With the assistance of Development and Peace, government agencies and other aid organizations, a massive rebuilding effort is underway in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the nation 10 months ago. Photo by Arthur Peters.

Canadian charities help Filipinos rebuild

  • September 14, 2014

Every one of the $13 million Development and Peace raised last year to help Filipinos left homeless by the most powerful hurricane ever to make landfall has a job to do. Thousands of Filipino families are still living in tents, in the beached hulks of ships Typhoon Haiyan left stranded on the streets of Tacloban City and in elementary schools where Filipino families first found shelter from the storm 10 months ago.

While the humanitarian emergency is old news in Canada, the people of the Eastern Visayas islands are preparing to mark the Nov. 8 first anniversary of the storm they call “Yolanda.” Standing by their side, Canada’s Catholic development agency is working on a three-year plan to build new, safe and planned communities for Filipinos left homeless.

“Humanitarian relief is a complex process. There’s the today — today we have to help, we need to provide food, emergency resources, water, shelter, etc. — and then there’s the long term,” said ShareLife Toronto executive director Arthur Peters. “Communities have to be rebuilt, people’s lives have to be recaptured — and that takes time.”

Peters was one of eight Church representatives who traveled in late August with Development and Peace to the Philippines to meet Typhoon Haiyan’s refugees, see the devastation and witness the rebuilding efforts of Development and Peace working with its Filipino and international partners.

Peters came away impressed.

“There’s the now and there’s the later,” said Peters. “When we as Catholics are giving through our parishes and it’s going through Caritas and Development and Peace, it’s the Church who is putting it to use on the other side of the world.”

Damage left by the typhoon and subsequent sea surge was as hard to miss as it was hard to look at for Sr. Nida Fe Chavez of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.

“I felt so sad for my people. I’m part of those people. In my heart, I’m still Filipino,” said Chavez.

Though her family is from Manila and she came to Canada more than 25 years ago, Chavez found herself seeing the disaster through both Filipino and Canadian eyes.

“I was struck by how Development and Peace was able to do what they have to do because of their partners,” she said. “They are empowering the people.”

The rebuilding effort has been stalled by the availability of land. Manila has declared a no-build zone 40 metres from the shore line. But local government has been slow to designate where people can build. Families who once lived in that 40-metre zone, who relied on fishing for their livelihoods, can’t be moved just anywhere. Trying to get enough land in a single area with access to the sea, and where basic infrastructure from sewers to roads can be built, has proved difficult.

While Development and Peace along with Catholic Relief Services of the United States, Caritas Phil-ippines, Caritas Internationalis and the Filipino NGO Urban Poor Associates has managed to find a 19-hectare (47-acre) allotment for a pilot project, it gets nowhere near rehousing the thousands of families in need. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed close to 55,000 homes in Tacloban City alone, killing 3,000 people with 700 still counted as missing.

“There is still over half-a-million people displaced. In Tacloban, it’s 100,000 people. We can only house about 1,000 families (on the land acquired so far),” said Development and Peace program officer Jess Agustin. “So what we’re doing is showing that it is possible to create a new community where people participate from the very beginning of planning the community.” 

The cost for 19 hectares was about the price of a one-bedroom condo in Toronto — less than $500,000. The hard part is swimming against the tide of local government plans that would locate homeless fishing families a long distance from their livelihoods, Agustin said. 

For the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace it’s a chance to apply lessons learned from the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami that killed at least 280,000 on either side of the Indian Ocean. Development and Peace was part of rebuilding efforts in Aceh, Indonesia. 

“The lessons we learned in Aceh have been quite useful,” said Agustin. “It’s the same approach.” 

That approach includes 50 trained community organizers in nine dioceses bringing Filipinos together to make their wishes known to local government. It also means the same style of easy to build, environmentally friendly and disaster-resistant homes. 

“It’s state of the art Lego. It’s wonderful,” is how Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe of Sault Ste. Marie described the new homes. “Filipino people themselves have learned to put them together and they will be paid so much to put up a home.” 

While “Lego” sounds easy, the hard part occurs before the kit homes ever arrive. Damage to roads and communication infrastructure makes delivering a new house-in-a-box to the right place a struggle in itself. Before the homes are ever delivered or assembled, concrete pillars at the four corners of each house have to be poured for the foundations. And that’s to say nothing of roads, electricity, water and other basic services for the new community. 

Travelling through the area, Plouffe learned that recovery means more than just a new house. 

“When they lose their fishing boat they lose their livelihood. The boat is gone, the shelter is gone, everything is gone,” Plouffe told The Catholic Register. “And some of them have lost their family members.” 

Filipinos have counted on much more than just the generosity of Canadians and others who are funding recovery efforts. Plouffe discovered an inner strength among Filipinos he met. 

“You could see on the face of these people hope shining through them. Only faith could really carry these people,” he said. 

Solidarity isn’t just feeling sorry for people far away. It’s also about forging tangible bonds with them, said Plouffe. 

“What I was really impressed by was that you come to understand that if you want to assist people in a natural disaster you need local partners. They (Development and Peace) have local partners,” said the bishop. 

Chavez came away convinced of the basic, Christian rightness of humanitarian and development work. What she saw in the Philippines sent her scurrying back to look up the basic commitment her own order of sisters has made to the poor. 

“At our general chapter last April, we committed to ‘seek to nurture a community with our neighbours, especially the homeless, the alienated, the economically poor, women at risk, our wounded Earth,’” said Chaves. “Development and Peace has the same values. I think that’s what we are called to as Christians, to help those in need, the most vulnerable, the poorest of the poor.” 

Chavez won’t allow Typhoon Haiyan’s refugees to be called victims. She saw no victims among them. 

“They are also our teachers. They are teaching us that there is hope. They are teaching us that we can bounce back,” she said. 

In January Pope Francis will travel to Tacloban where he plans to have lunch with the poor of the city.

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