In her previous blog post Janina reported on her deployment as EU Aid Volunteer in Manila in the Philippines. In the second part of Janina’s blog post, she vividly shares her experiences during her field trip to the projects. She also finds out, why every high school graduate in the Philippines has to plant ten trees...
National Disaster Resilience Month - a special month for the Philippines
Every July the Philippine Ministry of Education expects authorities, local government and schools to take concrete action to promote a “culture of disaster preparedness” and a resilient society. This year’s motto is “disaster preparedness for real change”. I am very much looking forward to this educational approach that is so closely linked to the focus of my deployment here. This month includes a planned field visit to various schools; which will be part of my work as an EU Aid Volunteer.
Finally visiting the projects
In the third week of July, we embarked on our 10-day field visit to northern Luzon traveling to the five provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Kalinga and Isabela, first along the coast and then through the mountains. Our plan is to visit the Red Cross ‘Chapter’ (provincial office) as well as some ‘Barangays’ (the smallest government unit in the Philippines) and schools in each province for two days each. We left the capital in gray clouds with our driver Edwin. Early in the morning we glided through the morning traffic.
Along the road, smaller towns alternated with wide, green fields where farmers grow rice. I am thinking ... planting looks so easy, but at those temperatures, it certainly is no fun. In our air-conditioned car you quickly forget the sultry heat in the real outdoors.
Considering the rainy season, the weather on our trip cannot be more Filipino. We start with gray clouds, later heavy rain follows, and we move from one tropical cyclone (typhoon) to the next, giving the mission of our trip an authentic touch. Fortunately, the weather program on our free weekend is complementary: full sunshine.
What is it all about?
Our field visit had two objectives: the project team conducted the regular monitoring of the project and met with representatives of the respective Red Cross chapter. The other part of the team – in other words, we two EU Aid Volunteers – met with beneficiaries and experts in the field to collect data for reporting and for the EU volunteer project.
The objective is to develop a toolbox with activities for disaster risk reduction in schools and communities. The Philippine Red Cross and the German Red Cross hold many years of expertise in disaster risk management. As we visit the Red Cross chapters and various schools in the provinces, I conduct interviews with advisors of disaster risk reduction and with the Red Cross youth. Specifically, I ask teachers about their experiences - challenges and success stories – in terms of the implementation of hands-on activities in disaster risk reduction. In some schools I also conducted interviews with students. I then asked: what is the most important activity for you – first aid training (CPR) or earthquake simulation, tree planting etc.? What prepares you best for possible disasters?
Lively and clear public relations
The visits of the Red Cross chapters are different each time, but they all have one thing in common: everyone is always very hospitable. As we arrive in the first chapter, I follow the red lady through a tiny open-plan office with closely spaced desks. Two chairs are already waiting for us in the back room. Short films of the provincial jingle competition in disaster risk reduction are shown on a screen. A jury is sitting in the background, assessing the disaster risk reduction messages sung and danced by the school classes. Who has the best catchy song or dance with a relevant message?
At lunchtime, I look at the contributions of the drawing and photojournalism competition on disaster risk reduction for real change. The pictures with their texts are impressive and make illustrated disaster situations very real.
School visit despite severe weather conditions
Arriving one morning at a chapter, the employees are already sitting around the table; quickly we realized that a critical issue was being discussed: Cyclone Falcon - the sixth tropical cyclone in the Philippines this year - was moving across parts of the island and classes were suspended in some schools, including one we had planned to visit.
So what do we do? What’s our plan B? The situation was assessed and finally we have a solution: the teachers selected for our interview reported a locally ‘milder’ and therefore safer weather situation,; hence, they offered to come to school for the interview anyway.
We made our way to the schools in the pouring rain and wind. As we drove along the west coast and paddy fields, I searched the weather forecast: “Tropical Storm Falcon is back over the sea in the east of Cagayan after crossing land while a low-pressure area was spotted west of Ilocos Norte. [...]. Tropical cyclone wind signals remained in parts of Luzon [...]. Classes were suspended in some areas.” On my Facebook page I also discovered a post from the elementary school we visited yesterday: “All classes are suspended in all levels #WALANGPASOK.” I find a similar post for the previous day, signed with the words: “BE SAFE EVERYONE!”
The heavy rains and the wind eased up over the days. Here and there we saw large puddles and branches and leaves on the roadside. Only in the evening, the rain came back during a beach visit and then shortly before we returned back to the hotel.
The school visits are always exciting: Our driver Edwin dropped me off on the grounds of the elementary school and I was greeted with a handshake by the headmistress and accompanied to her office, where she introduced me to her teaching staff as a delegate of the German Red Cross. Many parents preferred to leave their children at home due to the weather warning; however, the teachers have been too curious about my visit. The disaster risk reduction adviser emphasizes: “Our school is always open.” - What attitude!
A team interview followed the next, accompanied by seriousness, humor and thirst for knowledge and for new ideas. The hospitality was not neglected between the interviews: I was regularly offered local delicacies (from ‘malagkit’ or sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves to pineapple, bananas and ‘rambutan’ or hairy litchi all the way to ‘Pancit Bihon Guisado’ or rice noodles). Afterwards, I was invited to visit the ‘DRR-Corner’ (a typical showroom with material on the subject of disaster risk reduction).
Then was time for us to go to the next school visit. But before we head off, a teacher discreetly points to the picture podium in the middle of the schoolyard. Of course, I do not go without a group picture - and for the onward journey, of course, not without a packed lunch with regional delicacies.
At the next school, I meet the teachers Elli and Marlon in the schoolyard. They tell me about their participatory activities for disaster risk reduction. In the end, Marlon challenges me: “What has led you to this work?” Surprised, I pause for a moment - then I respond: “I’m really grateful to witness the stormy, rainy and unstable weather here. Or else how would I have experienced first-hand what it’s like to live here? What it means to be increasingly threatened by disasters? “Only after the interview, I realize again that the two teachers have made the effort to come and give me an insight into their experiences despite severe weather conditions and an officially closed school. Thankful and thoughtful, I say goodbye to them.
Spontaneous tree planting
In addition to the work, we also had the opportunity to actively engage ourselves in disaster risk reduction. So, it happened that on our free Saturday morning we spontaneously participated in a tree planting activity. At half past five in the morning we met with staff from the local chapter in front of our hotel, to set off to a primary school just off the coast. There we met young policemen, civil defense officials and, of course, many children and youth with their parents, who all volunteer for coastal protection by planting baby mangrove trees. A motivation that is very much supported by the Philippine government. According to a new Philippine law, high school graduates and students must plant ten trees before completing their degree. An initiative that aims to involve all citizens of society in disaster risk reduction.
Visiting the Visayas
Back home in Manila, I have one night to rest and prepare for the next visit. The following day, the plane leaves for Bacolod City, the capital of the Negros Occidental province on Visayas, the middle of the Philippines’ three main island groups. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan - the strongest storm ever to reach the Philippines - hit the archipelago. 16 million people were affected - more than 6,000 died. Around 1.1 million homes were damaged or completely wrecked. At that time, the GRC was first on emergency relief and is still active today with reconstruction and disaster risk reduction. The aim of the four-day visit is the “REDsilient Camp” of the Red Cross Youth under the motto “Building Youth Leadership on Disaster Resilience”.
At the airport in Bacolod City I meet Victor, a local Red Cross volunteer, who will accompany me. At the Red Cross chapter we surprise the office manager Rita by our early arrival, who spontaneously invites us for breakfast. Before we leave, I confess that I forgot my Red Cross T-shirt at home. Rita disappears into the storage room and comes back with a T-shirt of the Philippine Red Cross. Lucky me - a spare T-shirt for the next four days and then a local from the Philippine Red Cross. What would I be without the bond between the Red Cross societies?
After breakfast we explore the city and surrounding area, walk over the grassy Capitol Lagoon Park and spontaneously pass by the audience with the provincial mayor; We visit the hot springs at the Mambukal Mountain Resort and observe the indigenous, oversized flying bats in the Bat Sanctuary; Eventually, we enjoy grilled chicken and fresh coconut milk.
A youth camp about Disaster Risk Reduction
In the evening the “REDsilient Youth Camp” starts off. The Red Cross youth meets for “solidarity dinner” and then gathers around the campfire. The next day starts with a lecture by the local fire brigade on fire risks and disasters. In the afternoon seminars follow in which the youth are theoretically prepared for the planned fire simulation. Topics include: camp management, early warning systems, psychosocial support, hygiene promotion, child protection, first aid, transport and blood donation.
In the evening, various competitions challenge youth to position themselves for disaster reduction: they design posters, advertise slogans, T-shirts or badges; In addition, some youth compete in the production of the most nutritious emergency meal in a given time window. The next morning, the weather finally gives the REDsilient Camp an authentic touch. It pours out of buckets and Rita decides without further ado to adapt the planned fire simulation to the real conditions. The fire simulation turns into a flood simulation. The youngsters slip into their roles and try to manage a camp under pouring rain.
Actually, I thought I learned a lot about the National Disaster Resilience Month. But do I really know what it means to grow up in a country that is increasingly threatened to disasters?
I am particularly impressed by the poster slogan of the winner: ”I am a Red Cross Youth Resilient Leader and Ready for Disaster.”