooked meals as volunteers make a daily round of the city’s evacuation centers. Mobile medical teams hold free clinics twice a week, which also give free medicines for the deadly leptospirosis disease following an outbreak in the city, and for other diseases. Nurses are dispatched to bring medicines to households of company employees and refer other patients to the company’s mobile medical teams. The company is also exploring partnerships with agencies to help survivors rebuild their homes.
Del Monte Philippines, founded in 1926, provides jobs to over 10,000 workers at its cannery in this city and farms in Bukidnon and MIsamis Oriental; and generates livelihood opportunities to another 50,000 families in the region.