Scrap metal waiting to be hauled away - or reused.

Scrap metal waiting to be hauled away – or reused.

A bicycle trike on the road

A bicycle trike on the road

A gym roof

A gym roof

A K.I.M. team leaving on a 9 hour trip to deliver food

A K.I.M. team leaving on a 9 hour trip to deliver food

Coconut palms stripped of their crowns - and new leaves emerging

Coconut palms stripped of their crowns – and new leaves emerging

Coconut lumber, salvaged from downed trees

Coconut lumber, salvaged from downed trees

Rebuilding in the midst of devastation: the coco lumber is drying

Rebuilding in the midst of devastation: the coco lumber is drying

Newly built bangkas

Newly built bangkas

Bangkas on the beach, but no more shade from the coconuts, and much beach washed away!

Bangkas on the beach, but no more shade from the coconuts, and much beach washed away!

New bicycle trikes

New bicycle trikes

Lina, her brother Toto, Ellen and I stayed in a large house loaned to Kids International Ministries by a family from Tacloban who lost two members of their household during the storm.  They no longer wish to live there and they like the work that K.I.M. is doing, so after several weeks of living in churches, the volunteers from K.I.M. moved into this house.

There were about 20 of us in residence during our three day stay: Filipinos, Americans, Canadians and a New Zealander.  Deb and Bill from Michigan are the resident “heads of mission”.  They have hosted rotating groups of 2 – 40 volunteers from many countries, some of the largest from Australia, the southern Philippines and Taiwan.  They are expecting 52 volunteers shortly, who’ll be split up in groups of 6 – 8 to go out to the countryside where they’ll set up camp, feed themselves, filter their own water (all so they are not a drain on local resources) and work with local churches.

Bill and Deb are doing an impressive job coordinating all this people power and trying to mesh it with local needs as articulated by the pastors they are meeting with on both Leyte and Samar, the neighboring island.  I observed their work as a new arrival but also as someone with experience in the Philippines and as an NGO director.

20 years ago my first wife Linda and I co-directed Quaker Service Vietnam in Hanoi.  We had to make choices about where and how to invest the funds entrusted to us by donors.  We made a strenuous effort to get far out into the countryside and, with the help of Phuong, our assistant and the bedrock of our program, to learn from villagers what they really needed.  Phuong and Linda insisted on talking with the women even when all the officials were men.  We resisted requests for expensive equipment and looked instead for projects that would benefit an entire village.  We learned the importance of training: it was not enough to build an irrigation system with the villagers, we needed to be sure they were prepared to maintain it and to share its benefits fairly.  For all our best intentions, we made mistakes and also our efforts were sometimes subverted.

I came to Tacloban to volunteer for K.I.M., not to evaluate their projects or to come to any conclusions about the Big Picture.  It would be interesting to know how foreign aid is being coordinated and targeted, how well it is reaching those for whom it is intended and how effective in helping them.   But my stay was too short, and my purpose in coming different, so I did not delve into these questions.

I do know that K.I.M. is trying to make wise choices about where to invest their funds.  I learned that in the first weeks after the typhoon, their emphasis was direct feeding, and now they are concentrating more on delivering food, pots and pans to churches all over the island, as people are ready to feed themselves.   KI.M. is supporting local churches, schools and orphanages with building materials, volunteer labor and medical help.   From what I saw and heard, they are using their resources well, and I’m glad they are reevaluating their work to see when and how it needs to change.

One project that got high marks from Deb and Bill came from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian NGO founded in Taiwan in 1966.  The Philippine branch of Tzu Chi and volunteers from many other countries were on the ground by November 13 with cash payments that eventually reached about 60,000 families on Leyte, the payment based on the size of the family.  They also hired local dump trucks and local laborers at twice the minimum wage (250 pesos doubled to 500 pesos or about $12.50/day) for people to clean up the mountains of rubbish.  They report having over 31,000 participants daily at the high point of this program.  The Buddhist Foundation gave people not only money but a purpose, a way they could make an immediate difference.

Tzu Chi is known for its quick and effective response to natural disasters.  It helped greatly when Typhoon Ondoy inundated Marikina (next to Manila) in 2009, and a group from Marikina joined the relief work on Leyte.  “Tzu Chi” means “compassionate relief” in Chinese, and the organization speaks of reviving the “circulation of love” in places struck by disaster.   The survivors of Ondoy certainly acted in that spirit by coming to help in Tacloban.

Was this a perfect project?  Certainly not.  A friend who works with the Department of Social Welfare and Development , whose every day work for the last three months has been with the survivors, told us that some of those direct cash payments, intended as investment in rebuilding a small business or repairing a home, were spent poorly .  But she too gave this Buddhist project high marks not only for intention but for impact.

On her travels around Leyte and across the San Juanico Bridge to Samar, Lina saw other livelihood projects under way:  a project to help fishermen build new bangkas so they can fish again, and another that delivered new pedicabs, an important form of public transport, to replace those that had been destroyed and to get their drivers back to work.  She described the hundreds of acres of coconut plantations that must be replanted.  It will be at least seven years before anything can be harvested from the new trees.  Reestablishing a viable local economy will take many years.

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