Strength In Devastation

When I first came to Butuan to open the new AdPlotter/Abre office, I knew in my heart that our efforts were going to do more than provide jobs for the people of this city. There was an even bigger picture involved. Sure enough, I hadn’t even moved our employees into our new office space when we received a call from the mayor’s office. A tragedy had hit the city the night before, one that would bring tears to our eyes as we saw the devastation. There was an explosion in a home and it set off a fire that burned down several residential blocks of homes – 257 to be exact, leaving 1800 people homeless.

fire 6 adplotter team in rescue trucks

I immediately reached out to our AdPlotter managers and agents and we all jumped into the situation with both feet. We purchased food and hygiene products to accommodate those in the shelters, and noticed that the most vulnerable seemed to be the elderly and children. We bought over 100 pairs of shoes for the kids and towels for the seniors in addition to canned goods, milk, and other items. Before we could even get back to the office to put the bags together, we had a whole troop of police officers show up on their own time to help us assemble and distribute to the desperate families. Our team was part of a community of amazing people ready to pull together and help.

fire 3

The mayor’s office sent transportation to help us bring all of our bags of supplies to the main shelter. When we arrived, my heart sank. The makeshift shelter was a covered basketball court. Reality hit me. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. There was no electricity or water for the victims and we realized we were on the ground helping before the Red Cross could even arrive with bottles of water. The victims’ bedding for the next few nights was going to be cardboard and mats on the ground. Some families were forced to stay in their burned homes to keep squatters from taking over their property. They did what they could to get a little bit of shelter on their land while surrounded by smoldering ashes and hot ambers. What a reality check. Back in the States, we have so many more resources when disaster strikes.

fire 10

As the day wore on, part of the AdPlotter team worked with the city’s disbursement team to hand out our food bags, and the other half of the team walked around with backpacks filled with candy, cookies, and crackers to bring smiles to the victims’ faces. The families got a chance to talk about the disaster and feel how much we care.

My big takeaway in this whole disaster was the resiliency of the Butuan people and how the community pulls together to help. We were so privileged to have been included in that effort. You could see the love for their family, love for God, and the appreciation of the help provided. They knew a hard road lay ahead, but they took the time to celebrate the moment. The older folks enjoyed the cookies and conversation. The kids showed off their new shoes and worked us for extra candy – just like kids should.

fire 2

As the day grew to a close and it was time for us to go, the mayor’s vehicles were ready to load us up and take us back to the comfort of our homes (and my hotel). As we were leaving the basketball court, the families started singing to us to thank our team and honor our efforts. It was a very quiet and reflective ride back, and I couldn’t help but tear up all over again. The AdPlotter/Abre team’s conclusion? The people we came to help did far more for us than we could ever do for them.

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