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Day 12: Digging it!

The crew is back at Phase 3 today – soon-ish to be site of 400 homes for those displaced by the flooding caused by Typhoon Sendong. After helping to complete the very first unit on a very tight schedule in time for the President’s visit, we’ve been invited back to dig the trenches for the next ones to be built. Three more buildings have been marked out and our friends on the Habitat coordination team has challenged us to dig the footings for all three today. Bear in mind that each building is made up of four homes each with a shared wall, so if they finish today 12 families will be the proud owners of some holes in the ground. Which will then be filled with concrete and have houses built on them. No mean feat.

The ten All Hands volunteers have been joined by ten local workers and as you can see the soil is already flying! Click here to see the team in full flow.


Day 8: Neil’s First Day

How to ruin a good shirt in one easy step - go to a mud site all day!

Day 6: Hello Mr President

Yup, that’s right. The President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, stopped by Cala’anan today to lay a ceremonial block in the wall of the first house of 6000 that Habitat for Humanity will be building – with the help of All Hands volunteers, of course! There was much cheering and hand shaking and giving of speeches, including with a shout-out to the international volunteers who had come from all over the world to help the community and the country.

Decked out in our finest (read: cleanest) All Hands shirts we circulated in the crowd smiling for photos and admiring our hard work. Well not mine specifically, but a team of our volunteers has been up at the build site for the last three days helping the ambitious build schedule stay on track and hauling heaving things and getting dirty like all good volunteers do. And just to put the cherry on the cake, a representative of San Miguel, one of the largest businesses in the country, not only promised some of their wonderful beer gratis to quench the thirst of our hardworking folks, but also offered me a part in a TV commercial for their famous beer. I’m going to be famous!

Day 2: Meet Nita

Nita is a local lady I met a couple of days after arriving here in Mindanao. She was walking house-to-house in the community, and tent-to-tent in the large relocation centre near our base, selling the tasty Filipino snack empanadas – based on the Spanish treat of the same name. At less than 60p for seven little meat/veg/cheese/egg pastries I took a whole bag to share amongst the team. I also took her phone number. Knowing volunteers and their bottomless stomachs, I called yesterday and invited her to stop by in the evening of the project’s opening day. She completely sold out!

As she was selling she began to tell us her story. Nita and her six children used to live down in the city proper and were given the opportunity to move here – about 25 minutes from downtown CDO a year ago. NGO Oro Habitat for Humanity has been building permanent homes for low income families in this area for over 10 years and families can move in and pay for the property through a no-interest loan. Many Nita’s new neighbours in the relocation camp are her old neighbours from when she lived in the city. If the family had still been living there they would have been one of those affected by Typhoon Washi and the subsequent flash flooding that caused so much destruction here.

Her story helps to highlight how important such housing programs are. Residents of low-income areas, families who do not own the land on which they live, people who have no choice but to live in areas which are poorly protected from the storms which often batter this country – have been slowly but surely relocated to safer, more suitable locations and given the opportunity to own their own homes. In the coming weeks All Hands volunteers will begin to assist with the construction of permanent houses like these for those affected by this disaster so that hopefully in the future, fewer people will find themselves so vulnerable.


Day 1 – Kumusta Volunteers

Project CDO has opened its doors to its first official volunteers. The All Hands old hands were out in the field
flying the flag as new volunteers started arriving at the base. The team hauled and scrubbed and bucketed and gutted. Back here at the house forms were being signed, papers were filed, the copier was humming, both bathrooms were occupied. Later the showers were full of mud and muddy people, the tools have been cleaned but have happily lost that new tool lustre after a day’s hardcore typhoon response. And even more people should arrive over the next couple of hours.

Not only are things happening on the volunteer side. Word is spreading about who we are, what we do and how we do it. The family who lived in the house our team went to today came out in force to help with the clean-up operation and many more stopped by. Impressed by what they saw they requested our help with cleaning their own houses.

Projects are in the pipeline, partnerships are coming together, relationships are bearing fruit, friends are being made, associations developed. There is the sound of new boots being stepped into and clean (not for long!) shirts being pulled on and the smell of willingness to work like you’ve never worked before is in the air.

The project has come to life.

Assessment Day

Protected from both wet feet and the hot, tropical sun, today we set about finding homeowners who need volunteer assistance ready for the influx of willing workers on Friday. Paddling around a flooded subdivision of Cagayan de Oro we found a hive of activity. People were busy doing what they could; hauling mud to the street in buckets, hosing down floors and cars, fishing possessions out of the soupy mess the water left behind, washing and bleaching water damaged bedding.

We found plenty of people who’d be hugely grateful for assistance with removing warped, moldy wooden ceilings, wall panels and kitchen cabinets as well as hauling ruined possessions, scrubbing dirty floors and pulling up rotting lino. Many people in this community are elderly and cannot manage these things themselves. Others are physically and mentally exhausted having been working to get back into their homes for a month. In the coming weeks our volunteers will be able to work with these families and restore these buildings to a livable condition, helping people out of emergency and temporary shelters and enabling them to go home.

I hope everyone who’s applied is looking forward to coming home smeared in filth and smelling of sludge – it’s going to happen!

Our New House!

Moving day


I am still waking up at 5am on account of jet lag so I had plenty of time to eat breakfast, fire off a few emails to potential volunteers and pack everything back into my bags before the big move began. You wouldn’t have thought I’d have unpacked much, only having been here since Wednesday, but no, there was nothing left in my suitcase save a mosquito net and a pair of socks. Of course, even getting up at five does not give you time to pull off the incredible and physics-defying game of tetris I had pulled off once  again when packing my stuff and so I struggled downstairs with twice the number of bags I had come with, each bursting at the zips with things I didn’t know I’d brought, and loaded myself and all my worldly goods (except all those boxes lovely stored in my parent’s loft!) into a Jeepney for transporting to the new base.

Tonight the Project CDO advance team spends its first night in what will be our home for at least the next two months. Preparations now move into a more tangible stage. Paperwork is approved and ready. Systems and back-up plans have been discussed and agreed upon. Now we start fitting out a beautiful family home into a space that can accommodate up to 35 busy, dirty, rambunctious people. We need gallons of cleaning products, miles of toilet paper, things to sit on, eat off, eat with … and so on. Thankfully the team is pretty small right now so all this can wait for the morning, because that jet lag is kicking in again. Bed time at 7.45 – and you thought it was all glamour and excitement! Well, long hours of mud and sledgehammers and emails at the very least.

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