Typhoon Haiyan: Empowering Communities to Rebuild


“Sir, why are you here?”

Such a simple question posed to me out of curiosity, not accusatory or menace.

I was chatting with a group of women in the village of Cutay in Leyte province in the Philippines. And I must say, I was momentarily stumped with how to respond.

The obvious answer I’ll admit was that of practicality. We travelled here to show our project to one of our partner organizations who wanted to see first-hand how donors’ money was being spent. Of the far-flung barangays (basically small villages) that CARE is operating in with our Typhoon Haiyan response, this one was closer, the road a little less bumpy. 

It’s almost four o’clock in the afternoon. This is usually my favourite time of day, when the sun begins its descent, shifting its harsh light to a gentle glow. A breeze blows across the ricefields, pleasantly cutting the heat. I feel guilty I’m almost enjoying this too much. We are responding to a catastrophe after all.

But even though there is much work to be done, the people here are so friendly and eager to show what they’ve learned that the positive vibes are contagious.

Allow me to insert some background before we proceed further: The typhoon that hit the centre of the Philippines more than three months ago damaged over 1.1 million houses, completely destroying over 550,000. As part of CARE’s emergency response efforts, we are now distributing shelter repair kits consisting of corrugated metal, specialized nails, tools and other useful items to 15,000 households (roughly 75,000 people) in the regions of Leyte and Panay. This is coupled with a cash supplement of 3,000 pesos (roughly $68) along with technical advice and training so families can “build back safer,” making their homes stronger for the next time heavy winds blow. 

It’s the last part of that paragraph that excites me most about what we’re actually trying to accomplish. It’s what made me pause as I started considering almost the existential question of what CARE was doing here in the first place.

I first came to Cutay three weeks earlier when CARE and our local partner ACCORD were distributing shelter repair kits to the people of this village. They patiently waited as the items were handed out, then optimistically walked home to rebuild. Or maybe I was attributing my own optimism to what I really thought was a bounce to their step.

I have returned to this village three times since, meeting families who saw their homes ripped away by Haiyan’s winds. Each time, I’ve been greeted with the sounds of hammering and saws as new house frames are built and stronger roofs installed.

These people are really excited about their new homes and they point out to CARE’s shelter advisor Efren Mariano (a Filipino national who they respectfully call “Engineer”) how they’re bracing their frames and featuring a better slope to their roof. Important parts of building back safer. 

They’re proud of what they’ve accomplished and eager to show it off. I suspect there’s even some friendly competition developing as they point to how they were able to lay down floor boards here, better reinforce a wall there.

I’m proud to be part of an organization that’s acting as a catalyst to make this happen. Not just dropping off supplies and hoping for the best, but sharing best practices and empowering communities to take charge of their own recovery. 

That’s why we’re here.

Written by Darcy Knoll, emergency communications coordinator for CARE International in the Philippines

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