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The youth orgs helping typhoon survivors

By Issa Barte Published Feb 04, 2022 5:00 am

It was a year after Typhoon Ulysses had hit the Philippines — a massive typhoon that had come in consecutively with Typhoon Rolly and Quinta. I was back in the Bicol Region to check on how typhoon survivors had managed a year after its landfall — hopeful that maybe something had changed for the better. 

It had seemed like things only got worse as poverty and struggle stretched itself over 365 days. Struggle showed itself in gabi, an indigenous vegetable in the Philippines that is grown underground and plucked from the earth when it is ready. Gabi, according to Solomon Lucero, a survivor of Typhoon Ulysses, is the only crop that wasn’t stolen by the storm. It is the only thing his family could eat for a year after all his other crops were taken away. 

Typhoon Ulysses swelled rivers and flooded low-lying areas as it passed over the Bicol Region.

“Even just the milk of my kids, I don’t have enough for. That’s what I think of — the lives of my kids. How many times have I just cried thinking about it? Who can we ask for help from?” Lucero told me. 

These typhoons don’t just come and go. They take everything with them. 

A month after I came back from my fieldwork in Bicol, news about a new typhoon came into the picture. Typhoon Odette hit the Philippines last Dec. 16, 2021, making an already hard year for Filipinos catastrophic. Four hundred and seven lives were taken away, with over one million families affected, leaving many individuals with no livelihood to rebuild their homes and lives.

The harrowing gap in media coverage and mobilization in the first days made youth organizations the early driving forces of support for typhoon survivors.

Aerial photo of Siargao Island, where Typhoon Odette made its first landfall. 

My worries resurface as a whole month passed since Typhoon Odette’s landfall — with still so much to do for our people. There are still calls for immediate relief like food and water. Calls for medicine, and especially construction materials, as heavy rains still persist in these affected areas. 

To help, we’ve come up with a list of trusted youth organizations that have stepped up amidst broken and incompetent systems to continue to ensure affected communities get the help they deserve.

Lokal Lab

Lokal Lab is a registered Siargao-based NGO that supports local communities through sustainable projects. They believe that by solving issues with the community rather than for them, they will be able to create more tangible and sustainable change. By including the community in decision-making, they are able to empower their communities to take the lead for their future and their potential.

The day of the storm, Lokal Lab immediately mobilized to gather awareness, donations and help for their island. In less than three weeks, they were able to crowdfund, deploy relief missions, collect approximately 150 tons (P7 million worth) of in-kind donations and provide roofing shelter kits for almost 1,000 households.

Lokal Lab supports local communities through sustainable projects.

They have set up over eight community kitchens in the island where they were able to serve over 10,000 warm meals in a week and provide labor opportunities for local women. 

Says co-founder Kara Rosas: “We are currently working on long-term livelihood recovery projects such as using fallen coconut trees for rebuilding homes, restarting local farms for food security on the island, building a boat-building facility for local fishermen, and rehabilitating the biodiversity of the island through agroforestry. This is all made possible by the efforts of all our partners on the ground and foundations, donors and experts helping us get our island back on our feet. While 95 percent of our island may be damaged, the spirit of bayanihan has never been stronger.”

For the Future

When For the Future began in 2019, their first project was focused on reforesting the ancestral lands of the Yangil Tribe in a bid to build a whole new forest in our lifetimes.

Who will protect our people when the leaders who have sworn to do so won’t? As we think of solutions to mitigate the effects of these typhoons on our people, we have to act critically.

Seeing firsthand what the youth can do when given the opportunity, For the Future has since expanded its avenues of environmental action for young people to protect not only our home, but also our people. They’ve since begun projects for our frontliners, tackled food security, empowered indigenous peoples and protected our indigenous wildlife, and their most extensive project yet: the Climate Emergency and Typhoon Relief Fund together with Kids for Kids.

For the Future aims to bring the Filipino reality to the forefront of conversations. 

In their second year of relief work this 2022, the two-girl-led and youth-empowered organizations have since deployed over P20 million to affected communities in 80-plus areas in the Philippines. Their climate emergency fund has since invested in medium-term support like solar lights, water filters, housing, farmer subsidies and school sponsorships for typhoon survivors aside from immediate relief.

For the Future aims to use the power of storytelling to bring the Filipino reality to the forefront of conversations. 

Issa Barte, co-founder, says: “Who will protect our people when the leaders who have sworn to do so won’t? As we think of solutions to mitigate the effects of these typhoons on our people, we have to act critically.

“We have to vote for leaders who think like us young people do. To finally make these words of ‘resiliency’ (ring) true, we have to act efficiently, we have to turn these Band-Aid solutions into long-term plans of protection and progress for our people.”

Centre for Sustainability PH

The Centre for Sustainability PH, Inc. is a women- and youth-led environmental non-profit organization based in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan with the mission to conserve land and protect the Philippines’ last remaining forests. They are distributing in-kind and cash donations for the 10 communities of Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat (CNCH) devastated by Typhoon Odette, including seven lowland coastal communities and three upland indigenous Batak and Tagbanua communities.

Based on their initial ground surveys, their indigenous communities are the worst hit at CNCH, between 39 to 81 per cent of households having totally lost their homes, and the remaining households suffering at least partial damage.

Urgent support is needed to conduct restoration work and protect these highly vulnerable and biodiversity-rich areas from encroachment and forest fires as we enter the province’s driest and hottest months.

Volunteer Erika Teng Gui says: “Our indigenous tribes are the guardians of our natural world — we are forever indebted to them, which is why we must help in any way we can.”

Kids for Kids

When Kids for Kids began its organization in 2015, their first project was to design the last evacuation center after Typhoon Yolanda in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Seeing the most affected areas of one of the world's strongest typhoons and working with the kids of the area, they were inspired to continue to create a safe environment for Filipino youth, even seven years later.

Kids for Kids is built around the Filipino value of ‘pakikipagkapwa.’

Kids for Kids turned their relief efforts into a long-term campaign to show that this crisis is a reality we will have our entire lifetimes. But within this lifetime they hope to create a legacy built by friends for the future of every Filipino.

Co-founder Tasha Tanjutco says: “In the Philippines we have this concept called pakikipagkapwa. It is the idea of seeing ourselves in others; the ultimate oneness of humankind. This golden rule in our culture binds our people together and every typhoon season this is what we see manifested in so many young people. Growing up, we never heard the term ‘climate refugee,’ it was always ‘typhoon survivor.’ We place optimism in adversities because we have no choice but to build resilience for the sake of survival — with and for our environment.”

Aksyon ng Kabataan Organization (AKO)

Aksyon ng Kabataan Organization is a youth-led NGO formed to lead a community invested in social change. They advocate for Children's Welfare and Social Justice, guided by their principles of equity, access, rights and participation.

AKO advocates children's welfare and social justice.

With the destruction caused by the recent Typhoon Odette, AKO aims to serve as a bridge to people who want to help and the people who need help. Together with partner organizations, AKO’s donation channels remain open for monetary donations and their warehouse in Marikina is still open to accepting in-kind donations.

While main headquarters are located in Metro Manila, on-ground teams have been working to mobilize all over the Philippines — in Bohol, Cebu, Dinagat, Negros, Leyte, Sourthern Leyte, Siargao, Surigao and Palawan — such that the bayanihan spirit continues to be felt through each peso and package donated.

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A post shared by AKO (@ako.orgph)

Sam Villavicencio, co-founder: “The story of resilience has been told far too many times. Each year, Filipinos are forced to swim in floods, holding onto whatever’s left from homes that have been ravaged by the typhoon. You’d think that it would get easier — that the next year, we’d be more equipped with climate emergency plans and immediate relief. Yet we live through the same struggle.

“Our people don’t want to swim. They want to survive. While it is inspiring to see the youth coming together through each peso and package donated, the spirit of bayanihan is sought from those who have the power to transform short-term efforts into long-term solutions.”

One Million Lights Philippines

Giving light is more than what it is, especially to someone who is left in the dark.

One Million Lights Philippines is a nationally awarded, youth-led organization that provides solar-powered lights to impoverished, off-grid Filipino communities. However, in times of calamity OML PH also aids in supplying victims, such as those of Super Typhoon Odette, with solar-powered lights.

Generous individual and corporate donations are making the provision of hundreds of solar-powered lights, fans and chargers possible. These are currently being distributed to countless areas hit in the Visayas-Mindanao region. 

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A post shared by AKO (@ako.orgph)

Co-head Naomi Riskin: "Light, to us living in cities, may be something that we don’t give much thought to, but take a moment to imagine how our lives would look without it. Light isn’t just light –– it’s a means to let our children study better, to give our nanays a way to work at night, and our tatays a safer way back home. Giving light is more than what it is, especially to someone who is left in the dark. This is change you can see –– this is change we can give. This is change our people deserve."