Neighbors Help Each Other Rebuild

Typhoon Haiyan brought a coconut tree crashing down onto Lorena Malda’s simple pit latrine, leaving her family of six without the most basic amenity.

The November 2013 storm — one of the strongest in recorded history — was followed just a year later by a second massive storm, Typhoon Hagupit. The twin catastrophes made rebuilding long and slow for the 16 million people affected. People like Ms. Malda.

Ms. Malda and her neighbors recently joined Relief International staff in a work day to build latrines. Set in the “barangay,” or community, of Uguiao, the day was designed to deliver facilities and rain harvesters to families and to boost the practice of “bayanihan.” Bayanihan is the Filipino ethic of helping one another, especially in times of need, without expecting anything in return.

“It’s fun working together and tasks are done more quickly when a lot of people are helping each other, ” Ms. Malda says. 

In a country where health and sanitation infrastructure is already fragile, the loss of a latrine can trigger the spread of disease and environmental pollution. Without a dedicated toilet area, sometimes called a comfort room, or “CR”, people often are forced to defecate in fields, streams and yards. Many people also work far out in the fields, where toilet facilities are limited, leaving open defecation as their only option. The practice creates unsanitary conditions that foster infection and health hazards.

“The CR is very important to avoid diseases such as diarrhea,” Ms. Malda says. “A lot of kids in our barangay have diarrhea.”

Relief International met Haiyan’s immediate aftermath with safe drinking water, hygiene kits, shelter and medical care. That emergency response evolved into a far-reaching development effort to incorporate hygiene practices, such as handwashing, into the daily lives of the people of Leyte province. Funded by Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, the project raised awareness through campaigns in schools and through work days like the recent effort in Uguiao.

RI staff worked alongside community members to move materials from a central location within the barangay to each household, where the teams mixed and delivered cement to skilled laborers who completed the masonry work. The program aims to build 600 latrines and rain harvesters across nine communities by the end of 2016. A total of 265 latrines have been built so far, including the 58 that were slated for Uguiao.

In every program, Relief International invokes local participation, develops civic skills, partners with communities, and applies our different areas of expertise to a problem.  Called The RI Way, this collection of principles closely aligns with the Filipino ethic of “bayanihan.” After finishing her own latrine, Ms. Malda went back out into the community to help build those of her neighbors.

Latrines are just one piece of the rebuilding puzzle. With the support of UNICEF, Relief International also implemented a campaign in schools that focused on proper handwashing and toothbrushing techniques. RI continues to assist local government in incorporating water, sanitation and hygiene into their planning and budgets.