Typhoon Sendong

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 There is no way to write our first post without talking about the Typhoon that hit northern Mindanao 10 days before our arrival to Davao. Much of our work in the next 6 months will be focused on the rehabilitation of the areas affected by the region and we have felt, repeatedly, that we have come at just the right time to offer a few more helping hands in the mid and long-term healing process for northern Mindanao.

We apologize ahead of time if the background and details are a bit lengthy, but much of what we will be writing about in the coming months will be directly related to this post, so we though a bit of background on the flood and the causes of the flood as well as Peacebuilders approach to relief and healing would be helpful:

On December 17th Typhoon Sendong hit the northern coast of Mindanao, causing flash floods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Over 1,000 people died & more than 330,000 people were affected as a result of the flash flooding. There are still close to 50,000 displaced people in evacuation centers and make-shift tent cities.

Within hours of hearing about the Typhoon, Peacebuilders Community, Inc. began organizing and meeting to create a long-term relief strategy. Jeff and I arrived in time to accompany PBCI on their second direct relief operation and have now moved into “phase two,” preparing for mid and long-term strategies for the survivors of Typhoon Sendong.

Within our first week here in the Philippines, we have witnessed the incredible generosity and dedication of the Filipino people in response to this crisis. Though there has also been substantial international support, Filipinos have volunteered, donated, and contributed to the relief efforts in northern Mindanao in remarkable ways.

PBCI created 4 teams: direct relief, trauma healing, medical response & long-term strategic planning. The PBCI Relief Team served a total of 2,065 families. The Medical Team cared for a total of 906 patients. The trauma healing Intervention Team cared for a total of 460 traumatized children. Jeff accompanied the medical team, while I participated in long term strategic planning and coordination with a network of pastors in the region.

The flood is only an exacerbation of larger systemic and environmental issues in the Philippines, namely illegal logging. Illegal logging is inevitably connected to multi-national corporations, as well as ongoing conflict between these corporations and the New Peoples Army (one of the armed communist groups in the Philippines). Over the last several years, Peacebuilders has been working in one of the major logging areas, Bukidnon. Starting with the fairtrade coffee project (Coffee for Peace), they were able to build relationships with the people in Bukidnon and have now hired two teams of 3 people to work in strategic areas in order to address illegal logging as well as the ongoing conflict between the NPA and the multinational corporations by training and supporting Peace and Reconciliation teams within these strategic communities. The Coffee for Peace project of Peacebuilders also provides a concrete project, which encourages economic stability in the region, while also promoting sustainable agricultural practices (an alternative to illegal logging). The mudslide and flooding that caused the flash flooding in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro is directly related to the illegal logging in areas of Bukidnon. One of the more immediate and imaginative responses to the “killer logs” (named because many of the bodies were found under the logs) has been to retrieve and utilize them to rebuild homes for the survivors of the flood, being carried out by one of PBCIs partners, Ecoweb.

Since the causes of Sendong are multifaceted, Peacebuilders’ response is also multifaceted: working both at long-term solutions for illegal logging & peacebuilding while also providing direct support for relief and rehabilitation, restoration and reconciliation (potential conflict identification and management in the areas devastated by the flooding).

Jeff and I will be part of this multi-faceted approach to Sendong in our time here and the majority of what we will be doing will have a connection to the survivors of Sendong. To be part of an organization that recognizes the connection of environmental justice, peacebuilding, economic justice (fair trade) to Typhoon Sendong is incredibly inspiring and we are very energized to be a small part of these efforts. We are also very glad to dive headfirst into work here at Peacebuilders and are grateful for the ways we have been incorporated so quickly into the organization.

Although we have been here for several weeks, we just recently moved into an apartment (it was too busy and we were traveling before) and we are excited to settle here in the city (although Jeff leaves again for a medical response trip in two days). We’ll be posting more about our life here, the people we are working with, the foods & experiences we love and more stories of our work in the coming weeks and months.