Last year, Simon Chambers’s trip to the Philippines was derailed by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which came just three weeks after the Bohol earthquake. But this fall, the communications coordinator of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) spent 12 days in the Cebu region of the Visayas island group documenting the inspirational resilience of the Filipinos as they work together to rebuild.
Chambers was visiting the project sites of several PWRDF partners, which include the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the Southern Partners Fair Trade Center and the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center. Together, these NGOs address many issues, from food security and income generation to human rights and the arts. [PWRDF is the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada.]
Chambers was struck by the intelligent integration of a relatively new way of partnering called clustering. “We asked agencies working on small projects to put in grant proposals as one cluster rather than sending us a lot of separate applications from individual agencies,” says Chambers, whose lively blog on his Sept. 21to Oct. 3 Philippines trip can be found on the PWRDF’s website. pwrdf.org/ “I was unsure how this would work on the ground but I came to see how agencies can come together and work efficiently on a lot of projects in reconstruction and relief.”
Chambers was also impressed by the generous spirit of the Filipino people. No sooner had the earthquake response begun than the typhoon struck and the focus of response shifted. “The earthquake victims had lost homes and livelihoods and schools, too, yet they said, ‘Our brothers and sisters need help more,’ ” he says. “They didn’t begrudge the aid going to the typhoon victims. It was so gracious. It felt like a moment of grace.”
According to Chambers, the PWRDF would typically contribute about $40,000 a year to ongoing partnerships in the Philippines, more in times of disaster. “We raised $800,000 for typhoon relief and also sent more than usual to the Bohol earthquake response.”
His journey took him to several different islands (the Philippines has 7,100 islands and 100 indigenous languages). “Often I’d get passed off to a new translator since the one I was working with didn’t know an island’s local dialect,” says Chambers, who admits his knowledge of Tagalog, the national language, is pretty much limited to “thank you.”
Visiting Jinamoc Island, in Samar, he saw first-hand the effectiveness of a holistic model, in which different partners of the ACT Alliance (a global coalition of 140 churches and NGOs) agree to take on different projects, thereby avoiding wasteful duplication. The NCCP, for instance, is building safer houses for fisher families on a hillside about 200 metres inland and is putting up fisherman’s barracks for storage and accommodation near the shore.
Finn Church Aid is rebuilding typhoon-damaged classrooms, while Norwegian Church Aid is tackling water and sanitation. “All kinds of ACT members are coming together to provide the necessities of life in terms of water, hygiene, schooling and employment. They’re even looking at providing fishing boats,” he says. “The partners borrow supplies from each other. The generosity and teamwork are really great to see.”
Did he ever feel an impetus to pick up a hammer or hoe and pitch in? No, he says. “I don’t see the point of spending thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles to take paying work away from a local person.”
Most impressive of all, Chambers says, are the strength and good humour of the people who saw at least 90 per cent of their homes devastated and 80 per cent of their coconut palms toppled but nevertheless started right away on the long process of reconstruction.
And a very long process it is. “It’s not over in the three months it’s in the papers,” says Chambers. “It takes multiple years to rebuild homes and schools and give psychosocial support and a sense of normalcy to people who are still scared every time it rains.”