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TRAILBLAZING WASH IN ARAKAN

Arakan, a first-class municipality in the province of North Cotabato and home to many indigenous people in Mindanao. Despite the diversity of its culture, Arakan is faced with daily struggles as poverty and impacts of natural disaster and conflict are day to day realities of the population. People struggle with limited income opportunities and scarce food production. More importantly, insufficient access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation materials and facilities plays a crucial problem in the area.

Since 2012, Action Against Hunger and the United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have been working together to provide necessary interventions in Arakan, giving people a chance to hope for change and transformation in the community despite the many challenges they are dealing with. While change is a gradual and cumulative process, Action Against Hunger and UNICEF cannot solve everything with their programs alone. Strong leadership in the community must propel change as a personal statement to allow hope to break through the hearts and minds of the people.

One man has become a champion for change and is trailblazing the work on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Elmer S. Montales works as the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Arakan. In early 2010, he had a personal experience which forever changed the way he deals with WASH issues.

His team was in Kulaman Valley, a remote mountainous area the Matigsalog tribe called home, conducting a standard Barangay survey.  A desperate mother approached them for medicines since her child was not recuperating from diarrhea. “We only had emergency medicine for simple stomach bugs,” he recounted, “early the next morning, we found out that the child died due to dehydration.” It was a tragic experience that led Elmer to rethink his work.

“It is a complicated situation. The local health office reported that water-borne diseases, like diarrhea, are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene practices – some leading to death,” he explained. “Malnutrition is another outcome when people don’t have access to clean water and sanitation.  The children become wasted and stunted during a critical moment of growth whose effects will last a lifetime.”

In his resolve, he could not do it alone.  Elmer needed to influence local leaders of the realities of children dying of diarrhea and that the solution would not come easy. The goal of reversing health outcomes of several barangays seemed daunting and ambitious, but Elmer welcomed the challenge.

Without wasting time, Elmer immediately worked and coordinated with Action Against Hunger and UNICEF to spearhead activities in Arakan by facilitating policy and technical work to ensure that WASH is prioritized in the executive and legislative agenda of the government and included in the Barangay Development Plan.

The journey towards change has not been easy for Elmer. Municipal and barangay officials were indifferent at first, but this changed when the Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) program was implemented and health outcomes began to improve. Cases of Diarrhea and malnutrition have drastically dropped from a prevalence rate of 18% in 2013 to 4.7% in 2018. In 2015, Arakan was able to achieve municipal-wide ZOD out of 11 LGUs in the Philippines, a model that is being followed by other LGUs in North Cotabato and neighboring provinces.  Elmer realized that, as a result of his experience, the journey towards a new reality was slowly taking shape and is impacting the lives of the people.

“The backbone of success is hard work, determination, good planning and perseverance,” Elmer quotes famous soccer icon Mia Hamm, “institutionalizing WASH as a way of life is best realized at the grassroots level of every family, purok and sitio, especially among Indigenous People and far-flung marginalized communities.”  He continues to dream big for his town to improve the lives of the people through the WASH program, to bring in fresh ideas and new ways of working. From the perspective of a planner, contexts are always changing and the quest for new knowledge and experience is constantly evolving.

 

A WASH CHAMPION’S STORY

Kinawayan is a remote barangay situated in the mountainous area of Arakan Valley. 70% of the 238 households living in the barangay are from the Manobo group. Grace Fordan-Rivera was stationed in Barangay Kinawayan from 2010 to 2015 as midwife, under the supervision of the municipal health officer. She championed Action Against Hunger and UNICEF’s WASH programs in the area that emphasized Zero Open Defecation (ZOD).

 

Why did you personally choose to be a champion for WASH?

  • As a community health worker, seeing young children suffering and dying because of diarrhea is frustrating. I want to help the community, and finding solutions for their problems in WASH is one way.

 

What were the challenges that you experienced in trying to change social norms in terms of sanitation and hygiene?

  • Most of the people lacked awareness on proper hygiene practices. Changing the behavior of the community, especially in an indigenous people’s (IP) community, was very challenging.

 

What did you do to address this?

  • To gain their trust and support, I did regular home visits, sometimes walking for 10 kilometers to reach the farthest household to ensure that no one gets left behind. Until now, I constantly meet their community leaders and promote the importance of WASH.

 

What was the situation regarding hygiene in your barangay before the program began?

  • Prior to Action Against Hunger’s interventions, only 103 out of 238 households were using toilets; the remaining were practicing open defecation. People collected their drinking water from the open spring. Kinawayan has 23.80% malnutrition prevalence rate (MPR), recurring diarrheal cases (12 cases a month), and 2 cases of child death due to diarrhea or dehydration in 2011. They were unaware of the importance of handwashing with soap during critical times.

 

What were the changes that occurred after the program was implemented?

  • Now, with the WASH intervention, there is a sudden decrease of health-related diseases. Most importantly, from 2013 to current, no child has died because of diarrhea and MPR was reduced to 4.06%. I want Kinawayan to be the role model for other IPs in Arakan to follow.

 

OMPONG LEAVES TRAIL OF DEVASTATION

In the morning of September 15, Sinamar’s home in Barangay Camp 3 of Tuba, Benguet was caught in a landslide due to Typhoon Ompong. Sinamar, her husband Dennis, their 6-year-old son and other relatives managed to safely evacuate the area. Unfortunately, they also lost a family member as Dennis’ aunt was initially trapped under the eroded soil that buried her home. Four months after their ordeal, Sinamar and her family were left without a home and had to temporarily reside in the evacuation center located at their Barangay’s elementary school.    “We couldn’t pass through the main road because it was already eroded by then, so we climbed through the mountain despite the landslide. When we got to the hospital, we stayed there for a week because the children were traumatized,” recalled Sinamar.

Fifty-five-year-old Editha had a similar experience as she, her husband Philip, and their 3 youngest children had to leave their home after the typhoon left damages to their area. They, along with several other families, were no longer allowed to return to their home in Barangay Gumatdang, Itogon, Benguet after it was categorized as part of the danger zone. This left them no choice but to rent a house nearby at ₱3,000 per month. Before Ompong, Philip used to have a stable income by working in the mines. Since the mines needed to be closed for safety purposes, for the time being he creates soft reed brooms which Editha sells in the city. Editha also takes laundry and cleaning jobs as added income. “I hope there won’t be another typhoon like Ompong. Right now, I just wish we’ll be able to go back to our old home so that we won’t have to pay monthly rent,” said Editha.

Editha shares her story how they had to evacuate from their home after a landslide occurred in their neighborhood due to Ompong.

Typhoon Ompong, internationally referred to as Mangkhut, made landfall on September 15, 2018 as a category 4 typhoon with sustained wind speeds of over 200 km/h and gusts of up to over 300 km/h.  The large diameter of the typhoon, close to 900 km, affected Regions I, II, III, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), IV-A, IV-B and Metro Manila. Damages to infrastructure and agricultural resulted to an estimated 33.9 Billion Pesos – the 4th costliest typhoon in Philippine history.

The families of Sinamar and Editha including more than 2.14 Million individuals were affected by the typhoon. The landslides proved fatal for families in Benguet, with a total of 71 deaths and 50 injuries confirmed by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Action Against Hunger’s Mission Emergency Response Team were on the ground immediately after Typhoon Ompong made landfall and assessed the humanitarian needs of the affected communities in Benguet from September 15 to 20 and have since provided necessary interventions thereafter since provided necessary interventions. Sinamar and Editha’s families were some of the beneficiaries that were given hygiene kits and financial aid as part of Action Against Hunger’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and food security, & livelihood (FSL) projects funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), European Union – Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). ●

 

KEEPING THE SCHOOL CLEAN

On May 23, 2017, conflict broke out in Marawi City between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and armed fighters from two ISIL-affiliated groups – Abu Sayyaf and the Maute. This led to a 5-month siege that destroyed most of the city’s central commercial district and forced 350,000 people to evacuate their homes. 5% of the evacuees stayed in evacuation centers while 95% choose to stay with relatives and friends in nearby communities.

The host communities where the evacuees stayed were caught unprepared with the massive influx of people. Food, health, water, sanitation and other basic services for the displaced population were severely compromised. Action Against Hunger personnel were on the ground two days after the conflict started to assess the situation and determine the urgent humanitarian needs of the affected population. Emergency Response projects in Food & Nutrition, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), Food Security and Livelihoods, and Shelter started on June 1, 2017 and continues to this day.

These are the voices of the people who endured the Siege of Marawi through resilience and determination.

 

Built in 1965 for the education of children of farming families from the remote areas of Pantao Ragat, the Aloon Elementary School’s problems on water, sanitation and hygiene were as old as the school.

Norphia M. Ombawa, 33, was a student from the school and now teaches there.  She observed that her pupils are experiencing the same situation she had as an elementary student before. There were no water facilities in the campus because the water tank for rainwater storage was already rotting in rust with age.  They were using plastic containers to catch water when it rains. During the dry season, they had to fetch water from a spring which was a distance from their school.

“Our toilet which was made of wood collapsed a few years back so we didn’t have one to use. Our pupils would go under the trees at the back of the school to urinate and sometimes, to defecate”, she said.

With the line of trees just a few meters from their classroom, sometimes the smell of feces would go through their windows and distract their classes. Some of her pupils would also smell bad throughout the day because of being improperly washed. She worried that their exposure to germs would get them sick.

The local government responded to the water concern by connecting the school’s pipes to the water storage facility in the Mosque across the street.  But, the lack of a toilet for the students to use was still a problem and open defecation continued.

This situation became more difficult when several families displaced due to the Marawi Conflict took refuge in their village on May 2017. The number of pupils spiked up with children from the displaced population enrolling at the school.  They went back to having less water, if none at all because the Mosque’s water tank was also shared with the refugees.

So when the Action Against Hunger tracked the displacement of children in the village, they also heard the concerns of the teachers on the school’s lack of toilet and their own water access facilities.

Action Against Hunger’s mobile team was already working in the area answering the needs of the displaced population and got word of the school’s concern. With the funding from the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, the organization built a tap stand for handwashing, tooth brushing and drinking water. A two-door concrete toilet was also constructed within the school grounds.

Action Against Hunger personnel held a series of hygiene promotion sessions to the students, teaching them the importance of proper sanitation & hygiene to avoid the spread of diseases.  These sessions also trained them on the proper way to hand wash and brush their teeth. After these sessions, each student was given a hygiene kit that contained soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste and towels that they could use every day in school and at home.

Norphia integrated the messages and techniques from these sessions in her classes and continues to remind them about the importance of being clean and keeping the surroundings clean as well.

“They became conscious on their hygiene and the cleanliness of the school. Their parents also told me that they brought this practice at home”, she shared.  ●

NORTH COTABATO LEVEL UP IN ZOD

COTABATO CITY– Seven municipalities in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato are declared as Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) in January 15, 2018.

The municipalities of Arakan, President Roxas, Paglat, South Upi, Upi, General Salipada K. Pendatun, and Datu Abdullah Sangki are declared as ZOD because 100% of the households in each of its barangays now have access to sanitary toilets, clean water and soap for hand washing. All of the barangays in each municipalities contributed to the total of 184 barangays in Maguindanao and North Cotabato earlier declared as open-defecation free.

“The ZOD declaration is one of the greatest achievements we’ve ever had. For us health workers, it is one of the greatest contributions we can offer to decrease communicable diseases, diarrhea cases and other environmental sanitation problems,” said Rebecca Tenorio who serves as a nurse in the Rural Health Unit of South Upi, Maguindanao for 14 years.

The ZOD program is one of the flagship programs of the Department of Health that aims to declare the entire Philippines as ZOD in 2022. Action Against Hunger has been supporting the implementation of the ZOD program since 2012 through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-funded project called Scaling up Sustainable and Resilient Basic Sanitation, Safe Water, and Improved Hygiene Behaviour.

The project aims to deliver clean water and improve practices on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to households, schools and day care centers that make use of the Community Led Total Sanitation, a participatory strategy that facilitates the community’s desire to stop open defecation. The campaign has been gathering households and using “shock, shame, and disgust” to raise awareness on the negative effects of open defecation, especially among children, and create a demand for hygienic toilet facilities. “Action Against Hunger and UNICEF gave us confidence in advocating our campaign with the knowledge and learning they imparted to us. Truly, we believe we can do it on our own way,” added Tenorio.

As of writing, Action Against Hunger continues stop open defecation in more barangays within Maguindanao and North Cotabato to achieve 100% ZOD. ●