The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Susceptibility and Strength in the Philippines
December 12, 2013
Wendy Flick, interim manager of UUSC’s Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program, was on the ground in the Philippines last week to assess needs, forge new partnerships, and start strategizing for phase two of the response to Typhoon Haiyan (called Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines).
Spending time with survivors on Cebu and Leyte Islands, Flick witnessed an enormous amount of damage from the storm, which is being called the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history. “Some of the villages and towns were just completely wiped out,” she reports. “100 percent of the houses lost.”
Flick came back to UUSC’s offices moved by stories from survivors like Ricardo Ansit. The stories are heart-wrenching but also hold shining signs of hope and strength. Ansit and his neighbors lost their homes, but they also banded together to help each other construct temporary shelters from the debris.
Natural disasters are something people in this part of the Philippines are no stranger to, though the degree of devastation from Typhoon Haiyan is unprecedented. The low-lying areas that were in the storm’s path are particularly susceptible to dangerous conditions — more than a dozen typhoons a year, flooding, mudslides, plus residents had just experienced an earthquake three weeks previous. Flick recalls her conversations with people in the villages: “When you say ‘disaster,’ they’re like, ‘Which one?'” On top of that, more than 40 percent of the people are below poverty line in an area prone to human trafficking.
At the same time, there are a number of strengths that survivors have to draw on as they rebuild their lives:
- Environmental consciousness
- Agrarian reform and organic agriculture
- Functional government offering some services
- Good public education system
- Strong networks of committed nonprofits serving many sectors
UUSC is considering these strengths as it wraps up phase one of the emergency response and moves into a strategic, longer-term phase two response. During the first three to four weeks after this crisis, phase one included identifying key grassroots partners, distributing emergency grants, identifying an on-the-ground consultant to facilitate UUSC’s work, and assessing needs.
As phase two begins, UUSC will be working with partners throughout the region to develop strategic projects that support people who are being overlooked or excluded from traditional aid efforts. Based on her initial assessment, Flick sees important work to be done in the areas of food sovereignty, alternative housing, and the protection of women and children. She is already drawing on work UUSC has done in Haiti — particularly eco-villages, recycled container gardens, and trauma resiliency training — to explore models that could be a perfect fit in the Philippines.
Flick is already in conversation with the Trauma Resource Institute (TRI), a UUSC partner, to address a dire need for trauma treatment. Flick speaks to the trauma she saw: “It’s everywhere, and it’s huge. People aren’t sleeping, kids are acting out. There’s a huge need for trauma resiliency and recovery. I described the program that we did in Haiti with TRI, and everyone is very eager to start that as soon as possible.” Plans are in development for a January training for 30 strategic partner staff, who will then be equipped to train other in vital skills to lessen the harmful effects of the trauma that survivors have experienced.
Flick is also exploring how UUSC can act as a bridge between two different spheres of the aid efforts. “I went to the protection cluster meeting, which is the ‘grasstops’ — the United Nations, large international nonprofits. Virtually no grassroots groups came. I find that over and over in disasters, that there’s such a disconnect between the two groups — and they really need each other, but they end up working separately. This disconnect really harms both sides.”
UUSC’s approach to disaster relief prioritizes the voices of survivors in designing relief efforts that will truly meet their needs and ensure that their human rights and dignity are being respected. To that end, UUSC is working in close partnership with grassroots organizations and communities to develop and draw on innovative work that can be easily implemented and replicated.