On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Philippines, impacting the lives of roughly 16 million people. UUSC responded to the disaster immediately, and over the past three-plus years, we’ve supported 17 different partners in their long-term recovery efforts, with a focus on building community resilience to trauma and supporting sustainable livelihoods.

“It was clear to me that UUSC and our partners in the Philippines have achieved some extraordinary successes. I was able to see some of these results first-hand when I traveled to Biliran and Ormoc to see the work PKKK and RDI have been doing in their communities.”

As the country moves forward and UUSC’s support for Yolanda recovery winds down, I traveled to the Philippines last month for a series of impact-assessment meetings and site visits with our local partners. In total, 12 of our partners participated in the meetings, which took place in Cebu City. Following the meetings, I was also able to visit the communities of two of our partners: Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (National Rural Women Coalition, “PKKK”) in Biliran and the Rural Development Institute (RDI) in Ormoc, as well as the Cebu offices of our partners, Visayas Primary Health Care Services (VPHCS) and PhilACTS.

A group shot with our partners, PhilACTS, RDI, Lihok Pilipina, VPHCS, National Association for Social Work Education, Inc., PROCESS, and the Tacloban Social Workers, on the second day of the impact assessment meetings.

Assessing the impact of a three-year disaster recovery program is not a straightforward task, particularly in the Philippines, where much of the population now lives in fear of President Duterte’s brutal and illegal drug war. Yet, during my time there, as I listened to our fearless partners and met the people in the communities in which they work, it was clear to me that UUSC and our partners in the Philippines have achieved some extraordinary successes.

For the most part, the greatest impacts of UUSC’s Philippines program seem to fall into four broad categories:

  • Engagement with local government units (LGU), resulting in derived real benefits.
  • A demonstrated ability to grow their projects, often in ways that highlight a fundamental sustainability in their approach.
  • Strengthened relationships across the country, as our partners became a community unto themselves.
  • An increase in partner capacity and the capacities of their communities to persevere in the face of great personal and organizational challenges.

I was able to see some of these results first-hand when I traveled to Biliran and Ormoc to see the work PKKK and RDI have been doing in their communities.

Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan

Utilizing a “household-based organizing” model, PKKK has helped women in rural communities organize themselves, strengthen their livelihoods, and advocate for support from LGUs. After the women organize themselves, PKKK helps them establish a revolving loan structure and once the newly-formed organization demonstrates its longer-term viability, PKKK provides it with a capital infusion. The women are then able to borrow money to support individual livelihood projects as PKKK assists them with advocacy to the LGUs for further support.

I met with two of these communities in the barangays (or villages) of San Roque and Enage, in Biliran. In San Roque, roughly 30 women formed the Fisherfolks and Farmers of Barangay San Roque Women’s Association (FFSWA). Organized into six “clusters” by livelihood type, FFSWA has a slate of officers as well as a grievance reporting mechanism.

When I met with FFSWA, we gathered in a meeting space donated by the LGU, and the women told of how the FFSWA (with PKKK’s assistance) had helped them strengthen and grow their livelihoods in the aftermath of Yolanda, as well as how the government has stepped in – a direct result of FFSWA and PKKK’s advocacy – to help. For example, in addition to donating their meeting space, one LGU (the local Department of Environmental & Natural Resources) had recently asked the FFSWA to manage and carryout a mangrove reforestation project in the area.

FFSWA’s meeting space, donated by the LGU.

Walking around San Roque, we stopped into a number of sari-sari (neighborhood variety) stores, which FFSWA members had started or supported using loans from the organization. Though small, these stores are vital to the community. The nearest shopping area outside of the village is a long drive away and the women running these stores seemed appropriately proud of the service they are able to provide and the income they generate for themselves and their families.

After seeing the work of PKKK and FFSWA in San Roque, we traveled with PKKK to barangay Enage, where we met with a women’s organization still in its nascent stages. These women told us both of their initial successes – they had already lobbied the LGU to donate a hand tractor for farming operations – as well as their long-term goals. Ultimately, the women of Enage hoped they could help each other prosper and someday, share their good fortune with neighboring communities. I was struck by how their generosity contrasted with the wave of individualism on the rise in the west.

One of the FFSWA women describing her fishing operation.

Rural Development Institute

Some of the women of Boroc explaining how they process turmeric.

The next day, we traveled to barangay Boroc in Ormoc, where we had the chance to see RDI’s work in action. Like PKKK, RDI’s focus is on organizing rural communities (mostly farmworkers) and helping them strengthen their livelihoods, in part through advocacy to LGUs. Unlike PKKK, however, RDI conducts a needs assessment and then provides startup capital to the community in the form of livelihood materials, such as goats, chickens, or seeds.

One of the most exciting developments in Boroc is an upstart turmeric processing operation supported by RDI. While not a part of RDI’s initial proposal, when RDI’s Executive Director noticed that the farmworkers were simply burning the invasive turmeric root, she helped them learn how to turn it into its more valuable form (powder), lobby the LGU for a blender to help with production, and then ensure that the powder found its way to market.

Before leaving Boroc, we had the opportunity to participate in an inspirational “Passing-On the Gifts” ceremony. Gathered at a nearby school, community members who had received the last round of livelihood materials (in this case a goat, a chicken, and some roots and seeds for planting) passed these items on to the next round of recipients, who would then use these materials to support their own livelihoods before passing them on to the next group of recipients in a few months. To me, this was sustainability in action and it spoke of the promise of RDI’s work and the future of the rural communities in Ormoc. Making the ceremony even more meaningful was the knowledge that UUSC had also attended the first such ceremony in this same location.

“When it seems like we are living in especially dark times here in America, rather than despair, we should look to our partners in the Philippines – and elsewhere in the world – for inspiration and a reminder of what is possible in the face of adversity.”

As UUSC winds down its work in the Philippines, we are confident that we have supported strong partners who have done – and will continue to do – important and impactful work for marginalized communities. From the growth of CRM to the strengthening of disaster-resilient livelihoods, UUSC’s partners have made a real difference in many people’s lives after Yolanda. When it seems like we are living in especially dark times here in America, rather than despair, we should look to our partners in the Philippines – and elsewhere in the world – for inspiration and a reminder of what is possible in the face of adversity.

One of the goats being passed along at the “Passing-On the Gifts” ceremony in Boroc.