Philippines: Community organizing key to building back better

November 12, 2015

Development and Peace understands the importance of strong communities. When communities are united, cohesive and organized, they have to power to improve their living conditions and to be more resilient in the face of natural disasters.

In the post-disaster context there is the real risk of communities being made even weaker, as they come to depend on aid and are confronted with responses that do not correspond to their needs or the realities they are living. In essence, they emerge even more vulnerable.

With this in mind, Development and Peace has made community organizing a major component of its Typhoon Haiyan reconstruction program in the Philippines. It is supporting the training of 50 community organizers in nine dioceses that were affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan. Each of these dioceses is working with Caritas Philippines-NASSA in implementing reconstruction programs in their communities. Development and Peace wanted to ensure that community organizing was integrated into these programs so that communities not only recover from the disaster they lived through, but are empowered to continue to launch new initiatives that will make them stronger - even once aid organizations have left.

Development and Peace enlisted its long-time partner COM, which is specialized in community organizing to lead a series of trainings of the Caritas Philippines-NASSA community organizers. In addition to the trainings and workshops, the community organizers have been teamed with mentors that they can regularly debrief with, seek advice from and discuss issues with.

Hazel Yu is one of the community organizers-in-training. She is working in the Archdiocese of Palo, which has some of the most affected areas by Haiyan within its territory. An educator by profession, she finds community organizing very exciting work and can see how it builds the autonomy of the community.

“We work with people who don’t know where to go for help, especially which government agencies that can provide them with the help they need. We help them reach those agencies,” says Hazel. She says that her mentor from COM has given her strategies that have been very helpful. “The best advice he gave me was on how to intervene when communication breaks down. He told me to listen to both sides and to learn more before reacting and making a final decision on what to do,” she says.

For those in the communities, they recognize the difference when working with Caritas Philippines-NASSA. “Other organizations came and made promises, but with no results. Caritas on the other hand kept coming back. They held meetings that helped us solve our problems, and they are teaching us about solid unity in our community,” says Ramil Alino, who is a councillor in one of the communities where Hazel works.

Hazel understands how community organizing changes the quality of the relationship that organizations have with the communities they work with. “We have a different way of serving the community. With other organizations, they give the people what they want to give them, not necessarily what they need. If we weren’t here to help organize the communities, they would not have a voice, they would not be confident to speak out. They will stay needy,” she says.

And as transformative as it is for the communities, it is equally so for Hazel: “I can definitely say that I will be doing this for the rest of my life!”