#AfterYolanda: Global Filipinos and PH resilience

#AfterYolanda: Global Filipinos and PH resilience
'How we deal with disasters, whose voices matter, what we prioritize, who defines danger, and who foots the bill are crucial questions that need to be probed'

The following text is courtesy of TIGRA 

The one-year commemoration of Typhoon Yolanda, is day of reflection, certainly for all of us engaged in recovery work in affected communities. In Bantayan Island, where 19,000 houses were destroyed in a single hour of Yolanda’s wrath, families still struggle to re-build their lives.  

Maribel, the wife of a fisherman and mother of 7 kids, knows exactly what her priorities would be, if only they get the Calamity Fund promised by the government.

“First, we will concentrate on fixing our house, and then hopefully buy a new motor [for our boat].  I guess we shouldn’t really fix-up our house since we’re going to have to leave this place. But we should at least to fix it so we can sleep.”    

She, like many others, have been waiting for the P30,000 promised by the government for totally damaged houses.  “Where we sleep, there’s still water coming in, so we have to move to the side without that drip.  So that’s our dream, that hopefully, we get that help.”

Stories like this epitomize the reality on the ground.  For Maribel, the grand problem of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) pales in comparison to the gritty problem of everyday life.  

“We don’t have money and we have many kids.  We’re not always able to catch fish from the sea.  Since the kids are studying, they need lunch.  There’s two of them [in high school] so that’s already 60 pesos per day.  But sometimes we give them less than that.  We give them 20 each. We have fish and rice anyway. They eat that.  Sometime we don’t give them any money anymore, only food.”

This ground-level reality is hard to reconcile with the timeline of aid and the policies coming from the top.   

TIGRA, like many others, has only recently joined the ranks of those working in disaster recovery.  Our original mandate, in service of Filipino American families particularly in San Francisco and New York, has been quite radically changed since Yolanda.  Admittedly, while disaster fundraising and relief drives have become almost a staple in the Filipino American calendar the past few years, Typhoon Yolanda has pushed TIGRA to grapple more seriously with root causes.   

We’ve begun to get real about the ‘new normal’ of climate change.  This has meant a crash course in the science, politics and economics of disaster. Climate change is a daunting topic, more so in the aftermath of a massive typhoon, where first and foremost is the question of survival. 

One year later, we want to keep the focus on survival but face the facts: solutions are not as simple as raising money for food packs and the logistics of aid. How we deal with disasters, whose voices matter, what we prioritize, who defines danger, and who foots the bill are crucial questions that need to be probed.

We have committed to building a long-term partnership for resilience in Bantayan Island.  For us, that means an investment in communication and engagement between frontline communities and transnational allies. 

In June 2014, TIGRA organized a “Resilience Tour”, bringing 10 environmental and social justice advocates from the US to Bantayan Island to work alongside and help support the next stages of transnational engagement.  As Francis Calpotura, Executive Director of TIGRA, succinctly put it in a support letter we circulated, “People now want to do more than just give money, they want to get their hands dirty, meet the folks they’ve helped, and see the situation first hand… TIGRA and its partner organizations in the Philippines believe that community resilience begins at the grassroots where ordinary people are mobilizing to make change.”

One of the fruits of this first ‘Resilience Tour’ is launching today:  an Environmental Curriculum, “Typhoon Season and the Climate Crisis”, designed specifically for  Filipino youth in the diaspora.  Together with Kaya Collaborative, a network of Filipino-American and Filipino-Canadian college organizations, we want to scale up diaspora engagement from relief to resilience and give young people the tools they need to take action on climate alongside frontline Filipino communities.

The launch took place on a live streaming video broadcast on Saturday, November 8, 2014, at 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time/5:00 pm Pacific Standard Time (Sunday, November 9, 2014 at 9:00 am Philippine Standard Time).  It included a discussion of how the Filipino diaspora can help communities in the Philippines address environmental changes.


While a group of students running a workshop on the climate crisis will not automatically solve the housing problem for Bantayanons like Maribel, it will address ground level barriers to resilience. 

“It starts with learning and ends with a more concrete vision of our personal avenues forward,” says Rexy Josh Dorado, founder and Chief Executive of Kaya Collaborative.  With our roots in the Philippines and our voices and numbers around the globe, we can raise up the story of Maribel as a priority in our approach to disaster. – Rappler.com

Melissa is a Filipino-Canadian-American with a passion for economic justice and a penchant for academic theory. She has an MA in Geography from the University of Toronto and a BA in Political Science from Brooklyn College, CUNY. She has been an activist for immigrant rights since 2004. She worked with TIGRA in New York City in 2009 where she helped pilot the Remit4Change program. She has been based in the Philippines since 2011 doing program development, snorkeling, trip planning, learning about fisheries, and generally discovering her island soul.


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