Hello from the Philippines!

by tuftsigl
Aug 19
Jihoon Kim is in the class of 2015, majoring in economics.  He is an Empower fellow.
For the last two months, I have been volunteering with typhoon recovery efforts on the province of Leyte with two different organizations, US-based NGO All Hands Volunteers (AHV) and the Filipino social enterprise Gawad Kalinga. AHV's main focus is to assist in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters by providing volunteer labor for various housing projects; currently, they are wrapping up the construction of a hundred temporary shelters in a distant neighborhood called Tagpuro with the hopes of moving in beneficiary families by early September. The urgency and efficiency with which they have undertaken such a project has been eye opening to say the least.
But after a month of digging trenches and hammering in nails under the most unrelenting sun I have experienced, I decided to pack my bags and head to the city of Ormoc, specifically the town of Tambulilid where the head GK office for Leyte province is located. Essentially, GK is an organization that strives to build upstanding communities from start to finish, placing importance on rebuilding the beneficiaries' dignity and self-worth; each household must complete a minimum requirement of 1500 volunteer hours helping with the construction of the permanent houses and other infrastructure in the village. They strongly believe that eradicating poverty is closely linked to the empowerment of the people through a self-discovery of their potential, and therefore, even after the building phase is complete, continue to work with the newfound community to cultivate a more dedicated, motivated, and neighborly atmosphere.
One, very necessary way of achieving such mission is to implement livelihood programs to supplement their household incomes. Finding employment, or at least ones that provide sufficient income, is possibly the greatest challenge faced by post Typhoon Yolanda communities, albeit for various reasons depending on the context of the typhoon's impact. That's why for the people here to regain some sense of normalcy, beyond the construction of the houses themselves, the attention needs to shift to identifying more long-term solutions revolving around providing better means of livelihood.
This, of course, is much easier said than done as I have found out here in Tambulilid. Language barrier may possibly be the greatest hurdle I have yet to jump, as, while communicating with simple pleasantries and common questions like "how are you?" or "how many siblings do you have?" has been easy enough, getting to the root of their livelihood problems is a monumental task, even when armed with a middle school student with decent English skills to serve as my translator.
But really the core of the challenge, like any seemingly innovative solutions or ideas, is that ideation is incredibly easy when compared to its actual implementation, where reality trumps your imagination and assumptions are found to be completely invalid. For example, one week I decided to tackle the issue of recycling in the village by devising a system using gamification: for every kilogram of recyclable waste that a family produces and segregates for our pick up, they will be rewarded with a certain number of points, which after a certain period of time could be redeemed for goods like rice and other staple foods. This provides a clear incentive for households to begin segregating their waste, as more points mean more or even higher quality goods. Furthermore, such rewards will be purchased by the sum of money we exchange the waste materials for at a local junkyard, thereby allowing for a sustainable continuation of the system.
What I failed to consider, however, is that the price for such recyclables is incredibly low in less developed and populated areas like Ormoc compared to places like Cebu or Manila. With less than 10 pesos per kilo of plastics (which is about 20 2-liter soda bottles) and a market price of 40 pesos per kilo of rice, the prospect of my purchasing plan was slim, and to ensure any sustainability of the project, a constant stream of donations would be needed to create the needed incentives. This wasn't necessarily feasible, and so, the plan was scrapped.
But while my novel idea didn't end up working out, I have nonetheless found other ways to help, specifically by assisting with the finances of a group of women's new curtain/pillowcase business. Perhaps, developing an enterprise for which the motives are already in place or even simply constructing the framework for its startup is the most effective assistance an organization could provide. The initiative that these women have demonstrated is truly astounding considering the living conditions they have been subjected to after the typhoon, and certainly, I hope that they will be able to continue their new venture after my departure.

Add new comment