We’ve had a couple of interesting jobs going on this week, broadening the menu of work available again now that our volunteer numbers have increased. In the run up to Holy Week numbers dropped off as people went on break and volunteer turnover was high as short term volunteers wanted to wait and arrive after April 9th to avoid spending a big part of their time idle.
Getting back into the swing of things this week a team set out on Monday morning to begin clearing the scrub and brush on a two hectare site that CRS is going to build transitional shelters on. The plot looked like prime snake country and the team were nicknamed the snake slayers. Armed with rakes and machetes the 7 All Hands volunteers made a valiant start hacking at trees and bushes.
The the Mormons showed up. CRS had asked the local LDS church to provide a handful of people to help us and make sure we were able to finish within the 6 day deadline. Turns out there was some miscommunication and the 8 we were expected turned into a crowd of 80! 80 yellow vested local volunteers appeared armed with all manner of useful tools and the newly massive team got down to business. Needless to say with so many hands on deck the job was finished before the end of the work day. Two hectares completely cleared! Big thanks to the LDS team and our volunteers for a job well done in just 20% of the time we thought it would take.
Just one more amazing feather in the Project CDO hat. Help us do more by voting for us in an online review here. The winner will get $2500 towards their project – in All Hands terms that would mean 125 more volunteer days and if the story above doesn’t show you just what that could achieve, nothing will!
This evening on Project Cagayan de Oro it started to rain. We raised our voices through the meeting and yelled at each other across the table over beers later. Then it really started coming down. The noise of the drops hammering on the tin roof of our eating/meeting area was unbelievable. The conversations stopped, people were just looking around in amazement at the incredible racket. Gradually it began to tail off and the chit chat resumed.
Then Lionel, local volunteer extraordinaire, came over, soaked through and covered in mud. “The tent camp is flooding. Anyone want to help?” Turns out a couple of people had headed over in the rain anticipating that a few extra hands might be in order. The deluge had other plans and had quickly made more than enough work for all of us. Chairs scrapped back, beers were drained and everyone headed back to the house to change back into their work clothes. Travis got out of the shower where he was washing off a day’s mud and dirt to go and get covered in it again. The team trooped out, shovels in hand and got stuck in.
Our neighbours are evacuees waiting for relocation into permanent housing. The communities they lived in were destroyed by the December floods. The land they used to live on has been determined “red zone” as it is high risk for flooding in the future and rebuilding will not be allowed. Having just watched water claim their possessions the residents had turned out in force, armed with shovels and hoes, and begun the work of digging ditches to drain the ground under their new tent-homes. Seeing with headlamps and blinded by sweat, even at this time of night, we worked until all the boggiest “streets” were trenched and then loaded up the truck and came back to change and shower all over again.
This is why I love this place and these people and this organization. Where else could someone interrupt a well-deserved evening of chatting and beer with the offer of getting wet and dirty to help someone they don’t know and receive such an overwhelming reaction. No grumbling. No coercion. Just smiles in the shadows and the sound of wellies being pulled on in the dark.
Read Marc’s account of the evening here.
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.
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!
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.
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!