A fire survivor’s wish: school uniform, notebooks for the New Year

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo January 02,2019 - 09:11 AM

CEBU CITY, Philippines  — When she woke up to her neighbors’ screams on Christmas morning, Maria Rhea Beltran, 17, saw houses engulfed by a raging fire that was moving towards their rented home. 

Beltan, a Grade 11 student, immediately took her purse containing P700 which was set aside for payments for books and a T-shirt. 

Her siblings, Quennie and Lyza, were able to take their bags containing cash and cards. They woke up her three-year-old nephew, John Enrique, who was already asleep when the fire broke. Her mother, Epifania, was able to save her sister Lyza’s high school diploma. 

Within an hour after they fled the scene, their rented home was already a burning structure of red and orange flames. 

Gone were the appliances her sisters worked hard for. 

Fully awake from the adrenaline rush that hit her that morning, Rhea realized that the fire ravaged her school uniform and school bag along with her notebooks and pens. 

The Grade 11 student of the Don Carlos A. Gothong Memorial National High School thought of how she will earn the money she needed to have new sets of uniform. 

“Mahal baya among uniform. Tag-620 ang set. Kinahanglan ko og duha ka sets. Mao gyud akong nahunahunaan pagkakita nako nga sunog na gyud among giabangan,” said Rhea. 

(Our school uniform is pricey. Each set costs P620 and I need two sets. It was the first thing that I thought of when I saw that our rented home was ravaged by fire.)

This was not the firs time for Rhea to witness homes being burned by fire.

She cannot recall the specific years but said that there were two previos fire incidents in their village when their rented house almost caught fire. 

“This year, way swerte. Na sunog gyud ang balay,” she said.

(This year, we ran out of luck. Our house was burned down.)

It was supposed to be a regular Christmas season for the Beltrans. 

At 8 p.m., they shared a meal of Filipino-style spaghetti, pork humba, chicken adobo and fruit salad. 

“Christmas was not as festive this year so we were asleep at 10 p.m.,” said Rhea. 

Days after she woke up to the Christmas morning incident, authorities recorded a total of 388 houses affected by the fire. 

The fire displaced 659 families or 3,075 persons. Total damage cost was calculated to have reached P117.9 million. 

Most of the displaced families are now living with relatives while about 10 families took refuge at the Duljo-Fatima Sports and Cultural Complex and the nearby San Vicente Ferrer Chapel. 

Duljo-Fatima is an urban barangay with 17,000 population, according to the 2015 Census of the Cebu City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CCENRO). 

Despite losing their home on Christmas morning and welcoming the new year bared of nothing but the basic necessities, Rhea intends to go back to school on January 3. 

She will wear clothes donated by kind-hearted individuals. 

To raise money for her uniform, Rhea plans to wash clothes for her neighbors on Sundays. 

This is a “job” that she did for the past years.

She usually gets paid P150, which is enough money to sustain her transportation cost, snacks and lunch for the entire week. 

Her siblings help defray costs for other school expenses and projects. 

“Gipangutana bitaw ko kun mo undang ba ko og eskwela? Nitubag ko nga mo padayon ko. Sayang kaayo mo undang ko unya January na. Duol na sa finish line. Pait ang masunugan pero mo padayon ko og eskwela aron makahuman gyud ko. Kinahanglan lang gyud nako i-motivate akong kaugalingon,” she told CDN Digital. 

(I was asked if I would stop going to school? I replied that I will continue. It is a waste if I stop. It is now January 2019. I am edging closer to the finish line. It is difficult to be a fire victim but I will continue my studies so I can finish school. I just need to motivate myself.)/ dcb

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