It takes one hell of a lady to command a ship that sees a crew of ten staff members and over 200 annual international volunteers work across 15 different projects aiding communities in Tacloban City as well as remote rural regions.
That woman is Helena Claire A. Canayong, fondly known as Wimwim, Director of Volunteer for the Visayans since 2013 — the year Supertyphoon Yolanda changed the Philippines forever.
“I had the most challenging year to become VFV’s Director,” recalled Canayong.
“We really did our best to make sure our communities were prepared.
“We brought food and supplies to each of VFV’s three community centres and visited each of them to make sure everybody was ready with a plan for what to do after the storm.
“We couldn’t know how severe the storm would be or that it would take five days to get the team together.”
VFV’s primary focus has always been the community’s most vulnerable members — its children. This was no different in the aftermath of Yolanda.
“We were busy dealing with our homes but we realised the children were frightened that VFV was closing because it was still full of debris,” explained Canayong.
“They were worried that when the relief period ended and they went back to their normal lives, VFV would no longer be part of the equation.
“So we made cleaning out the centre a priority and tried to do feedings downstairs to alleviate the stress on the local families while food was so scarce.”
This focus on providing a safer, healthier, happier future for disadvantaged Filipino children led to the initiation of one of VFV’s most successful welfare projects and the highlight of Canayong’s nine-year career with VFV.
The VFV Dumpsite Project takes children away from the dangerous life of scavenging plastics and recyclables at the city dump by connecting them with a sponsor who provides food subsidies, clothing, school supplies and weekly meals.
“Creating the Dumpsite Project—seeing former child scavengers going to college or practical arts schools—is my most memorable moment,” said Canayong.
Despite managing all aspects of VFV, from its administrative needs to monitoring and implementing various programs and projects, while still serving as a community worker and constantly battling the time vacuum of bureaucratic red tape — Canayong is halfway through a law degree at Tacloban’s DVOREF College of Law.
“I will continue in my community work but when I was younger I had dreamed of becoming a lawyer so I want to go through with it so I have no regrets later in life,” she explained.
It is this attitude that has the 35-year-old mother of two learning how to skateboard for the first time.
“When I was younger I always wanted to skateboard but my father wouldn’t let me, it was too dangerous an activity for his little girl,” she said.
“I am learning now because I don’t want to wonder about whether I could do it or not!”
*Written by volunteer Emma Bailie, journalist from Australia