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Staying healthy and safe in times of crisis

“I still remember how hard the wind and rain were that night. The children were crying out of fear.”

These were the words of 34-year-old Geraldine Quire-Quire as she recalls their night at the evacuation center when Typhoon Odette (internationally named Rai) made landfall in Siargao on the 16th of December 2021. As a mother, her family’s safety is her top priority.

Already pregnant with their third child, Geraldine had to take care of their two children and her disabled aunt by herself in the wake of Odette’s rampage. Geraldine’s husband was away in the city working as a watchman at the time.

The intensity of the typhoon was a horrific experience for the children, according to her. To make matters worse, they went home to find that the typhoon had partially damaged their house.

Months later, Geraldine finds some comfort in the life-saving support they received different organizations and government agencies. They are one of the families in Barangay Opong in Taganaan, Surigao del Norte who received water, sanitation, & hygiene materials from UNICEF Philippines through Action Against Hunger’s Super Typhoon Emergency WASH Response in Caraga. According to Geraldine, some of the items will prove to be useful when she gives birth.

 

Geraldine also participated in the hygiene promotion sessions of Action Against Hunger. After hearing reminders on COVID safety and how to practice proper hygiene and sanitation, she was eager to teach her children these hygiene habits.

In photo: Geraldine teaches her eldest daughter how to properly wash hands with soap and water based on what she learned from Action Against Hunger’s hygiene promotion sessions. (Photos by Abdul Alim Talusob for Action Against Hunger)

As of July 18, we have reached 81,957 people in Surigao del Norte with life-saving WASH support. Aside from giving access to safe water and sanitation services, our goal is to ensure that families like Geraldine’s adopt and sustain proper hygiene practices.

Our Super Typhoon Odette Emergency WASH Response in CARAGA is funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (UN CERF), the Republic of Korea, and the Government of Japan through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Philippines


Written by Adam Lacson, edited by Joyce Sandajan Read more

PBA 2021: Converging efforts with local government and RHUs to strengthen health and nutrition initiatives in Mindanao

Limited access to quality health care has been one of the identified humanitarian gaps within remote areas even before the pandemic. This immediately took a turn for the worse when COVID-19 negatively impacted these health systems. Many primary healthcare services have become inaccessible due to the lockdown restrictions or overcapacity of patients. Conflict-affected communities─especially the poor, displaced, and those in other vulnerable conditions─are at greater risk more than ever.

This is why our Program-Based Approach (PBA) in Mindanao has been coordinating with rural health units to ensure that primary health services are available, sustainable, and easily accessed by vulnerable communities.

Since the second quarter of 2021, we have been sponsoring medical-dental missions of the local government with support funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

Dental Services during the Health Mission at Lumbatan last August 23, 2021 (Photo by PBA Mindanao 2021 for Action Against Hunger)

A total of 1,202 people—collectively from Binidayan and Lumbatan of Lanao del Sur—participated in a series of activities from July 26 to September 2. Our nutrition screening activities were also integrated with the health mission to converge our health initiatives on the ground.

MUAC Screening during the Health Mission at Lumbatan on September 2, 2021 (Photo by PBA Mindanao 2021 for Action Against Hunger)

Following the nutrition screening, all individuals identified to have severe or moderate acute malnutrition were then referred to the RHUs to receive appropriate care and treatment. To supplement their nutritional needs, they will also receive financial assistance from our multi-purpose cash program.

Nutrition Awareness Session during the Health Mission in Binidayan on July 26, 2021(Photo by PBA Mindanao 2021 for Action Against Hunger)

Aside from these interventions, nutrition-awareness sessions were also held to refresh or heighten the participants’ knowledge of good health practices. In Binidayan, pregnant and lactating women (PLW) who are at nutritional risk also received hygiene kits and hygiene promotion sessions.

Hygiene Kit Distribution for PLWs at Binidayan during the Health Mission on July 26, 2021 (Photo by PBA Mindanao 2021 for Action Against Hunger)

Our efforts to stop and prevent hunger continues. We aim to fully protect, assist, and advocate for disadvantaged communities that are at greater risk to societal, environmental, and health crises.

The Program-Based Approach (PBA), otherwise referred to as ‘Multi-Sectoral Lifesaving Assistance to People Most Vulnerable to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Conflict, and Disasters ─ Mindanao Program 2021’ is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and implemented by Action Against Hunger Philippines.


Written by Joyce Anne Sandajan Read more

Limited Access to Clean and Safe Water is One of the Many Underlying Causes of Malnutrition

Limited access to clean and safe water is one of the many underlying causes of malnutrition.

In order to address this, we truck water into affected areas and install storage tanks and reservoirs. Where water is scarce or unsafe, we protect natural springs, decontaminate wells, install and rehabilitate hygiene infrastructures and pipe water into hard-to-reach communities and health facilities.

Throughout our presence in the Philippines, we have been actively strengthening our water, sanitation & hygiene programs to support communities against preventable diseases.

𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗪𝗔𝗦𝗛 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗺𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗰𝗮𝗻 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝗶𝗻𝘃𝗼𝗹𝘃𝗲𝗱:
https://actionagainsthunger.ph/what-we-do/#water-sanitation

(Photos by EJ Villafranca for Action Against Hunger)

Our Teams Distribute Hygiene Kits and Build Latrines and Hand-Washing Stations to Prevent Outbreaks of Diseases During a Crisis

Prior to the pandemic, our teams distribute hygiene kits and build latrines and hand-washing stations in the communities we work with to prevent outbreaks of diseases during a crisis. In communities at risk, we construct water filters made from basic materials and teach healthy practices like hand-washing, cooking with clean utensils, and drawing water from protected sources.

Read more about our WASH projects and find out how you can support us: https://actionagainsthunger.ph/what-we-do/#water-sanitation

Real Life Heroes – Abubakar Balabagan

As humanitarian workers, our field teams have time and time again shown great dedication at ground level in reaching even the most isolated communities. One great example would be Abubakar “Bhaks” Balabagan who has always given his best efforts despite the risks and challenges.

Get to know Bhaks and what makes him one of our Real-Life Heroes!


What motivates you to become a humanitarian worker?
My purpose, which is to help people in the community who are suffering during disasters, and saving lives as well.

Why are you making this sacrifice?
It makes me fulfilled. I am happy to help vulnerable people in the community through Action Against Hunger and be able to have a role in providing free and direct access to beneficiaries – because it is one of the organization’s principles.

Bhaks teaches participants how to use the hyposol solution during the hygiene promotion session in Baras, Catanduanes. (Photo by Joyce Anne Sandajan for Action Against Hunger)

What have been the challenges to your work because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic is very challenging because the risk of contracting and/or transmitting the virus can happen anytime and anywhere if not careful. Because of this, we have to limit gathering beneficiaries in small areas for activities like hygiene promotion sessions.

What motivates you to keep doing your work even with these challenges?
My motivation comes from the people I serve. When I became a humanitarian worker, I became more conscious of the people’s daily struggles and have a deeper understanding on how different their situations are. For instance, many of them are striving to survive the economic downturn during this pandemic.

What are you most proud of?
The thought that the work that I do, in some way or another, will have a ripple effect that will impact the lives of the people I serve.

Bhaks has been working with Action Against Hunger for more than 4 years. Now, he is currently part of our Typhoon Rolly (Goni) Emergency Response Team as one of the Project Assistants.


The Emergency Assistance to Typhoon Affected Communities in Catanduanes and Albay Province, Philippines is funded by by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, and implemented by Action Against Hunger Philippines, and CARE Philippines. Read more

Trained to Train her Fellow Evacuees: Meet Soraya Camid, one of our #RealLifeHeroes

“So kapangunab sa lima na ipakalidas ko mga sakit (Proper handwashing helps a lot in preventing diseases.)”

This is Soraya Camid’s constant advice to her fellow evacuees. Soraya and her family were one of the many people who were displaced because of the Marawi Siege back in 2017. After being trained by Action Against Hunger on basic hygiene promotion, she now volunteers as a Community Hygiene Promoter (CHP) in Sugod, Madalum, Lanao del Sur.

Last October 15, Soraya, together with her fellow CHPs and our Iligan team, celebrated #GlobalHandwashingDay by raising awareness on the importance of handwashing in preventing disease transmission and saving lives. They conducted a hygiene promotion session in Madalum, wherein Soraya shares her gained knowledge on WASH with her community.

Despite the struggles she experienced, Soraya moves forward and works hard to influence her community positively, making her one of our Real-Life Heroes. (Photos by Lowelyn Sumayo for Action Against Hunger)


Written by Lowelyn Sumayo.

STORIES FROM THE FIELD: A WOMAN’S INITIATIVE TO SUPPORT FELLOW EVACUEES

Malou Mendoza-Mamerto is an evacuee residing in the improvised evacuation center at Barangay Poblacion in Talisay, Batangas. She stepped up and volunteered to manage the 150 families staying in their camp. As a volunteer camp manager, Malou posted a call for help on social media to raise awareness on their current situation to potential donors. Because of her initiative, their camp received several donations and even temporary shelters built to house pregnant and lactating women, children, senior citizens, and differently-abled individuals. As the camp leader, Malou takes initiative in referring her fellow evacuees to nearby health centers and clinics in case they need medical assistance.

Malou used to live in Pulo, Talisay, Batangas with her husband and three kids prior to the eruption of the Taal Volcano. She worked as a vendor and often made a living out of the thriving tourism in the area. Now, they are living in an improvised evacuation center in Poblacion, Talisay, Batangas with no stable source of income. She mentions that their current situation in the camp is quite difficult especially for the women in terms of privacy in sanitation facilities, but she says that everyone eventually helps each other out.

As a mother, Malou also worries that she cannot give the same amount of time and attention she gives to her children prior their evacuation especially since the situation has urged Malou to have two of her children stay with their relatives for the mean time. “As much as I would like to look for a job so that we can have some income and I could provide my children’s needs, it’s hard,” she said, explaining that the entire camp’s needs have kept her preoccupied.

Malou’s family is one of the 2,697 families who received emergency humanitarian WASH assistance from Action Against Hunger through the funding of the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID). Food packs and hygiene kits were also provided to 801 individuals through the support of Grab Philippines.

The Taal Volcano is the second most active volcano in the Philippines. On the afternoon of January 12, 2020, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) detected increasing activity of the Taal Volcano causing heavy ashfall, volcanic tremors and lightning, and lava fountains. This affected approximately 468,000 people. Our Mission Emergency Response Team (MERT) was immediately on the ground on January 15 to conduct an assessment in Batangas province to assess the immediate needs of evacuees.

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.

 

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. ●