Friday, May 9, 2014

Postcards from the Philippines: From Vulnerability to Resiliency

Tessie San Martin, CEO, Plan International USA This is part two in a two-part series covering Tessie's recent trip to the Philippines where she and other members of Plan International staff witness the rebuilding of the Philippines.

Post by Tessie San Martin - Plan International USA CEO

Today marks six months since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. As I referenced in yesterday's post, we are moving out of relief mode and into recovery. I’d like to share with you some specific examples of projects now underway and plans to help the people of the Philippines move forward and toward resiliency.

Safe Spaces 

Along with homes and businesses, many schools were literally washed away when the storm surge barreled in. During my visit to Hernani, I was shown around what is left of its high school by a brave young woman. She led us to where her class room used to be. It looked like a giant bomb exploded inside, blowing off the roof and carving huge holes across what remained of the school walls. That the sea could do this was sobering.

Standing inside what was the local high school.
Our young guide recounted that terrifying morning when her family, taking shelter in her house, saw the water rushing in. They fled to the roof and survived. Her aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews did not. I can see that this is exceedingly difficult for her to talk about.

I mentioned in my previous post that integration in our efforts is key. An extension of that is the way Plan is rebuilding a temporary primary and secondary school using local materials like coco lumber to replace the tents that have served as the school in the immediate aftermath. This puts the millions of felled trees to good use and gives community members the opportunity to work together gathering the material and assisting with the reconstruction.

As communities continue to repair the physical damage, what will take longer to address is the psychological trauma the storm brought along with it. Plan has provided psychosocial counseling to children, as well as the teachers and other caregivers.

Sharing a laugh with youth in a Child Friendly Space
Among the most effective interventions in the aftermath of such emergencies is the creation of Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) where youth up to age 18 can feel comfortable to play and talk about their fears and hopes. Plan provided hundreds of these in the region, working closely with the parents and the government's social welfare department. It offered paid training to the volunteers who staff these centers which, in turn, provided them with additional skills to enhance livelihood opportunities in the future.

When you approach these spaces you hear laughter and joy. Over time the infrastructure and training provided through the CFS in the emergency provides a foundation for improved early childhood education.


Disasters cause insecurity. Police services are stressed and criminal activity inevitably spikes. In such circumstances, children and adolescents are highly vulnerable. Human trafficking can be a problem when livelihoods are lost and desperation sets in.

Youth gather to discuss how to keep themselves safe.
Plan, working closely with the local authorities and communities, launched programs to provide counseling to adolescents and women as well as the local police on topics like gender-based violence. Such community-centered efforts provide an opportunity for peer-led education and for close collaboration between the barangays and the authorities to foster the creation of a longer-term climate of security and coordinated support for victims of gender based violence and trafficking.

Restoring Livelihoods 

Among the more effective interventions in post-disaster setting are cash-for-work (CFW) programs. These get money into circulation, not just helping to ensure parents have a means of sustaining their families but to inject cash into local economies that have been devastated. With so many families left destitute and robbed of their fishing or coconut farming livelihoods, these programs are literally lifesavers.

Plan's integrated approach has used CFW to rebuild houses and schools. Those eligible to participate learn carpentry, plumbing, and other skills and use them in the rebuilding effort. Plan does this in close collaboration with the government's vocational training and certification authorities. Workers are paid 260 pesos/day which is around $6 USD- the minimum wage rate being used by all CFW programs in the Philippines. When projects are complete, community-led committees help select eligible housing beneficiaries.

Over time, CFW efforts need to be phased out and replaced with livelihood programs focused on supporting agriculture rehabilitation, micro grants to help restock small stores, youth entrepreneurship efforts, and so on. Plan is completing a market scan to help guide the design of this longer-term livelihood program design and implementation effort.


No one wants another Haiyan. And it is unlikely a storm of this magnitude will emerge in this same region again soon. But with the typhoon season about to start again, resilience has to be top of mind. Plan's attention going forward is to ensure that disaster risk reduction (DRR) programming is fully integrated into all our programming. This includes working closely with the families, barangay, and municipal government authorities in better planning and awareness training for everyone - for preparedness has to be everyone's responsibility.

Press coverage of the typhoon dominated the airwaves in November. Today, few in the US talk about it. But we do need to talk about Haiyan. This series of blogs has tried to provide a glimpse into the enormity of the job facing us still. Our donors' support in the emergency has made a huge difference, literally helping to put lives back together again. But continued support for the affected children, families, and communities in the Philippines is very much needed.

While much has been done, much more remains to be done and it is very inspiring to see the spirit of the staff of Plan International in the Philippines. They are determined to stand by these communities for as long as it takes.

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