When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Eastern Visayas on 8 November 2013, it spawned gigantic storm surges that left over 6,000 people dead. Six months after, government records would show that almost 30,000 were injured and more than a thousand remained missing. And despite the unprecedented outpouring of humanitarian assistance, recovery work was frustratingly slow, especially in Tacloban City where post-disaster relief and aid seemingly became mired in political contestations and general disarray.
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in June 2014 found that despite the huge amount of relief and rehabilitation money that the megadisaster had raised and the participation of international humanitarian agencies in guiding these efforts, very little was still seen by way of visible improvement in the lived reality of the Haiyan survivors. In the landmark Tacloban Declaration that was released after the ASEM, the humanitarian agencies admitted that they needed the help of other stakeholders, especially those that can employ more indigenous methods that may be more culturally appropriate towards building community resilience.
The Association of Psychologists and Helping Practitioners, Inc. (APHP), a non-stock, non-profit NGO established by psychologists from the Ateneo de Davao University Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services (COPERS), pitched in to assist psychosocial recovery efforts in 15 storm surge-hit villages in Tacloban City and one barangay in Palo, Leyte.
Funding for the 16-month Leyte Community Resilience Enhancement Project (LCREP) was provided by the Germany-based terre des hommes, augmented by support from the Columban Society in the Philippines. The Redemptorists – Tacloban and the Civil Affairs Office of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division provided logistical support to the LCREP staff in its field operations.
In mid-2014, APHP saw LCREP as an opportunity to further advance its knowledge on post-disaster psychosocial support applications and improve on what its expert base had already established in its two phases of the Mindanao Resilient Communities Project (MRCP) in 2012 and 2013, as well as from its findings from the emergency support it provided from December 2013 to February 2014 to some Haiyan-affected communities in Eastern Visayas. LCREP commenced in August 2014 with workshop facilitated by Dr. Nelly Limbadan to assess psychosocial support needs of its 13 partner villages along Cancanato Bay and the San Jose district of Tacloban, as well as two partner villages in Palo. It then proceeded to address these needs for the capacitation of local resources for self-help strategies to deliver on post-disaster tasks.
By the end of the year, the LCREP had trained 125 community partners for Psychological First Aid (PFA) and another 161 for Basic Life Support (BLS) Skills. It also conducted Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) training for 31 individuals from the Tacloban academe and civil society groups and delivered child-centered PSS services to 70 children in San Jose. Thus, the expected retraumatizing effect of the first anniversary of the Haiyan disaster did not exact an unmanageable toll on the partner villages as there were resources on the ground prepared to anticipate and address such when it manifested.
LCREP ended the year with an immersion activity that brought 17 key community partners to learn from the experience of Typhoon Pablo survivors in Compostela Valley Province and Davao Oriental. The 5-day activity gave them much inspiration for self-help strategies they could implement that could help their transitioning communities become more resistant to future disasters.
In assessing their postdisaster concerns at the end of 2014, the partner communities indicated adequacy of preparations for communitybased psychosocial support. They however identified emerging sources of existential stress stemming from insecure housing conditions and livelihood opportunities.
In response to these articulated needs, APHP redesigned LCREP to deliver sociotherapeutic interventions for social cohesion and collective agency. Community dialogues became the tool to facilitate the examination of community needs, resources, and solutions acceptable to the survivors. APHP tapped a widening base of experts in other fields to deliver appropriate training to meet the needs identified during community dialogues.
Relational adjustments were addressed through a series of community dialogues on gender sensitivity and male participation in anti-violence against women and children. LCREP also delivered inputs – both material and technical – for operating a child-friendly space facility and managing leisure activities of adolescents. For some villages, it was about their need to perform community rituals, such as the celebration of mass, representation in town festivals, and the holding of communal celebrations.
For most, however, it was about the urgent need to expand their economic opportunities within their villages. Thus, APHP directed its resources and networked with various agencies to help its partners organize to access appropriate training for their desired livelihood projects and manage the grant of materials required to initiate income generating activities. These livelihood opportunities opened up for the survivors capacitated 101 individuals in fish cage farming, 163 in meat and fish processing (smoking and deboning), 20 in backyard hog raising, entrepreneurship, and business management.
At the close of the project, APHP finds that the sociotherapeutic model it employed holds promise for generating a framework to direct MHPSS efforts beyond the post-disaster emergency phase until some measure of community stability is achieved by survivors. Collective efficiency may indeed be enhanced by restructuring the social capital of disaster populations in transit, when undertaken with sensitivity not only to the individual recovery processes but also to the disaster- affected social context.
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