Free rides, moving forward, and a volunteer beauty queen

Response from local and international volunteers to help Typhoon Yolanda’s victims has been so overwhelming, one can’t help wondering what drives a person to care this much. Let’s meet one of the volunteers.

Miss Philippines-Earth 2006 Cathy Vital has witnessed a family reunite with loved ones when she and husband Jonard drove their assigned typhoon survivors from Pasay City to Marikina. 

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Families flown into Villamor Airbase about every two hours need transportation to their relatives in Metro Manila or at any point in Luzon; and volunteers give these rides for free.

“We met survivors who are ready to take on the rest of their lives, clueless as they may be of what lies ahead,” says Cathy who grew up in the Airbase neighborhood. Their old house, she says, was only a stone’s throw away from where the C-130s land, carrying survivors from Samar and Leyte as part of “Oplan Hatid.”

“The ride was long and the story they told was heartbreaking,” she recounts. “They are tired but they are all determined to go back and rebuild their home.”

Cathy is full of stories about volunteerism and she believes the Philippines is what it is now because of people who have the initiative to lend a hand. Way before these efforts for Yolanda victims, she has been participating in and organizing activities such as relief operations, tree planting, clean-ups and charity for seven years now.

Miss Earth (Water) 2006 Catherine Vital with Miss Earth 2012 Tereza Fajksová from Czech Republic at a relief operations for Yolanda victims

After turning over her crown as Miss Philippines Earth in 2006, Cathy was extremely humbled by the trust given to her as the first Executive Director of the Miss Earth Foundation.

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Her first project was the I Love My Planet Earth School Tours, where Miss Earth and Miss Philippines Earth winners went to different schools and communities to spread environmental awareness. Other countries where the pageant is also locally held followed suit.

At Cote d’Ivoire

Cathy is also a spokesperson for various causes and the recent addition is Inquirer’s Read-Along Program, which highlights the power of knowledge and reading.

Her passion in volunteering started rather early. She was in grade school when she had her first shot at an unlikely outreach program—the Maximum Security Prisons in Muntinlupa. “My parents also taught me to share: if not to the church, then to random people we don’t know,” she says.

With students in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Asked what her struggles are in pursuing altruistic passions she cites some painful ones.

“It came to a point where I got burnt out. I have been shouted at, demeaned, and my car scratched because we cannot help everyone. They accused us of choosing the people we help and being selfish preparing only so-so number of goody bags,” Cathy recalls.

“When you come in with the intention to share and still be called selfish in the end, it could be very discouraging. But at the end of the day, we have to be more understanding of people especially when they are under stress from tragedies or from the pressure of the basic human need to survive. That’s where my Psych degree comes handy (laughs),” says Cathy, who took Psychology at the University of the Philippines Diliman and received a diploma in Environment and Natural Resource Management from the University of the Philippines Open University.

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Here’s to Upcycled fashion (the gown was made of sack of rice). For an Earth Day celebration.
Photo Credit: Herson Nebaya

Her environmental advocacy, she says, has been very challenging from Day 1. “People don’t want to believe you. Times have now caught up. The everyday events in our lives now do the advocacy of preaching about climate change. It’s hard to get people to care but it takes patience.”

Tree planting and nature appreciation in Finland

“We still have a long way to go to rise again as a nation. Every act counts. Your contribution matters. This is a shining moment for the Filipinos.”

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Written by: Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.

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