It was John Lesner Paliza’s first time becoming an evacuee. He lived comfortably in Sorsogon all his life. When he and his wife, Janelle, got married, they decided to stay in Albay. It’s been only three years since they moved to their home in Brgy. Salugan when Mayon erupted. John Lesner planned to move back to his hometown in Sorsogon with his family, but they could not just leave their relatives in Albay while the volcano was still active.

In the typical Filipino family, it’s usually the mother who is left to care for the children, but John Lesner was just as hands-on with his children as a mother could be. When asked about his wife, John Lesner said she was doing the laundry. “’Pag maglalaba [siya], ako mag-aalaga ng bata. ‘Pag magluluto [ako], siya naman mag-aalaga ng bata.” (When she’s doing the laundry, I take care of the children. When I cook our meals, she looks after them.)

Life could have been a lot different, though. Before Mayon erupted, John Lesner was supposed to start work at a construction site in Malilipot, a town an hour away from his home in Taladong. He had been struggling to find a stable job for months, and the job in Malilipot seemed like his big break. But on the week when he was asked to report for work, the volcano erupted, and his family had to flee for evacuation.

After settling in at the evacuation site, John Lesner realized he could no longer take the job in Malilipot. There was so much to worry about: Janelle has been suffering from a cough since the eruptions started. His son was also suffering from a fever. Their youngest daughter needed supervision all the time because she was still so young.

When asked when he was planning to look for work again, John Lesner simply said, “Siguro pagkatapos nitong [evacuation]. Hindi ko maiwan itong pamilya ko, eh… Baka may mangyaring masama sa kanila nang wala ako, eh.” (Maybe after the evacuation. I cannot leave my family behind. Something bad might happen to them while I’m away).

Life in the evacuation has been a struggle for the Paliza family. They haven’t had any income since John Lesner had to stop working. They couldn’t rely on farming, either, as the farmlands in Taladong now have restricted access.

John Lesner is grateful that there are people and institutions like Operation Blessing that are helping them get through. “Mahirap din. Malaking tulong din ‘yung mga relief [goods]. Kung walang relief, paano na kami dito? Saka yung kumot, mauubos yung pagkain pero eto araw-araw na namin magagamit, lalo sa gabi. Kaya maraming salamat sa inyo, Operation Blessing!” (It’s hard, too. The relief goods are a big help. If there were no relief, how would we survive? Especially the blanket, the food will run out, but we can use this blanket every day, especially during the night. Thank you, Operation Blessing!)

Hundreds of families in Albay are struggling with their livelihoods because of the eruptions. Family heads like John Lesner shoulder most of that burden.

According to the local government, it might take two to three months (if alert levels are not raised) for the residents to stay in evacuation sites. With Alert Level 3 still raised over Mayon, a significant number of people are unable to return to work. This includes John Lesner, who will have to wait for some time before he can secure employment and regain a source of income.