Responding to the Mindanao Flooding Crisis

As Mindanao grapples with the aftermath of devastating flooding and landslides, Action Against Hunger is mobilizing to respond to the urgent needs of affected communities. The recent onslaught of heavy rains, warned by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) on January 18, 2024, has left a trail of destruction in its wake, particularly in Agusan del Sur, Davao de Oro, Davao Del Norte, and Davao Oriental, affecting nearly 1.1 million people and displacing 354,000 individuals.

In Davao De Oro (DDO), a tragic landslide incident buried vehicles and resulted in injuries, compounding the challenges faced by already vulnerable populations. Homes, agriculture, and infrastructure were severely damaged across the region. Despite efforts from the national government and humanitarian organizations, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) providing essential aid, the scale of the disaster requires additional resources and support with some provinces expressing the need for assistance to complement their response efforts.

Action Against Hunger has been on the ground since February 8 to identify the immediate humanitarian needs of those affected. Our Mission Emergency Response team has been coordinating with local authorities and partners to address the immediate needs of communities in distress. We have established contacts and partnerships in the affected provinces, enabling us to respond effectively and efficiently. As assessments continue and the need for assistance grows, Action Against Hunger is gearing up to provide vital relief to those affected.

Identified needs include food assistance, water, sanitation, shelter, healthcare, agricultural support, and fuel for cooking. Action Against Hunger is committed to addressing these needs comprehensively, focusing on the most vulnerable populations in evacuation centers and host communities. Our response will encompass a range of interventions, including food distribution, and water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) initiatives.

One of the displaced families, Donabelle, shared her harrowing experience of the disaster. Pregnant and with her husband unable to work as a carpenter due to displacement, she faces an uncertain future in the evacuation center. The fear and uncertainty surrounding their situation are palpable, underscoring the urgent need for support and assistance.

Action Against Hunger’s next steps involve a targeted and coordinated response, prioritizing the most pressing needs of affected communities. With our teams mobilized and resources at the ready, we are poised to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those impacted by this tragedy.

With the support of the American people through the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Action Against Hunger is initiating an emergency response to support flood-affected communities in the Davao Region. We will be providing immediate humanitarian aid in water, sanitation, & hygiene (WASH) in the next few days.

Our focus includes distributing emergency WASH kits, and multi-purpose cash assistance to support at least 7,500 people through this emergency response. We stand ready to provide hope and assistance to those in need during this challenging time.

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CALP Network’s Successful ToT Program Advances Core CVA Skills in Manila with Support from USAID

Last week, the CALP Network successfully completed a Training of Trainers (ToT) program on Core Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) Skills for Programme Staff in Manila, Philippines, held from November 20th to 24th, 2023.
The ToT saw active participation from 16 CVA practitioners representing diverse backgrounds from 11 different agencies including UN entities, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and local actors. These CVA professionals came from countries such as Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, and Ukraine, and from those whose roles cover the Pacific and Central Asia regions.
This training initiative forms an integral part of CALP’s support aimed at assisting the humanitarian community in achieving high-quality Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) at scale. The importance of enhancing staff capacity is underscored by the insights presented in the State of the World’s Cash Report 2023, which emphatically asserts that “increasing staff capacity offers one of the biggest opportunities for the growth of CVA.”
Expanding the team of CALP-certified trainers in the Asia-Pacific region on Core CVA Skills for Programme Staff Training holds the potential to significantly enhance access to CVA learning opportunities for humanitarians. Having this will help in contributing to the broader goal of advancing proficiency and effectiveness in cash-based interventions.
In photo: Joseph Curry, regional humanitarian advisor at USAID gives a message during the Trainers (ToT) program on Core CVA Skills.
With USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance‘s support, the CALP Network serves as a collaborative platform that brings together organizations to strengthen their capacity, knowledge, coordination, and policies related to Cash and Voucher Assistance. Action Against Hunger is an active member of the CALP Network and currently hosts its Asia-Pacific Region team.

Action Against Hunger Country Director, Suresh Murugesu, at the Trainers (ToT) program on Core CVA Skills.

Empowering Farmers for a Climate-Resilient Future in Lanao del Sur

LANAO DEL SUR, MINDANAO – Over 200 farmers from six barangays in Balabagan and Kapatagan are embarking on an inspiring 8-month journey with the iPrepared project’s Climate Resilience Farmer Field School (CRFS) program. Among them is the resilient 43-year-old Bhai from Barangay Proper Kapatagan.
Nearly four months since the CRFS program began, Bhai and her fellow farmers have already gained valuable insights into climate-smart agriculture. Bhai also received a generous supply of vegetable seeds, including string beans, bottle gourd, tomatoes, eggplant, white cucumber, and bokchoy.
With unwavering support from the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA), Action Against Hunger, through the iPrepared project, is on a mission to empower vulnerable communities in Mindanao, enabling them to better tackle the challenges posed by climate change. The CRFS program is also done in coordination with the Office of Provincial Agriculture (OPAG).
Bhai’s vision extends beyond herself; she envisions her children becoming stewards of the land. Together, they make learning a family affair, a cherished activity during school breaks. With a heart full of love, she seeks to provide nourishment for her family, ensuring they have access to a bounty of homegrown vegetables.
“The knowledge I’ve gained will enable me to make the most of the land in front of our home,” she shares with excitement. “I’ve also learned to be resourceful by reusing plastic to help my plants thrive.” Even though her home is about 2 kilometers away from the demo farm, her determination to learn and apply her newfound knowledge knows no bounds.
We continue to work hand in hand with these communities, nurturing the seeds of change we’ve planted. Together, we are paving the way for a more climate-resilient future, one step at a time, with the promise of even brighter days ahead.

The ‘Inclusive Disaster Preparedness for Local Resilience in Areas at High-Risk of Natural and Human-Induced Hazards in BARMM, Mindanao, Philippines’ or iPrepared Project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) and implemented by Action Against Hunger

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Safe water in a safe community

For Aslani Atha Casim and his family, getting clean water and safe access to hygiene facilities was a struggle in their community. The 27-year-old farmer lives with his wife and three kids in Barangay Baya, located in the Municipality of Ganassi, Lanao Del Sur.

Residents of Barangay Baya used to get their water from the nearby river which is half a kilometer away from the community. To get there, Aslani and his family would need to either hike or ride a horse so they could fetch water, do laundry, and take baths.

“It’s not easy because my wife and I have to carry heavy water containers going back home,” says Aslani. On rainy days, going to the river was difficult because the road would become slippery. This made Aslani worry about his family’s safety.

Through the ECHO-funded REACH Project, Action Against Hunger provided water, sanitation, & hygiene support to the community of Baya. This included rehabilitating the communal toilet that is separate for men and women. We also repaired existing tap stands to extend the water supply, so residents no longer need to travel far to access water from the river. Apart from this, the community also received hygiene promotion sessions that talked about personal hygiene, as well as maintaining the cleanliness of the communal toilets.

Solar lights were also installed to lighten the areas around the water and sanitation facilities and make the facilities safer to use in the evenings. Community members including the family of Aslani have participated in the hygiene promotion activities and learned about the good hygiene practices as well the prevention of water and sanitation related diseases. Health seeking and hygiene behavior were reinforced by these sessions since access to WASH facilities were made available in consideration of respect and dignity.

Aslani shares that the intervention has impacted their everyday lives now that they have WASH facilities that are socially inclusive.

He also highlighted that the new facilities make the women and children in their community feel safer. “I’m grateful that the toilet for men is separated from the women’s toilet. Children become more conscious of their hygiene, which is good because the facility is child friendly. “It has made people’s lives easier. We don’t have to ride a horse or walk under the sun. I don’t need to worry when my wife wants to wash the laundry because the [comfort room] is just a walking distance near our house,” Aslani said.

Since WASH facilities are available, more people have been coming to their barangay to get water. “This is a huge help for every Muslim in our barangay especially since Ramadhan is approaching and everyone would need water and [comfort room] for ablution,” Aslani added.

With support from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the “Response to the Unmet Humanitarian Needs of the Most Vulnerable Conflict-Affected Populations in Mindanao” or REACH 3 Project is implemented by ACCORD Incorporated, Action Against Hunger Philippines, CARE Philippines, Community Organizers Multiversity, IDEALS, Inc., Nisa Ul-Haqq Fi Bangsamoro, United Youth of the Philippines-Women, and Oxfam Pilipinas.

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Working together with local agencies and LGUs to provide rapid response

“MOVE UP Project, in coordination with the Parang MDRRMO has been instrumental in the delivery of Multipurpose Cash Transfer and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support interventions under its Rapid Response Mechanism to the displaced families affected by armed conflict in GT Biruar. These interventions benefitted the IDPs, especially the most vulnerable who were provided immediate, life-saving assistance,” shares Ms. Norah Mamariong, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Officer (MDRRMO) of Parang, Maguindanao del Norte.

With funding from the European Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), MOVE UP 5 through Action Against Hunger provided cash assistance and conducted a Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) Session for Adults who were affected by the recent ‘rido’ in Barangay G.T Biruar, Parang.

Thanks to the support of the Ministry of Social Services and Development – BARMM, MDRRMO of the Municipality of Parang, and the officials of Barangay G.T Biruar, MOVE UP 5 was able to quickly respond to the needs of the affected community.

This rapid response is part of the Moving Urban Poor Communities Towards Resilience (MOVE UP 5) consortium project implemented by Action Against Hunger Philippines, ACCORD Incorporated, CARE Philippines, Plan International Philippines, and Nissa Ul-Haqq Bangsamoro with funding support from the European Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

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Siargao Farmers Trained on Good Agricultural Practices and Organic Farming

Farmers affected by Typhoon Odette attended a farmer training on Good Agricultural Practices and Organic farming in the municipalities of San Benito and Burgos on the island of Siargao, Surigao del Norte last December 2022.

The training is facilitated by trainers from the Rice Specialists Training Course (RSCT). The participants from barangays Orok and Talisay learn approaches on how to rebuild their agricultural livelihoods and increase their farm yields through sustainable and safe methods.

Among other things, they learn about the importance of intercropping and how to make and apply organic fertilizers and pesticides. They also learned how to transfer their newfound knowledge to others.

After the training, they will facilitate sharing what they learned with other farmers in their communities.

Photos by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | December 2022, Siargao, Surigao del Norte

The livelihood support is part of the second phase of the project ‘‘Emergency Assistance to Support Local Recovery Capacity of Families and Communities Affected by Typhoon Odette’, funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) and jointly implemented by Action Against HungerCARE Philippines, and ACCORD Incorporated.

Written by Arianne Gijsenbergh Read more

Restoring the Rice Fields After Typhoon Odette

CAPALAYAN, SURIGAO CITY — Erna Crisologo, 35, is proud to be a rice farmer. Growing up in a family of rice farmers she has lived in the middle of the rice fields her whole life. Besides the rice field bordering their home, Erna and her husband Ruben Cabalan, 35, also own a small coconut plantation higher up the mountain.

The rice paddy near Erna and Ruben’s home. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

In December 2021, Typhoon Odette raged across the Philippines leaving a trail of destruction along its path. Erna and Ruben’s home in barangay Capalayan, a rural area on the outskirts of Surigao City, was completely washed away, along with their rice plants and coconut trees.

Erna joined the livelihood training sessions and received cash assistance to restore her family’s livelihood. This was part of the Typhoon Odette Emergency Response implemented by Action Against Hunger in the province of Surigao del Norte with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA),

“Our rice plants were totally washed away, our coconut trees damaged. We had no more source of income, no source of food.”

In the aftermath of the typhoon, Erna, Ruben, and their daughter Shekanaiah, 8, found shelter in the school nearby. The school functioned as an evacuation center. The first days after the storm, the situation was dire. The center was overcrowded and the families were hungry. It took almost a week for food supplies and other relief goods to arrive because the roads were unpassable.

With no home to return to, Erna and her family stayed in the evacuation center for 2 months. “I was very stressed that time due to our situation,” recalls Erna, “Our rice plants were totally washed away, and our coconut trees damaged. We had no more source of income, no source of food.”

Erna cries as she recalls their experience during and after Typhoon Odette (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

Erna was heavily pregnant with a second child, which was due in February. Sadly, the stress took a toll on her body. On January 23 Erna had a miscarriage. “My baby is over there,” says Erna through her tears, pointing at a small grave next to the rice field. “That’s where we buried him. A boy. We named him Anton.”

Thankfully, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Erna’s family received donated housing materials, which they combined with leftover planks from their old house to build a new home.

The newly-repaired home of Erna and her family. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

Once her family had a roof over their heads again, Erna and other typhoon-affected farmers in barangay Capalayan attended a training on good agricultural practices and organic vegetable production, organized by Action Against Hunger. Erna learned how to make and apply organic insecticide and fertilizer and how to improve their dyke construction. “Before we were making our dykes larger and higher,” explains Erna, “but the trainer told us that if you make the dyke too big, it will attract mice who will make it their home. It should be like this, just high enough to prevent the water and fertilizer from flowing away.”

Erna also joined a training on financial literacy and wrote a business plan to access 15,000 pesos cash assistance. She used the funds to buy a tools like sprayer for the organic fertilizer, a shovel, a raincoat, rubber boots, organic rice seeds and to pay for labor costs for land preparation.  “I feel very happy and excited to start planting rice again,” says Erna.

“I learned that it is very important to save so that we will not be hungry if a disaster comes. We are very thankful that Action Against Hunger gave us funds to restart our business. Now we have no debts to repay and we can start saving immediately.”

In addition to the training sessions and cash assistance, Action Against Hunger coordinated with the Philippine Coconut Authority to provide seed nuts to the farmers for restoring their coconut plantations. Erna and the other beneficiaries take turns weeding and watering the seed nuts in the nursery until they are ready for transplanting.

Erna with her fellow co-op members. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

The project’s livelihood support measures are implemented in cooperation with the local farmer cooperative, where Erna volunteers as finance officer. Her mother was one of the founders.

“My mother’s passion is also my passion: serving our co-farmers. Even though we are poor, we are able to help other people,” says Erna.

Erna at the co-op. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

Three months after planting, the rice will be ready for harvest. Erna plans to invest some of their earnings in buying pigs as an additional source of income. The family already owns three pigs which Ruben feeds and washes every morning, while Shekanaiah laughs in delight at the sound of their squeals.

Ruben washing the pigs while Shekainah observes. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)

Erna also wants to open a savings account. “I learned that it is very important to save so that we will not be hungry if a disaster comes. We are very thankful that Action Against Hunger gave us funds to restart our business. Now, we have no debts to repay and can start saving immediately.”

The USAID-funded project supports families like Erna’s to recover from disaster and rebuild fulfilling lives. Erna smiles contentedly, “We are doing well now. Not just well, we are doing good.”

Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022

The livelihood support is part of the ‘Emergency Assistance to Support Local Recovery Capacity of Families and Communities Affected by Typhoon Odette’ project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) and jointly implemented by Action Against Hunger, CARE Philippines, and ACCORD Incorporated.

Written by Arianne Gijsenbergh Read more

Building Back A Safer Home

LAGANGILANG, ABRA ─ Christopher Piscador, 35 years old, starts the day as early as four in the morning together with his wife, Kimchie. Christopher would go straight to do farm work while Kimchie prepares the family’s meal. On most days, Kimchie would help her husband tend their crops.

Christopher’s family lives in the quiet sitio of Magalong with less than 20 resident families. To reach their area, they would either cross a hanging bridge or through a short river, before another 15-minute walk through a rice field.

A little past 8:30 am of July 27, the husband and wife were already in the field with their youngest daughter when they felt the strong and sudden earthquake. From a distance, they could see their house shaking, with chunks of the concrete wall falling off.

In photo: A part of the concrete wall in the Piscador family’s house that collapsed due to the earthquake.

Noong  lumindol po, talagang  napahinto po kami,” shares Christopher. (When the earthquake hit, we stopped in our tracks) Their other children were at school, so luckily, no one was inside their home at the time. “Di po kami agad pumasok. Andito lang kami sa labas kasi nagbabagsakan mga gamit sa loob, pati mga hollow blocks. Lahat ng mga pader, pati mga poste gumagalaw na, at naputol mula sa ilalim,” he adds. (We didn’t go inside [the house] right away. We stayed outside because there were items falling, even the hollow blocks. All the walls and posts were moving, and even the posts were breaking).

For almost two months, they were living outside their house because they were worried that it would fall apart while they were inside. To this day, aftershocks still occurred.

Action Against Hunger staff talks to Kimchie Piscador outside their damaged house.

Christopher’s family mostly relies on their crops for their own consumption. For income, they are caretakers of three pigs loaned to them. Because these are only loaned, only half of the profit goes to them when the pigs are sold. The most they would earn from selling a pig would be around 2,000 pesos.

With a limited source of income, Christopher admits that it would have taken them a while to prioritize repairing their home. When they found out that they would receive core shelter assistance from REACH 3 Project’s Abra Earthquake Response funded by the European Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Christopher’s family was eager to start building their new home. Together with his wife and eldest daughter, Rhea Mae, they worked together in hauling all the materials from the bridge to their lot.

“I am really grateful to Action Against Hunger and ECHO because they gave me a house. That really helped us a lot.” – Christopher Piscador

Until now the children still get scared, even at the slightest quakes. “Yung mga bata talagang takot na takot po sila. Pag may aftershocks, talagang bumabangon sila at ready na umalis”, Christopher shares. (The children are really scared. Whenever there are aftershocks, they are immediately on their feet and ready to evacuate). Two of their children go to San Isidro Elementary School, one of the schools that received a temporary learning space from the same project.

They expressed their gratitude to Action Against Hunger who was implementing the project in Lagangilang and San Quintin. “Talagang malaking pasalamat ko sa Action Against Hunger at ECHO kasi binigyan po ako ng bahay, na talagang malaking tulong ito sa amin.” (I am really grateful to Action Against Hunger and ECHO because they gave me a house. That really helped us a lot.)

With the support of the European Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the Abra Earthquake Response is part of the ‘Response to the Unmet Humanitarian Needs of the Most Vulnerable Populations in Mindanao and the Province of Abra Affected by Conflict, Disasters, and the COVID-19 Pandemic’ or ‘REACH 3’ Project. It is implemented by ACCORD Inc., Action Against Hunger, CARE Philippines, Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Services, Community Organizers Multiversity, IDEALS Inc., Nisa Ul-Haqq Fi Bangsamoro, United Youth of the Philippines (UnYPhil) Women, and Oxfam Pilipinas.

Real Life Heroes: Rural Women for Community Resilience

Gemma Andot is a women’s leader in the MADADMA Community, part of the Obo Manobo indigenous group. Since 2020, she has been an active volunteer of Action Against Hunger in promoting community resilience through the ECHO-funded MOVE UP project.

This International Day of Rural Women, we highlight and celebrate women like Gemma. Get to know her and how she engages and inspires her community in Ilomavis, Kidapawan City towards resilience.

How long have you been working as a humanitarian worker (volunteer)?

“Since 2012, isa na akong aktibong IP Community member na aktibong sumasali at nagsasagawa ng pagtulong, pagvovolunteer sa pagpreserve ng aming kultura at kapaligiran. Sa tuwing may mga NGO na dumarating dito, nagvovolunteer ako lagi.”

Since 2012, I have been an active IP Community member actively participating and helping─volunteering to preserve our culture and environment. Whenever NGOs come here, I always volunteer.

What motivates you to continue volunteering?

“Naiintindihan ko kasi ang hangarin at adbokasiya ng Urban Resilience lalo na sa usapin ng pagse-savings. Gusto ko maging involved sa paghahanda ng community kapag may dumating man na sakuna.”

[I understand the desire and advocacy of urban resilience, especially in the matter of savings. I want to be involved in making sure that my community is prepared if a disaster is to come.]

Why are you making this sacrifice?

“Hindi ko na iniisip ang sakripisyo, nakatingin nalang ako sa hinahanarap at sa magandang maaring maging resulta ng pag-sesave.”

[I don’t think about the sacrifices anymore, I just look at the future and the good that can be the result of having savings.]

What have been the challenges to your work?

“Minsan kailangan hatiin ang panahon ko para sa pamilya, negosyo, at community work, pero kaya naman kasi nandiyan naman palagi ang Action Against Hunger na kaagapay lalo na sa community.”

[Sometimes I need to divide my time between family, business, and community work─ but I’m able to do it because Action Against Hunger has been supporting us in the community.]

What motivates you to keep doing your work even these challenges?

“Nakikita ko kasi na balang araw ang mga kapwa ko IP ay magiging mas resilient kami kapag lahat kami naisabuhay ang pagsesavings.”

Seeing that one day, my fellow IPs will be more resilient when we all start having savings [motivates me].

What are you most proud of?

“Na dati nagsimula lang kami sa Agoho Community Savings Group. Ngayon, isa na kaming federation sa Kidapawan. Magpaparegister na din kami sa DOLE at SEC sa tulong ng Action Against Hunger at Public Employment Service Office ng LGU Kidapawan.”

Previously we just started with Agoho Community Savings Group. Now, we are a federation in Kidapawan. We will also register with the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Securities & Exchange Commission with the help of Action Against Hunger and the Public Employment Service Office of LGU Kidapawan.

How can you engage the youth in your line of work?

“Kami na mga magulang ay nagsesavings. Sana itong mga kabataan ay makita nila kami bilang magandang ehemplo. Sila na rin ay nagsesavings gaya namin kaya ebidensya ito na naiimpluwensyahan namin sila.”

[We parents are having savings. I hope these young people can see us as a good example. They are also saving like us, so this is evidence that we influence them.]

Read more about Gemma’s work the Pines (Agoho) Community Savings Group

Moving Urban Poor Communities Towards Resilience (MOVE UP 4) is a consortium project that offers durable solutions in terms of capacitating local governments and communities in mitigating the adverse socio-economic effects of disasters. With funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, MOVE UP 4 was implemented by Action Against HungerPlan InternationalCARE Philippines, and ACCORD Incorporated.

International Day of Rural Women

Over the last century, the world’s population has steadily shifted from leading a rural existence to living in urban settings. Yet a vast amount of people (approximately 3.4 billion) are still living in rural areas. These rural communities are often characterized by limited access to resources, lower standards of living and generally high levels of poverty.

In the Philippines, around 2 million women work in rural industries including agriculture, fishing and mining. Yet land ownership for women remains low at around 10%. Women play a vital part in rural cultivation within the country yet are rarely the beneficiaries. To this end, significant land reform in accordance with gender transformative measures is required to address the situation.

Action Against Hunger has engaged with several projects across the Philippines to address the issues surrounding gender in rural communities. Specific focus has been placed on influencing household decision-making and ensuring gender is integrated into existing food security & livelihoods programming.

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Stories from the Field: A Mother’s Fortitude

Sitting on a bamboo bed inside a makeshift cob hut, five-year-old Zia bugs her lola (grandmother) about her vitamins, telling her that it is time for her to take them. Emma, 63 years old, tells her to wait for a while as she settles to answer questions and share stories about her life and what she experienced when Super Typhoon Odette hit Bohol.

Emma and Zia sit on their bamboo bed inside their makeshift shelter made of leftover materials from their house that was severely damaged by Typhoon Odette.

Emma lives in a small house near a river in Napo, Inabanga, Bohol. The neighborhood remains isolated from the rest of the town’s mainland since it is located on the other side of the riverbanks.

Emma has been Zia’s guardian since birth. She has acted as the mother since her daughter, Zia’s biological mother is working in another province as a house helper and comes home very rarely.

“Ay sukad pa pag gawas, ma’am. Ako na jud nag bantay ug nagpa dako kay nanarbaho pod lage ang ijang inahan sa Cebu. Magpada pod usahay ahong anak, pero gamay ra pod lage kay 5,000 ra man ijang sweldo,” shares Emma.

“I am the one who has been looking after her since she was born because her mother has to work in Cebu. My daughter [Zia’s mother] also sends money but not that much because she only earns 5,000 pesos per month.”

Meanwhile, Emma vividly remembers the terrors she and Zia experienced during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Odette one early night in December 2021.

“Kusog (ang hangin). Didto mi sa kapelya nanagan oy. Alas syete naman mi namlhin didto, kusog na kaajo ang hangin. Pirte na jud namong likay-likay para di mi maigu sa lubi,” Emma eagerly recalls.

“The wind was very strong. We ran to the chapel. We went there at seven in the evening, the wind was already aggressive at that time. We tried our best to avoid the swaying coconut trees on our way to the chapel,”

Seeking a safer shelter amidst the violent winds and heavy rains, left their small house without anything but Zia. They stayed in the chapel along with the other villagers who were also seeking a more elevated place to avoid the rising water from the river. Two days later, the neighborhood was still flooded after the river overflowed during the typhoon. Emma was able to go back to their place after three days but she went home to almost nothing. Her house was destroyed and everything in and around it was covered with mud.

A few meters from their makeshift house, Emma and Zia pose sit by their soon-to-rise new home which was made possible through the support of the ECHO and Action Against Hunger

Today, no signs of muddy surroundings and damaged infrastructure exist anymore. The only thing that serves as a reminder of the typhoon is the makeshift cob house where they are staying temporarily.

About five meters from the makeshift home stood a newly built house frame with galvanized iron sheets roofing, four big wooden pillars, and coconut lumbers ready for the walling. All of the resources used for building the structure were funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) as part of the Immediate and Comprehensive Response for Communities Affected by Typhoon Rai in the Philippines project. The material and financial donations, along with the emotional and mental support, made it possible for Emma to start rebuilding their home and their life.

With teary eyes and a shaky voice, Emma expressed her gratitude to the people behind ECHO through the Action Against Hunger team. Right after she saw the damages left by the typhoon, she thought it was already impossible for her to build back their home due to financial incapacity. But through the ECHO Odette Response, she only had to contribute minimally because most of the things she needed to start again were already provided.

“Perteng lipaja namo ma’am oy. Sa katong diha na ang mga hinabang [sa Action Against Hunger  at ECHO], labi na katong para sa shelter, mga kahoy, mga sin. Bisan pa og kato ra, maka barog naman jud mi adto, bahala’g di ka-igu, majo na raman naay ma puno-punoan.” she shares.

“We were very happy when the aid [from Action Against Hunger and ECHO] arrived, especially those for shelter, the wood, the galvanized iron sheets. Even with only those materials, we can already put up our house back. It is already a great starting point.”

Aside from the shelter assistance, Emma received other kinds of assistance from ECHO such as hygiene kits. Six months later, Emma has eventually returned to her almost-normal life producing fiber materials out of raffia palm leaves while taking care of her granddaughter. Emma earns less than 500 pesos a week from cleaning, drying, and scraping raffia fibers and selling them to local native product manufacturers.

Emma prepares raffia fibers to supply for local handicraft producers

While her new home is not fully done yet, Emma and Zia continue to take shelter in the makeshift cob and hope they can finally move into the new house in a few weeks.

Emma’s motherhood has extended to the next generation by taking the role of a mother and guardian to her granddaughter. Being a widow and a senior citizen did not stop her from taking responsibility for her 5-year-old granddaughter not only during disasters but during Zia’s entire life.

Emma gets drinking water for Zia in their makeshift dirty kitchen after her granddaughter took her daily dose of vitamins. 

As Emma finishes sharing her story and answering questions, she gets up to get the vitamins Zia had been bugging about earlier. She lets Zia take it and gives her water to drink after. Zia leaves with a phone her mother lent Emma for communication purposes and starts playing a mobile game.

The Immediate and Comprehensive Response for Communities Affected by Typhoon Rai (Odette) is funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and jointly implemented by CARE PhilippinesACCORD IncorporatedAction Against Hunger PhilippinesNational Rural Women Coalition (PKKK) and Plan International in Dinagat Islands, Palawan, Southern Leyte, Bohol, Negros Occidental, and Cebu, in the Philippines.

 Written by Donna Ocmeja | Photos by Donna Ocmeja for Action Against Hunger