Akbay-Aral in Tolosa: Lessons from a yellow school building

By: Justine Balane

When the Akbayanihan Akbay-Aral volunteer team went to the Daniel Z. Romualdez Memorial Elementary School in Tolosa town in Leyte (one of the hardest hit towns in Eastern Visayas during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda), we were greeted with the sight of a huge yellow-painted two-storey classroom building.

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The building was one of many casualties during the typhoon in November. I said to myself that it’s impossible for the kids to learn anything under this condition. The top floor was dilapidated; all that’s left standing were wooden posts, steel bars and debris. When it rained hard that morning, all the water flowed through the cracks and holes down to the bottom floor where more than 10 classes were sharing the little space. Some teachers and students had to make do with conducting classes in the lobby along with other sections because some classrooms were beyond repair.

My job that morning was to get the class lists for every grade level to make sure that every kid receives a backpack, pencils, notebooks and other things needed for school. I was to check the names of kids who were present that morning and mark those who were absent so the school can give them their bag and supplies when they come back.

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The school’s Officer-in-Charge Mr. Norman Alcala volunteered to walk with me to the classrooms so we can both collect the class lists from the teachers. He walked me to the white tent/makeshift classroom packed with almost one hundred children and two teachers. “These are already two classes,” Mr. Alcala told me. “They have to share one tent because our tents are few.”

Mr. Alcala said that when the sun is high, the tent can get really hot. There were no electric fans in sight. One teacher was sitting on the table, fanning herself with one hand, the other clutching a cold water bottle to her forehead. She had already listed the activities of the day on the blackboard but the heat was already unbearable — and it was only 9 in the morning. She had to cool herself down with her paper fan before she could start teaching her class about fractions.

After we completed the class lists, Mr. Alcala showed me where the other classrooms used to be. “That white building on the left—,” he said, pointing to a white-painted mound of debris. “That was our library.” When I asked him if they were able to save a few books, he shook his head.

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We went back to the yellow-painted classroom building where Mr. Gerald Paragas, an urban planner and TV journalist, was teaching a group of kids how to prepare themselves for the next storm. The kids were having fun with volunteers from University of the Philippines-Tacloban acting out scenarios of a house fire, a strong storm and other disasters.

I was busy watching the Disaster Risk Reduction training for kids when a little girl tugged at my shirt. She was about 10 years old, just 4 feet tall but when she asked me if her name was on my list, she had the confidence of someone taller and older.

Her name is Angelica. When I looked through the list and found her name, we became instant friends. She sat down with me and began to talk about her best friends Pearl and Ara and how she loves studying HEKASI (Heograpiya, Kasaysayan, Sibika) and doing the “Hokey-Pokey.”

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When it was time to distribute the bags, she lined up excitedly and ran back to me when she received her gifts from us. Asked what she planed to do with her new bag, her face brightened up and a wide smile formed from her little lips. “I already have a bag for school,” she said. “This one is for my brother.”

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As a volunteer, I like to think that we taught these kids an important lesson about giving. But here’s Angelica, 10 years old, whose love for her brother taught me more than I knew about sharing what we have for those who have none.

Volunteering for the Akbay-Aral School Caravan made me realize the value of bayanihan in times of need. Instead of just providing relief goods for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, Akbayanihan taught me that help should extend until they are able to get back on their feet. The caravan helped children return to school by giving them bags and notebooks but it also empowered them by teaching the kids how to prepare for disaster on their own.

The situation in Leyte is proof that repair and rehabilitation in Eastern Visayas still has a long way to go to return everything to normal. It’s imperative for ordinary people like me to step up to the challenge and give sustainable change to comfort the afflicted.

The huge dilapidated yellow-painted two-storey classroom building might be unfit as a learning environment but it was there where a 10 year old girl taught me the real meaning of sharing. ###

justine balane - author Justine Balane is a student from the University of the Philippines-Cebu and was one of the Akbayanihan volunteers during the School Caravan in Leyte held last June 16-18, 2014. 

Rakrakan for a (very) Good Cause!

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The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) will be holding a special staging of Rak of Aegis, a musical that highlights the Filipino Spirit’s resiliency amid disasters and features celebrated songs of the band Aegis. The funds raised through this special showing will go towards the Daycare Centers being constructed by the Akbayanihan Foundation in the Yolanda-ravaged areas. Contact (0917-845-0408) for tickets.

Tanauan Rehab Updates: MTF’s Maribi School now under construction

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June 5, 2014: The construction crew begins building their temporary barracks made of coco lumber, which they will occupy throughout the construction period. Other skilled workers begin forming the steel bars into columns and bed bars. Behind the workers is the totally destroyed Millennium School Building, which will be replaced by The Malaya and Tala School Building. The previous school building was built during the Ramos administration in 2000 and renovated by Jollibee in 2007. Although it is by far the newest built school building at Maribi Elementary School, it is the only building to be deemed “totally destroyed”.The sign on the left of the first photo reads: “On this site will rise the one-unit, four-classroom Malaya and Tala School Building presented by The Malaya and Tala Fund and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).”

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June 6-10: After fabricating the tie-beams and excavating the footings of the school building, the columns were finally ready to receive the concrete mixture to create the foundation.

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June 13-14: Workers in the first photo are manually preparing the concrete mix (cement, gravel and sand). According to Engineer Eusebio Culas of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) — 2nd photo — manually mixing is less accurate than using a mixer machine. The mixer on site was not working because of a missing screw piece. Less accurate measurements and manual mixing can lead to compromised structural strength, thus we immediately stopped the manual mixing. The foreman only allowed workers to continue once the mixer was fixed, the next day.

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June 20: Excessive rains in Week 2 of the project flooded the construction site, causing workers to stop work to manually scoop out the rainwater from the excavations. Not having a water pump on site delayed construction, as a water pump would have immediately removed the water from the excavations without requiring significant manpower. Still, it will take more than torrential rains to stop this project from moving forward!

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As of June 30: The basic framework of the Maribi School has already been set-up. Next comes the pouring of the concrete for the flooring and columns. In a few weeks time, these structures will be transformed into the 4 classrooms envisioned by Malaya and Tala, the two sisters behind the dream.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Miss Earth joins Akbayanihan’s Disaster Management Education for Young People

Last July 5, 2014, the beautiful ladies of Miss Earth-Philippines joined the Akbayanihan Volunteer Group in paving the way for campaigning among young people of the importance of personal safety and disaster preparedness.

The Akbayanihan Volunteer Group, in partnership with the Philippine Mt. Everest Team’s Dr. Ted Esguerra, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO) of Quezon City and the Wilderness Search and Rescue Team (WISAR), trained the title-holders and members of Miss Earth-Philippines, ABS-CBN Foundation’s Bantay Kalikasan, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, Akbayan Youth and Y-PEER Pilipinas at the La Mesa Eco-Park in Quezon City.

The training included drills on fire safety, emergency kits, first aid, and emergency warning systems among others.

The training launches the campus tour of Miss Earth and Akbayanihan in several colleges and universities where they will be talking to young people about the “culture of safety”. The project is in partnership with the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines.

[ALL Photo Credits go to Dr. Ted Esguerra]

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CBDRRM Training with Miss Earth Philippines

Last June 6 and 7, the Active Citizenship Foundation (ACF), together with the Akbayanihan Relief and Rehab Group, organized a two-day Training-Seminar on Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (CBDRRM) for local Relief and Rehab organizers, youth representatives of the Akbay-Aral School Caravan Project, and several delegates from the Miss Earth Philippines Foundation, who will be doing school tours in the Yolanda-devastated areas of the Visayas in the coming weeks.

ACF DRRM Training (Phaltra)

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The featured speaker during the Training-Seminar was Mr. Toni Binalla of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who discussed the following topics:

  • BDC (Barangay Development Councils) and BDRRMC (Barangay DRRM Councils), in particular the role of National and Local Governments in Disaster Risk Reduction and Response and the good practices of functional BDRRMCs;
  • Disaster Preparedness, specifically the setting up a Community-based Early Warning System and some basic tips on Evacuation & Evacuation Center Management;
  • Emergency Response, focusing on Post Disaster Needs Assessment and some basic tips on Organizing Relief Delivery Operation.

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Workshops were also done on making an Early Warning System Matrix, drafting an Emergency Response Policy, and proper Camp Management. The participants also discussed the processes related to:

  • Participatory Risk Assessment, which involved Perceptions and Definitions of Different Types of Risk, Hazard Assessment, Vulnerability Assessment, Capacity Assessment and different Participatory Risk Assessment Tools;
  • Participatory DRRM Planning, focusing on the steps in formulating a Barangay DRRM Plan through Participatory Process and the basic contents of a DRRM Plan.

The two-day activity ended with a Group Planning on how the different organizations can best coordinate their separate engagements on the ground.

Stay tuned for updates. :-)

SEIU visits the “Yolanda Belt”

From April 22 to May 4, two representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the fastest-growing union in North America (now with 2.2 million members and counting) visited the Philippines (Quezon City and Makati City in Metro Manila; Tacloban City, Dulag, Mayorga, Tanauan, Ormoc City and Merida in Leyte; Hernani, Mabini and Basey in Samar; Cebu City and Bantayan Island in Cebu) to meet representatives of the Philippine Labor Movement, visit the Yolanda-devastated communities, hear the stories of the survivors, and be updated on the progress of SEIU-supported rehabilitation projects for the victims of Yolanda.

Amado David, Organizing Director at SEIU-UHW (SEIU-United Health Workers West) and Dian Palmer, a Registered Nurse and currently President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and Member of the SEIU Executive Board, went with several ACF Staff on a 12-day tour of the “Yolanda Belt.”

In between meeting labor leaders, local government officials, union members and NGO workers in Quezon City, Tacloban City and Cebu City, Amado and Dian also participated in ground-breaking ceremonies for the various Daycare and Health Center projects that SEIU was supporting. They also distributed and even tested brand-new Fiberglass Bancas (complete with engines, rudders, propellers and outriggers) to fisher-beneficiaries in Barangays San Jose and Sungi in Dulag, Leyte.

Of course, Amado and Dian also always made time to meet and talk with ordinary community folk, especially kids, to hear their personal stories of survival and coping.

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 Fresh Buko (young coconut) Juice, anyone?

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15 Boats for Sicogon delivered! 15 more to come.

ACF is proud to report that with the support of Sweden’s Olof Palme International Center, 15 wooden fishing bancas have been delivered to Barangay Alipata, Sicogon, Carles, Iloilo, last April 23. These bancas , all 22-footers, will be distributed to the target Fishers’ Associations in the Municipalities of Carles and Estancia in Iloilo Province.

At the moment, the bancas are being stored at the Barangays’s basketball court until the other 15 bancas have been delivered so that all 30 can be distributed to the target beneficiaries at the same time.

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To complete the boats and make them usable for fishing, ACF shall coordinate with other donors and relevant government agencies to get the necessary engines and fishing gear. The fisher-beneficiaries, on the other hand, as per ACF’s counterpart-agreement with them, will be the ones to construct their own outriggers (Katig) and paint the bancas.

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Hopefully, through this generous donation from our Swedish friends, the fisher-beneficiaries of Carles and Estancia, including their families, will soon be able to return to the sea, resume their traditional livelihoods and no longer be dependent on “relief goods” from government. And through the upcoming seminar on sustainable fishing methods, to be held on-site with the fisher-beneficiaries, their families and their local government officials, the donated bancas will only be used in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.

After all, “rebuilding livelihoods” can also mean aiming for something that is better than what was true before.

A blast from the (near) past.

This post may be a little late already, content-wise, but we still would like to share it with you, nevertheless. In our December 17 post, we reported about ACF’s photo and video-documentation team — led by our long-time Aussie volunteer, Jason Bray — that went to the Yolanda-devastated areas to report about what was actually going on, on the ground.

One of the results of that documentation project is this short video clip about the immediate after-effects of Yolanda, everyday scenes with victims/survivors, the different efforts at relief and rehab, and a call for more support.

Better late then never, right?

Slowly, but surely, we’re getting there.

144,000 fishing boats may be a tall order to fill (that’s the estimated number of fishing boats destroyed by the typhoon), but many organizations and individuals are doing their bit. ACF, for one, through its partners Tindog Samar and Star of Samar, and its donors from the USA and Sweden, have managed to contribute more than 200 bancas already to the huge task of rebuilding the Yolanda-devastated municipal fishing sector in the Visayas and in Northern Palawan.

Just this morning ACF visited the Manila plant (they also have a plant in Bacolod City. Soon, they hope to build another one in Tacloban) of our partner fiberglass-banca manufacturer to check up on our past and future orders. We are glad to report that the latest batch of bancas, 16-footers, will be delivered tomorrow morning via flatbed truck to the Star of Samar areas in the Visayas for fitting of outriggers, engines and official turn-over to the fisher-beneficiaries.

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ACF has likewise ordered another batch of 20 fiberglass bancas, 20-footers, and placed an advance order for a banca mould sufficient to produce 24-footer bancas for the “Pacific fishers” of Eastern Visayas — mainly those in Eastern Samar — who face rougher waters than fishers in the inland seas.

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We hope to have our latest order of bancas on the ground and in the hands of the fisherfolks of Dulag, Leyte, by mid-April.

With your continued support, more fisherfolk will finally be able to return to the sea and continue their, their families’ and their community’s livelihoods.

Leyte-Samar “Multi-Stakeholders Rehab Conference” held in Tacloban City

Perhaps it was only apt that the Rehab Conference was held in a venue that was also badly-hit by Typhoon Yolanda. Although it wasn’t evident anymore (great job on the repairs, by the way!), we were told by the staff of Asia Stars Hotel in Tacloban City that the seawater and debris brought by the storm surge reached almost to the second floor. Thus the unhinged H on the building’s marquee, which remains un-repaired as of today, perhaps as a reminder to everyone of Yolanda’s recent visit. DSC_0519 Held last February 27-28, the Rehab Conference attracted almost a hundred participants, packing the small conference room to the rafters. Delegates included survivors, local relief and rehab workers, and local government executives including 13 Mayors and several Barangay Captains and Kagawads, all of whom came from areas included in the “Yolanda Belt.”

One question was in everyone’s mind: How long until the ongoing rehab projects of the government and other organizations finally reaches us in significant amounts?

Hoping to answer that very important question were speakers representing the following government agencies and private organizations:

  • Office of the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs (OPA)
  • National Economic Development Agency (NEDA)
  • Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
  • National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC)
  • National Housing Authority (NHA)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Save the Children
  • Akbayanihan Relief and Rehab Network
  • Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
  • Department of Education (DepEd)

With the exception of Usec. Tom Villarin of OPA and Director Asis Perez of BFAR, all the other government agencies were represented by Regional Directors and other Officials.

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100_5653So, what were the key outputs of the Rehab Conference? In ACF’s opinion, they are the following:

  • Survivors and local community leaders had the rare chance to directly ask government officials representatives questions about the ongoing rehab program, especially on how their respective communities figure in the plan;
  • Government officials were able to give the survivors concrete suggestions on how to more effectively access the various rehab projects and services being provided by their respective agencies;
  • Survivors had the chance to talk with fellow survivors from other areas and compare notes, especially about particular experiences when dealing with public, or private relief and rehab agencies; and finally,
  • Relief and Rehab organizations, whether public or private, directly heard the sentiments from the ground, including complaints and suggestions on how to make the Rehab efforts more effective, efficient and quicker.

Did the Rehab Conference help? We’ll find out soon enough.