Ensuring no community faces a disaster alone
Time and time again, typhoons – and the floods and landslides that follow – wipe out whole communities. And time and time again critical help emerges from individuals and local community organizations.
When we learned about incoming Super Typhoon Odette last December, we were fortunate enough to have just enough time to prepare and evacuate where necessary, but Typhoon Megi just a few months later shocked us all. The limited knowledge of what we were about to face led many communities to be, sadly, unprepared. What we ultimately faced was nothing like we could have imagined or had ever experienced. Casualties, fatalities, and displacement across numerous barangays (districts). No one expected that their homes would become completely enveloped by a landslide.
When the Philippines suffers from a typhoon, I always think about the people, primarily the most vulnerable. Are they safe? Did they prepare enough? Do they know what to do and where they can find help?
Working with IsraAID for over two years in their long-term recovery programs and emergency response activities has given me the skills to support those in need, whether with an IsraAID team or as an individual within my own community. Living in such a disaster-prone country, I use my experience and knowledge to prepare and train my church volunteer team to support affected communities and alleviate their suffering wherever possible. It’s not possible to remain indifferent after reading the news and hearing about people in dire need of the most basic items. We cannot leave communities to face these disasters alone.
When I, or anyone from the team, visit a shelter for displaced families, we enter as strangers. Although we bring food, dignity kits, or other essential items, it is our compassion and our time spent that the community feels most. Some people are very open and some more reserved, but what’s important is that they have the opportunity to share what’s going on in their minds and how they are managing their situation. Sometimes the best way we can help people is just to listen, showing them that they are not forgotten and that there is a sea of support available for when they will begin to recover and rebuild.
I visited the evacuation center in Buy Buy High School. Students had their heads in their books, children were running around playing together, and everyone was sharing smiles. In the same room as the students, I met a mom who was nursing a nine-month-old baby. She recalled how she never thought their house would be seriously affected by a landslide, but as they began to see cracks form on the ground, they knew they needed to evacuate to a safer place. When the landslide appeared at midnight, many were sleeping and had no idea that the whole village was about to be completely covered. Without a home to return to, her family became completely dependent on relief from the government, NGOs, and church organizations, but she was not worried. They had a safe place to sleep, clean bathrooms, and enough food and water to keep them going for another few months when they would receive another home.
The youth volunteers in my church are on-call during typhoon season. Together we prepare different response plans, with additional financial aid and guidance from IsraAID. Through this collaboration, I am certain the volunteers are ready for a myriad of challenges, which on this occasion was a distribution at Buy Buy High School. We packed hundreds of hygiene kits and carried even more gallons of water to different spaces where people were sheltering. It wasn’t easy, but the volunteers were tireless.
I can only hope and pray there are no more typhoons, but the reality is that we need to remain prepared, training our own community and supporting any others we can reach. This is what I tell our youth. We must be ready to take action and seize opportunities to strengthen those who need it most.
Mary Grace is a former MHPSS Manager with IsraAID Philippines and returned as a volunteer during the most recent typhoon season.