When it comes to overseas relief missions, fortune not only favours the brave but the well-prepared. Dr. Cen Amores shares her diary notes on what it was like to spend two weeks in the Philippines to help typhoon Haiyan survivors.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - I decided to join APCO’s Overseas Relief Mission, three weeks before the scheduled departure to Eastern Visayas. Concerned for my welfare, our two older sons orchestrated a scare campaign – I may not be able to cope, there is no electricity there, sanitation was a serious issue, I may get sick, etc, etc. These tactics did not dampen my interest though. Luckily, both my husband, Ruben and our youngest son, Karlo were very supportive!
Then, reality set in. Knowing that going on a relief mission was a new and challenging experience, I started to panic. I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of getting myself into an unchartered territory! I was concern about what and how we shall effectively and promptly respond to the actual needs of the survivors. Did we have enough funds to cover the mission cost? Did we have contingency plans in the event that something untoward happens? Definitely, I was not expecting the group to fork out a dole. There’s got to be a way by which we can deliver much needed services with sustainable impact to the people and the communities.
In any thing we do - especially if it’s something new, I believe preparation is crucial. While most of my co-volunteers were originally from the Visayas, they have been away for a while and they themselves shared similar concerns as mine.
But having been involved in managing community development projects previously and with a husband who had formal training, experience and expertise in project management, I knew I could get the help I needed. Brainstorming with him was the way to go. Actively listening to him as he generously offered useful tips helped a lot.
I knew then that I was on the right track. Accessing a few websites to identify reputable NGOs locally operating in the devastated areas was critical. I was happy with the information I got. Based on the successful projects they have implemented, two NGOs stood out – the Water, Agroforestry and Nutrition Development (WAND) Foundation and Volunteer for the Visayans, Inc (VFV).
The WAND Foundation is based in Ormoc City. It has a very high reputation having been a recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates award for Global Health Explorations, Israel International Award and Tech Award for Technology Benefiting Humanity. Currently. WAND Foundation is implementing two major projects in Leyte: low-cost safe sanitation project and food resilience through root crop production and vegetable gardening.
Volunteer for the Visayans, Inc (VFV) on the other hand, is based in Tacloban City. A non- profit, non-government organisation that combines international volunteerism with child sponsorship and community development to help address some of the basic issues concerning education, healthcare, social welfare and community development in rural communities, VFV was credited for having rehabilitated 45 children from scavenging inside Tacloban City Dumpsite, provided them with the means to go to school, receive school supplies, social welfare support, and livelihood development for their family.
Among other rehabilitation and rebuilding projects, VFV is implementing a nutrition project that aims to address children who are nutritionally at risk or undernourished and teaching mothers how to prepare food with good nutritional value at the least cost. To better prepare our mission team. I happily shared these relevant information to the members.
I contacted Dr Elmer Sayre of the WAND Foundation and Wimwim Canayong, CEO of Volunteer for the Visayans, Inc. Both of them were very interested to meet us to discuss how we can collaborate in the delivery of much needed goods and services to the typhoon survivors. Dr Sayre even offered assistance by providing transport for the mission. I was very excited at the prospect of meeting with these two remarkable community leaders plus the logistical support we can access from Dr Sayre.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Confident that we were ready for our relief mission, we finalised our itinerary and looked forward to a smooth delivery of goods and services to the typhoon victims.
Of course, prior to this mission, APCO and its many affiliate organisations and individuals had responded generously to the call for immediate help to the super typhoon victims by sending out more than 172 Balikbayan boxes of assorted relief goods and directly transmitting money remittances to some victims through their relatives in Australia.
Overall, the two-week marathon relief mission was physically taxing and emotionally heart wrenching but it was a truly rewarding and fulfilling experience. It was a privilege to be a part of the Overseas Relief Mission of APCO, personally visiting. meeting and showing the Filipino-Australian community’s feeling of solidarity and concerns for the victims. I will forever treasure this experience for the rest of my life.
Some of the lessons I gained from this relief mission are: Preparation is crucial when doing a relief mission. Researching and identifying reputable local NGOs to partner with is very important. Do not assume that you know what the people need, ask them.
Identify logistical needs and local resources available to use. Hold meetings and debrief regularly to identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps and challenges.
Consider your budget and be transparent, responsible and judicious in allocating funds for projects. Look after yourself, eat a balanced diet and have a good sleep to avoid getting sick during the relief mission.
Above all, enjoy the opportunity of helping others and making a difference in their lives.
The writer is the founding president of the Alliance of Philippine Community Organisations, Inc. (APCO) in Sydney, Australia. Through its various fundraising activities, APCO raised more than $67,900 for typhoon Haiyan survivors.