While there, Give2Asia visited six sites to determine how to best utilize the US$1.5 million disaster relief fund that organizations and individuals had donated to Give2Asia following the storm in November.
In the Storm’s Aftermath
Three months had passed since Typhoon Yolanda careened into the Philippines, ripping apart homes, roads and entire cities with some of the strongest winds ever recorded. As information about the storm’s impact came out, Give2Asia’s San Francisco staff remained closely in contact with staff in the Philippines, going back and forth on what strategy would have the greatest impact.
But from San Francisco, news about the extent of Yolanda’s devastation painfully trickled in slowly, making it hard for Give2Asia to implement the type of grassroots-based recovery strategy that the organization has been specializing in since 2001. Since its inception, Give2Asia has funded and linked local organizations with regional expertise and local communities for over 40 natural disasters in Asia.
In the days immediately following the storm, Give2Asia partnered with the Philippine Businesses for Social Progress (PBSP) and Pepsi to provide life-saving assistance, such as temporary shelters, nutrition packages and medical supplies, to families in Madridejos, Cebu. When Give2Asia began funding the project, virtually no assistance had gone to this, the poorest of the three municipalities in the Bantayan Islands.
Like so many of the disaster recovery efforts Give2Asia has coordinated over the years, the local community had a central role reviving their own livelihoods. Through a cash-for-work program, PBSP and Give2Asia hired local community members to help rebuild infrastructure, de-clog canals, create drainage and irrigation lines and, most importantly, provide immediate income for themselves and their families. Give2Asia commonly uses this approach because it promotes self-reliance and discourages dependency on relief organizations for income, food and shelter, thereby improving the chances of a sustainable recovery.
As time passed though, it was becoming apparent that any accurate assessment of how recovery funds were going to be best spent and what areas needed it most, would require further on-the-ground analysis.
By January, Give2Asia’s U.S. and Philippines-based staff decided it was appropriate to travel to outlying areas in the Philippines to get a better picture of the extent of the damage and what was needed. After meeting in Manila, Give2Asia traveled to Cebu City, followed by Maya (Barangay), Dannbantayan, and Cebu Province before heading to Tacloban. As was expected based on reports, Tacloban had been inundated with humanitarian relief organizations that had used the metropolitan area to set up their base of operations.
However, the true devastation lay outside the city. One area that stood out in particular was Guiuan in Eastern Samar, the first point where the storm made landfall. It was Manila-based Alexie Mercardo’s first time Guiuan, and the coastal drive from Tacloban to Guiuan with beautiful views of the sea and limestone cliffs left her in awe of the scenery and the beauty of the island. But this beauty was only the backdrop for the chaos that had befallen the city itself.
“The amount of devastation seemed to have no end,” Alexie observed as she approached the city. “Every street had an overturned truck or car, tents littered the streets and most houses were disheveled and missing roofs.”
“In some cases, I wanted to take photos to prove that three months later this kind of devastation still existed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t believe that people lived here. This was their home and it seemed too disrespectful for those who were suffering.”
Most of the roads had been cleared, and a steady stream of relief supplies had been coming through the airstrip for weeks. People were using salvaged materials and lumber from the fallen coconut trees to build a temporary roof over their heads, but much of Guiuan remained a tent city.
Mr. Recti, the Community Resources Manager for the municipal government in Guiuan City Hall, explained to the Give2Asia staff the municipal government’s shift toward medium and long-term recovery. He went on to explain that they had convened groups of fishermen, farmers and women entrepreneurs and brought city department heads together to develop a comprehensive recovery strategy. It was hard to imagine that disaster response organizations would soon be leaving the city. The Guiuan City Hall, like most of the city’s buildings, still lacked a roof, windows, or power.
Mr. Recti stepped away from his desk and over a large puddle to point to the livelihood study results taped to the wall. Lupok barangay, home to 600 families, needed 85 chickens, 33 cows and 3 carabaos. Taytay, home to 200 families, needed 133 fishing nets, 11 fishing hooks and three goats. Ngolos, home to 400 families, needed 84 seaweed farms and 39 fish corrals. Each of the 50 barangays and its livelihood needs were listed out on the wall – mostly animals and equipment.
As the meeting continued, a tropical storm rolled in, drenching the second story and creating a cascade of rainfall that barely missed Mr. Recti’s desk, while the rainwater in the streets below rose into the first floor lobby, soaking the rice sacks that were stacked to the ceiling.
In what was a powerful symbol for the municipal employees’ dedication to Guiuan’s recovery, the study results hanging on the wall was all that was left dry, protected by the only piece of roof left on the building.
Nearly 1,400 relief tents were destroyed by the small tropical storm on that day in Guiuan. From the relative safety of the second story of the leaky City Hall, Give2Asia’s staff watched water levels rise, washing away the temporary shelters that entire families called home and making people scramble in desperation during lulls in the storm to make what repairs they could to their homes.
Give2Asia’s staff left the city for Tacloban the next day.
“I will always remember the crude signs and placards along the highway,” recalled Alexie. “They read ‘Stay Strong, Samar!’”
Upon returning to San Francisco, Give2Asia had a much clearer idea of what was needed and what investments would have the greatest impact.
Give2Asia continued its commitment to projects assisting the people of Madridejos, a project that has expanded to include Daanbantayan. Now in collaboration with both PBSP and the Department of Education, a new grant has since provided 34 teachers and 1,542 elementary students much-needed educational supplies in an effort to compensate for the 42 schools destroyed in the storm. In December, 15,852 students (roughly 95 percent of pre-storm attendance) had returned to school with virtually no supplies.
New projects have also been established in collaboration with Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA) and the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) to provide short and long-term socio-economic rehabilitation for communities in Baco and Naujan, Barangay of Barayong, Sitio Kauswagan, as well as Palo and Tanauan of Leyte.
As for Give2Asia’s Yolanda Recovery Fund, it was decided that it would have the greatest impact on Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
Even though Give2Asia’s relief efforts are still in initial phases, it has already begun developing partnerships with local relief groups in Eastern Samar. Projects include working with The Guiuan Development Foundation Inc. (GDFI) to revive the local economy by strengthening local fish sanctuaries and providing fishermen the needed supplies to restart their work. There are additional partnerships development to help rebuild homes and public spaces that double as a producer-direct marketplace and a disaster shelter, that unlike the previous shelter, would not collapse in the event of a disaster.
Additionally, Give2Asia has established connections with Homonhon Environment Rescuers Organization (HERO) to replant calamansi trees and diversify the region’s horticultural production. Other projects include collaborating with Philam and the Department of Education to rebuild schools in Guiuan before classes start in June.
As Give2Asia continues to build its disaster recovery effort in Guiuan, there still remains a great need for similar, region-specific efforts in other outlying areas of the Philippines. From the onsite assessment done, it was apparent that there are many areas that to date have not received adequate attention from larger relief groups.
If you would like to donate to the Give2Asia Yolanda Recovery Fund focused in Eastern Samar or if you would like to learn about how to create your own tax-deductible recovery project in the Philippines, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.