Elsie Nacilam has been living with her husband and three children at a creek-side, flood-prone area in Barangay Tumana, Marikina for 21 years. 

In 2018, she was “knighted” as an Earth Warrior, a member of a volunteer group formed by Bantay Kalikasan to help maintain the cleanliness of their “estero” or tributary which this environmental program of ABS-CBN Foundation rehabilitates.

Elsie is recognized as a community leader and a role model to her children, Khate (21), Faith (12), and Jarred (10), who are also Junior Earth Warriors.

Yet hidden behind that confident stance and pleasant smile is a painful past, unforgettable to her and her family. In September 2009, when typhoon Ondoy hit Metro Manila, submerging large areas of cities like Marikina, Elsie’s family home wasn’t spared. As if that wasn’t enough, her five-year old son died because of leptospirosis that same year.

They say that the past molds us into the person we are today. Challenges are what make people stronger. But how much can one endure?

Every day since March this year, more and more Filipinos struggle to make ends meet as the COVID-19 crisis has stretched out for over two months now.

“Napakahirap talaga,” shared Elsie. “Bilang nanay at asawa, dapat masigurado ko na malayo parin pamilya ko sa virus kasi madalas nasa labas ako. Tapos sa budget, ang inaasahan na sahod ng asawa at panganay ko wala dahil pareho silang walang pasok. Ang pera namin sa 4Ps na 2,500, minsan sa dalawang buwan, kaya pasalamat din sa SAP (Social Amelioration Program). Yung relief galing barangay at munisipyo pati na rin ang pinadala ng Bantay Kalikasan na para sa Earth Warriors, sobrang laking tulong po yun.”

Yet despite her own personal concerns, she still manages to serve her community without hesitation. 

For Elsie, her painful past is her motivation to do better, for her family and the people around her, catapulting her to become one of the role models in her community. Having experienced Mother Nature’s wrath first-hand, she learned that it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment.

A Bantay Bayan volunteer, a Block Chairman of the Silver Spring Home Owners Association (HOA), and a dedicated Earth Warrior, Elsie and other community leaders in their hometown prove that nothing will stop them from protecting and serving their community, not even this pandemic.

“Kahit pagod na ang katawan at isip, kahit walang sahod dahil sa lockdown, kailangan maging malakas pa rin bilang chairman ng aming block,” said Elsie.

“Minsan parang ayoko na nga at gustong sumuko dahil sa pagod at laki ng responsibilidad. Pero kung ako nangangailangan, mas marami dito ang talagang walang-wala. Bilang leader, kailangan masiguro ko na lahat ng members ko makakuha ng ayuda mula sa pamahalaan at ma-implement ang kautusan ng barangay o munisipyo sa aking nasasakupan.”

Whatever blessings Elsie receives, she makes sure to share it with everyone. She cooks food like chicken soup, viands, and makes sandwiches for free. And as an Earth warrior, she ensures that people will bring their own containers to avoid single-use plastics.

She also manages to have clean-up drives in the morning during window hours when they are allowed to go out together with her team, all while practicing social distancing.

They accomplished a total of 10 clean-up activities in the month of April. However, they have to do it with a limited number of people per clean up in compliance with the Enhanced Community Quarantine guidelines.

With the quarantine extension, block leaders assign four frontliners to guard each area for 12 hours starting 7:00 AM. She ensures that these frontliners are provided with lunch, snacks, and water while on duty, even if it means getting funds from her own pocket.

“Para sa akin, bilang isang ina, asawa, isang leader, at Earth Warrior, gusto ko makatulong dito sa komunidad namin kahit sa munting paraan lang.” Elsie shared.

Bantay Kalikasan honors the dedication and commitment of Elsie together with other community leaders and Earth warriors who continue to stay strong and optimistic despite crises that come their way. Like all of us, Elsie hopes that this pandemic will be gone soon and that all will go back to normal once again.