A super typhoon hit the Philippines a month before Christmas three years ago. Today, another Christmas is around the corner. Sure, we preoccupy ourselves with the usual Yuletide traditions: buying gifts (fruit cake, anyone?), decorating the Christmas tree, and joining the company’s “monita-monito” gift-giving game.
We thought BIP’s best way of welcoming the Christmas season is to go back to the basics: By reminding ourselves of man’s capability to give in times of crises.
This piece is a two-part series about the spirit of giving: The first part is about one Filipina’s way of helping typhoon-stricken communities. The second is about lessons learned from one global humanitarian network’s recovery work after Typhoon Yolanda.
Hope you enjoy.
Art for Typhoon Victims in the Philippines
By Jhoanna Sevilla
The serene and soothing Holistic Education and Development Center (HEDCen) in Beverly Hills, Taytay Rizal was the perfect venue for The Wild: A Watercolor Exhibit. After all, the art gallery is in the amidst of a wild forest.
The HEDCen itself is home to wild plants and trees as well as to exotic animals, including an eagle, two pythons and an alligator snapping turtle. It was established in 1992 by the artist herself, Emma Gutierrez, with “used crayons, pre-loved toys, [her] own children’s story and picture books, long playing records and a phonograph from a garage sale, a brave heart and a vision.”
Simply known as Teacher Emma, Gutierrez is an educator by profession with an advocacy for the environment and a passion to make a difference.
The Educator As Painter
Gutierrez spent 12 months completing the artworks for the exhibit. While some paintings only required several minutes to finish, others entailed months to perfect. There were times when she revisited previously completed painting to add more details when inspiration hit her.
Gutierrez started to dabble in paint in 1997. “It was a rocky relationship with my art… I think it started to get a little serious and would be considered painting when I started the calendars in 2015,” she stated.
What she started in 2015—the calendar series—has become her annual fundraising project for typhoon-stricken communities in the Philippines.
Fundraising for An Advocacy
First there was the 2015 Time Flies Calendar. Then came the 2016 Happiness Calendars. Both raised about Php 663,000 in sales—far beyond the artist’s expectations. Thus, aside from the helping build a school in collaboration with Tzu Chi Foundation in Ormoc, Leyte, her two projects were also able to fund the Sea Camp Art Center in Sta. Fe, Bantayan, Cebu, and rebuild 10 families’ homes in Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro that were affected by Typhoon Nona.
The third series, the recently released 2017 Wild Calendars, consists of 400 copies only and features her exhibit’s watercolor paintings.
Post Script: For inquiries on Emma Gutierrez’s calendar project, the artist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at IG@egfrogglerocks.
Yolanda and the Power of Humanity
By Suzy Taparan
Three years after Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) hit the Philippines, the world — more so, Filipinos — still could not forget the damage it brought on that fateful 8th of November. Saying that the Yolanda was “the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history” may not be enough to describe the depth and breadth of its impact.
Both the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, in articles that compared Yolanda with Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Sandy (2012), agreed that Yolanda covered a wider area and carried far more stronger winds.
Yolanda made six landfalls: In Guiuan town of Easter Samar at 4:40am of 8 November 2013; Tolosa town of Leyte less than three hours later; Daang Bantayan in Cebu in the next three hours; Bantayan Island, Cebu barely an hour later; Concepcion town in Iloilo less than two hours later; and finally at 8pm, at Busuanga, Palawan.
The stats on the damage to property and livelihood, not to mention the lives lost, bear witness to the size and strength of Yolanda.
The Power of Volunteerism
Today, the Philippine Red Cross’s commemoration of the “Typhoon Yolanda’s Third Year of Continuous Recovery” is not about the typhoon itself; rather it is about “the great contributions of our partners in rebuilding and uplifting people’s lives”, according to Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon.
Let’s try to dissect what Gordon meant here.
By “contributions”, Gordon was acknowledging that the Philippine Red Cross, at the height of the typhoon, was not working in silo. Rather, as part of a humanitarian movement, the Philippine Red Cross was working along with its global network of volunteers—including Filipinos, of course—from about 190 societies in the rescue, relief and recovery operations.
Perhaps one can better appreciate its work if it be pointed out that the Red Cross is not an auxiliary to any government, although the organization agrees that its effectiveness in the delivery of services does depend on the support of a government during times of disasters.
Working Without Much Fanfare
So, what can a humanitarian organization do in times of disasters? Apparently, a lot.
The Red Cross and Red Cross Crescent Movement, of which the Philippines is one of the national societies, was created to, put simply, “do good”, particularly in times of conflict and natural disasters.
And do good it did. The Philippine Red Cross and its international partners’ Yolanda relief operation was, in the words of Kari Isomaa of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the “biggest and most successful in the Asia Pacific” in the movement’s history.
Today, infrastructure lay witness to the scope of the work done. For one, 76,461 shelters were built, each with its distinctive red roofs that can be seen from across fields, and even from outer space. These shelters are found in the organization’s recovery operations in Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte, Palawan, Eastern Samar, and Western Samar.
“But not until Yolanda came were we able to build the biggest number of houses in the history of the Philippine Red Cross. In the three years…we have accomplished 95 percent of our target number of houses to be built, and we are fast-tracking the completion of the remaining shelters to be built for the Yolanda survivors,” explained Gordon in a press release given during the commemoration day.
The shelters were built at a cost of P3.78 billion.
Three years since 2013, the recovery continues. The Red Cross statistics shows that its assistance goes beyond providing shelters and blood bags. The “recovery” efforts cut across different development indicators: shelter, health, water, sanitation, livelihood, and education.
It was no surprise therefore that the Philippine media who came to the commemoration event all wanted to know what the other institutions—and even governments—can learn from the way the Red Cross mobilized its resources and delivered what needed to be done.
What It Takes to Be Humane
In the end, this commemoration event is an eye-opener into humanitarian work. Gordon, in contrast to his strict and serious demeanor as the Philippine Red Cross lead, interspersed his talk with such phrases as “giving dignity to the dead victims”, “taking Filipinos out of their vulnerability,” and “putting humanity at the center of what we do.”
“We do not believe in hand-outs,” said Gordon. “These houses were built by the people who were affected by the typhoon. We believe in everybody sharing the load.”
Neither does the movement decide who gets the homes based on the definition of charity used by some political entities. “We are a humanitarian organization. So, the most vulnerable are the ones whom we help build houses,” Gordon said.
And why the red-roofed houses? Gordon thought that the red roofs—his idea—are a way of helping with transparency. “This way, donors and partners get to see the proof of what Red Cross has done exactly for the communities,” he said.
Postscript: The Philippine Red Cross is looking for funds to purchase a rescue boat (one big enough to transport relief goods to hard-to-reach areas). This Christmas, why don’t you donate to the The Red Cross? Details below are from the Philippine Red Cross website.
Interested parties may deposit their cash donations to the following PRC savings accounts: