Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on July 16, 2021
The super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) was one of the most devastating typhoons ever recorded when it ravaged Leyte and Samar in 2013. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), 6,300 people were killed, 1,062 were missing, and 28,688 were injured. Tacloban City was reduced almost to a rubble, the survivors unable to access basic services. The images shown on international news reports activated relief efforts by local, national, and international organizations. The tragedy also spurred people and groups to band together and organize donations to their extended families and hometowns.
Theresa Gloria was then living in The Netherlands and was one of those individuals horrified to see fellow Warays screaming for help on television news reports. She was so moved by what she saw that she started crying. Her son heard her crying and came out of his room to comfort her. “It’s okay mama. It’s going to be okay,” Theresa can still vividly recall what her son said to her that moment. Her son went back to his bedroom and came back with his coin savings. “Here mama, you can give this to the children, to the people of the Philippines.” She was touched by her son’s generous gesture and it gave her the idea to post a shout-out on Facebook asking for relief goods. To her surprise, her post went viral.
Donations came pouring in from The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. One company donated 5,000 carton boxes. Her home was soon filled with donation boxes that friends offered her the use of their warehouse. A team of more than 300 volunteers surrounded her out of which a dozen leaders worked to sort and pack clothing, food, water, soap, medicines, toys and shoes to ensure the success of the operation. Theresa provided leadership and coordination with this great team while at the same time negotiating with road, sea, and air transport companies. She was grateful for the team’s assistance as well as the donors and volunteers. She was interviewed by Dutch television and radio stations. Theresa’s post resulted in four 20-foot containers hauled for free by TNT and shipped by a Dutch shipping company to the Philippines.
The relief drive was extremely successful but it somehow took a toll on her. It consumed so much of her time and money that she missed her home mortgage for three months. Looking back, Theresa does not regret any of the actions she made knowing that she was able to help her kababayans in their time of need. She knows the importance of support to weather the literal and figurative storms and typhoons in people’s lives.
Theresa was born in Palo, Leyte and finished high school at St. Mary’s Academy. Her mom died shortly after her graduation. Her dad brought her to live with her aunt who was married to an American, living in Angeles City, Pampanga. Her older sister helped her get her first job at the hospital in Clark Air Base. She paid for her college studies with the money she earned. She then transferred to work at the American Legion Post 123. She met a Dutch restaurateur who would become her husband shortly thereafter. Mount Pinatubo blew and closed the two American bases, affecting the local economies depending on the American dollar. Her husband’s restaurant business suffered and they made the decision to go home to Arnhem in The Netherlands in 1992.
Theresa wanted to send money home to her family, a deeply ingrained Filipino tradition of grown children financially supporting parents and family members. She took this as a challenge to work and be independent in her adopted country. She enrolled in the Dutch language course and registered with an interim agency to be considered for job opportunities leading to a contract. She immediately found work, starting as a dishwasher at a company restaurant due to the language barrier. With her work ethic and perseverance, she rose to become the manager of the company restaurant of ABN AMRO’s regional office in Arnhem. She became a Dutch citizen within three years. She took a leave of absence when she became pregnant and decided not to come back to care for her son. She needed to make money even while at home so she bravely ventured into the balikbayan box business even without experience. She was successful at her business venture but looked for a better opportunity.
At this time, her marriage showed signs of difficulties. Her husband was mostly absent due to work and they became estranged over time. The decision to divorce was inevitable and the separation period affected her deeply. Theresa bravely faced her new future by keeping herself busy. Her natural flair for business propelled the success of her next venture, a day care center. She also found happiness again with a new life partner. They decided to move over the border to Genk, Belgium. Her partner asked her to lend a helping hand with the building’s restaurant that needed upgrading. She took responsibility for the turnaround and then managed the company restaurant over several years. She then began to plan her next move carefully.
Understanding the need to diversify as the key to sustained success, she established her own company Easy Care. Easy Care’s Helping Hand division aims to connect kababayans and other Europeans with clients mostly from within the domestic market segment needing house cleaning, babysitting, housekeeping, and gardening services. This allowed for a broad range of services in and outside the house to be delivered through automatic bookings and payments through her website. She currently has more than 500 workers on her database for her test market Luxembourg. She is planning to initiate a social media campaign to attract more workers across all of Europe to apply and become members of the Easy Care European community. She also plans to expand her field of operation to include nurses and caregivers.
She is inspired by the challenges to build a sustainable and responsible business model that has a twin focus: Help hardworking kababayans to find an opportunity to earn extra money, AND to assist those who want to develop their capabilities by providing educational and coaching opportunities to achieve their goals. “It has to be win-win. It is important that I add a social responsibility component to my business initiative. It is the justification for our reason to exist,” she explained.
Theresa has no plans to stop. Her motto is a quote of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” She shared, “there are so many things I still want to do. I am into public speaking. I want to lead people and help people. Let’s see where life takes me.”