(Feature)How Red Cross remains a major force in Yolanda recovery

December 8, 2015 7:51 am 

TACLOBAN CITY, Dec. 7 – The Red Cross has already built 66, 011 houses for the victims of typhoon "Yolanda", the world’s strongest typhoon to hit land on Nov. 8, 2013.

The houses were built in nine provinces, three cities and 73 towns, 762 villages that benefited 1, 224, 413 individuals in central Philippines to date.

The housing project alone has amounted to Php 2.2 billion, while its completion rate also surpassed the housing projects from other aid groups and even the national government in devastated communities.

How did this happen?

“We know ourselves, we know who we are,” came the reply of Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Richard Gordon.

“We are in the business of saving lives…and we are always first, always ready, and always there. Do you think we will stop on anything? We will not,” Gordon said in a speech on November 8 during this year’s second commemorative event of the typhoon in Tacloban city.

Shunning too much publicity and even politicians during the occasion, Gordon found a special time to recognize all the volunteers and donor partners who came to their rescue for one of the biggest Red Cross disaster relief and rehabilitation operations immediately after Yolanda hit the central part of the country.

“We have defined ourselves many times, but of course once in a while we have to make a report, and that report is important because we have donors, that report is important because other people would ask us what we do to justify our 152 years (of existence),” Gordon said.

“We have a responsibility to go back to our history… inspired by our noble history, because that give strength to our organization,” he added, while recalling the massive efforts the Red Cross organization have done since day one after Yolanda.

In his report, Gordon disclosed that they have disbursed Php 592, 180, 000 for livelihood assistance which include conditional cash grants benefiting 59, 218 families.

Another 1,109 individuals age 18 to 36 years old are enrolled in skills training program which cost Php 33.27 million. At least 135 individuals completed the skills training program and are already employed.

While 6, 001 individuals are also supported with livelihood technical training.

On health, Gordon said that they have repaired and reconstructed 38 health facilities amounting to Php 23.36 million, provided 77 health facilities (60 rural health units; 17 district hospitals) with medical equipment amounting to Php 13.47 million and gave opportunities to 121 communities to participate in community-based health programming while mobilizing 1,145 Red Cross 143 volunteers in implementing it amounting to Php 18.15 million.

Red Cross also assisted 42, 222 individuals with medical consultations, health promotions and health care referral, and supplement feeding.

On water sanitation and hygiene, Gordon said 32 schools were provided with water sanitation and facilities (PhP16 million), while 55,503 families or 277, 515 individuals participated in hygiene promotion activities and provided with water and sanitation facilities (Php 27.75 million).

While on education, 410 classrooms were rehabilitated and constructed (Php 68.59 million) and 5, 083 school kits were distributed (Php 2.54 million).

These on top of their emergency period response from Nov. 8, 2013 to March 30, 2014 which covered food ration to 1.95 million individuals, or 390,399 families, and distributed non-food items such as plastic mats, blankets, mosquito nets, water containers, tarpaulins and kitchen sets to 1.29 million people, or 258,972 families.

Also during early recovery phase, its cash assistance program supported 90,779 families or 453,895 persons totaling Php 281.52 million from Dec. 2013 to March 2014. The Unconditional cash relief given per family was ranging from Php 2,000 and Php 5,000.

“When we remember today…we do it well…It is our time to say what we have done,” Gordon said, while reminding the organization for a “ceaseless recovery and renewal” coupled with its trademark of “integrity and transparency.”

“This is just continued effort…Suffering shall not stop. We are here not to congratulate ourselves but to strengthen our character…We lead and you lead,” Gordon added, noting on the importance of “focus, fast, flexible and forward looking” attitude in the organization to maintain its vision in service of humanity.

Tragedy recalled

Gwendolyn Pang, PRC secretary-general, during the event remembered how they in the Manila headquarter lost contact of their team on the ground in Leyte province at about 4 a.m. on Nov. 8 two years ago.

“It took us almost 24 hours to be connected with them again. Our Chairman stayed with us in the Headquarter even days before Yolanda made landfall. Already, we have deployed many of our prepositioned goods, equipment, vehicles, mobilized our volunteers, and many of our volunteers and staff were affected greatly by Yolanda. We were actually clueless of the extent of the devastation.

"But I think, what prepared us well is because of the power of humanity, the leadership of our Chairman Gordon, and the very strong passion of the volunteers and staff that made us go through these difficult times,” Pang said.

“In my 18 years in professional work with PRC I’ve never seen such devastation, suffering, hardships, challenges. Overwhelming, that is. The support and encouragement we received however in the PRC from the whole Red Cross and Red Crescent committee, private sectors, government, from other groups were also overwhelming. In the aftermath, Red Cross became the beacon of hope.

“And I would see into the eyes of the people that we serve, and even within us in the PRC that whenever we see the Red Cross emblem, we see hope and also inspiration,” she added.

According to Pang, Yolanda response is the biggest operation they have in recent history in PRC and Red Cross Red Crescent movement, “with over 12,000 selfless volunteers who came and responded, with over USD450 million worth of collective operation budget.”

“We’re very happy of the support of 138 Red Cross Red Crescent globally, with over 100 private and multi-national companies, and around 80 locals and international partner organizations working with us side by side.

"Let us continue to remember those who perished from this tragedy. We don’t want to lose more lives unnecessarily in the future. Our Chairman always, on the reminder on this, that we should always excel in whatever we do, give the best humanitarian services, but he also wants us to prepare very well,” Pang said, as they paid tribute to the “great men and women” of the Red Cross “whose service and lives were put above themselves in the service of other people.”

“We are thankful of those many people. Their generosity and kindness…This is not an easy operation for PRC. Yolanda stretched us to the limit. Yes, we were faint but we did not break. The whole country came stronger from that experience. Yolanda was worst thing that happen to us but it also brought the best in us,” Pang said.

Proud movement

Xavier Castellanos, Red Cross Director for Asia Pacific, also expressed his gratitude to the volunteers and staff of the organization.

“I feel very proud, because what the PRC symbolizes of our humanitarian mission is very big. Yolanda tested PRC capacity to response…Every one of us we can comfortable that we have Red Cross with highest standard,” Castellanos said, while praising Chairman Gordon of his leadership and commitment.

While Sari Nissi, Deputy Head of Delegation at International Committee of the Red Cross, gave assurance that the organization remains “committed” to serve the local communities in case another emergency do occur in the country.

“The resilience of the survivors is remarkable.”

Endless gratitude

PRC-Leyte Chapter Administrator Miguel T. Tezon and Eastern Samar Red Cross Chapter Chairman Jesse Solidon thanked IFRC for their help.

Mayor Cheeryl Enrica Esperas of San Miguel town in Leyte took the opportunity to express gratitude to the Red Cross “for being the first to visit our town and never left this day.”

“Red Cross encourages me to stand up, to work hard in the town,” she added.

Her town received 885 houses and 1, 800 livelihood support from Red Cross.

“I will be forever indebted to Red Cross,” Esperas said.

Joining her was Barugo town mayor Alden Avestruz, who also thanked PRC and Chairman Gordon after receiving housing and livelihood assistance for the affected families in his area.

“No need to thank Gordon. We thank you for your goodness…We don’t give, we promote renewal, dignity,” the PRC chairman said.

More than 7,500 people were killed during typhoon Yolanda mostly from Tacloban city and nearby towns. (PNA)

RMA/SQM/RONALD O. REYES/EGR

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