The United Church of Christ: Still Active in Haiyan Response
In November 2013, the word “horror” best described the Philippines as Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) roared through.
Haiyan left more than 6,200 people confirmed dead and 2,000 missing. It damaged or destroyed a million homes, displacing 4.1 million people. In January 2015, nearly 220,000 people were still staying in about 1,000 evacuation centers. The disaster precipitated an economic crisis that has affected nearly 11 million people.
But today, thanks to an outpouring of generosity from across the United Church of Christ, hope is replacing horror in Haiyan-devastated Leyte Province in Central Philippines.
New typhoon-resistant homes, drinking water tanks and schools, along with vocational training and community education forums, are helping heal battered lives and communities and ensuring long-term livelihoods.
“We are building to last,” said UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth, describing the Typhoon Haiyan recovery work underway now by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) with $912,950 in support from UCC Disaster Ministries’ Haiyan Disaster Appeal.
Here is more about the UCCP’s Taskforce Haiyan Rehabilitation Project:
- 150 new typhoon-resistant homes in the communities of Buenavista, San Roque and East Visoria. Beneficiaries are impoverished households with the least capacity to cope with the adverse effects of disaster. The UCCP carefully designed the selection process to avoid any discrimination or favoritism.
“A committee of community members reviewed applications without names attached,” Wolgemuth said. “People in the community made decisions about their own community without any bias.”
Each house has about 215 square feet in floor area, including a living-dining area, small kitchen, bedroom, toilet and bath for a five-member family on average: the parents and three children. UCCP worked closely with local government, which donated some land on which to build houses.
- Four typhoon-resistant community drinking water tanks, two in Buenavista and two in San Roque, each serving 100 families. “We cannot replace every house in these communities,” Wolgemuth said, “so this is a way we can support the entire community.”
- Children’s education is getting a boost with the construction of a new elementary school, in Buenavista, and expansion of another, in East Visoria. The latter will double as an evacuation center in future storms.
- Vocational training – in carpentry, electrical installation and maintenance, and shielded metal arc welding – for 90 adults is focused on participants’ long-term success. Participants will receive government certification and tools upon completion of training.
- All-community educational forums will cover climate change, ecological justice, the state the Philippine environment, and organic farming and sustainable agriculture. To be held in conjunction: a tree-planting and cleanup drive.
- In addition, Community-Based Disaster Management Training (CBDM) will be offered to build disaster resiliency in the disaster-prone Philippines.
“Our partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines is enabling them to build capacity to respond to future disasters,” Wolgemuth said. “And a well-designed project means that the UCC is making a big impact with relatively little money.”
Wolgemuth, along with a UCC delegation that also visited Japan, were in the Philippines for the blessing of the first 50 homes and the groundbreaking for the second 50. Delegation members joined in applauding as 50 new homeowners stepped forward one by one to receive their Certificates of Occupancy, and participated in ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the just-completed houses.
Melina Higbee, Donor Relations Coordinator in the UCC’s Office of Philanthropy and Stewardship, spoke of the “hope and faith” she saw in the new homeowners’ eyes.
“All who contributed to Haiyan recovery can be proud that they have helped transform the lives of people living today and for generations to come,” she said. “Your donation helped build a home! You have given people a place to feel safe and be a family.”
Inspired by the UCC’s example, Wolgemuth added, “Presbyterian Disaster Assistance just entered a partnership with UCCP to build another 150 homes. And it all started in conversations with the UCCP exploring what the needs were and how we could work together. The work has blossomed and expanded!”
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