27 November, 2013 generalgangsta

Getting to know home

This article is about the lead up to the campaign #Giveabanca. To find out more, please watch the video and go to www.facebook.com/vsobahaginan.

To donate go to Give A Banca

I’ve been a bit quiet since typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has struck. Quiet, probably from a social media perspective, where you think being out here in the Philippines, I could be reporting additional information not covered by the media outlets. To be honest, I am based in Luzon an area not affected at all, compared to the devastation caused in Eastern Visayas, or Northern Cebu; so I don’t really have much to say that could add any real value… until now.

I have never experienced a typhoon before as living and growing up in London that never really happened, apart from the odd great storm (thank you Michael Fish). So when the typhoon was closely approaching, it was coinciding with my trip to Sagada in Northern Luzon to visit my family (from my mums side) from November 8. I have been looking forward to this trip for so long now, so I was eager to get out of Manila and up in the mountains.

As reports of the typhoon coming in, of it being a really bad one, I wasn’t necessarily concerned about the typhoon itself, but more so if it would affect my trip, leaving me stuck away from not seeing my family during my week off work. People in the office were very nonchalant about the typhoon, experiencing around 20 typhoons a year that hit land, it was apparent that Filipino’s are use to it, and that rubbed off on me. But as the typhoon was getting closer, the desperation of wanting to leave Manila was intensifying. Luckily for me, the journey was fine, with no real delays and just a bit of heavy rainfall, I managed to get up to Baguio and then Sagada, after 12 hours of travelling with a stop over at a cousins place.

I felt so utterly relieved to be with my family. Maybe it was a natural instinct that I had such a strong desire to be with my family during this time, as when we woke up and started watching the news the devastation started to come through. Areas such in Leyte and Northern Cebu were really destroyed, with bodies being found everywhere. An overwhelming sense of guilt came over me, that being in the Philippines I had an obligation to the people, to my family and my heritage to do go and do something. This was amplified by the vast amount of messages I got about people asking whether I was OK. I really appreciated it, but I was so far away from it, I may as well have been in the UK; and felt utter guilt that concern was raised for me but not for the people who really needed it. So with these mixed emotions inside, what could I do?

There was one rule I had. I never wanted to be a disaster tourist. Rubber necking at the devastation caused, or maybe carrying a couple of relief sacks, taking a few photos and having some fodder for dinner party conversations. The thought of that makes me feel physically sick. I also never wanted to go out to any of the affected areas unless I could offer help that would be of use. The minute you introduce another person, into an area that has been affected, you want to make sure the benefit of you being there, will out weigh the food, water, fuel for the generator, fuel for the transportation and resources required to sustain you during your time there.

So, there were two skills I had to offer. Project Management. Though my background is IT projects, I think realistically there wasn’t any time for me to offer this skill. I also had a responsibility for VSO to deliver on a large IT System implementation. This system will help our volunteer and employee recruitment and management, which will help us to fill placements, and will facilitate trying to find high quality volunteers. I couldn’t abandon that at the last minute to focus on this effort, as this is a contributor to supporting our programmes, which are all about long term sustainability. I am also a filmmaker who wants to make a feature film in Sagada. I had my equipment with me, just so I can capture ideas for locations in Sagada based there. But, what could I film? The news agencies are out there, and my contacts at VSO Bahaginan where 400 km in Manila, so I had no real idea of what to film.

I decided to just get on and enjoy my vacation. During this I spent a lot of time really getting to know my family better, as the last visit was in 2010, which was surrounded by a lot of family members being home for my cousins wedding. I was now here at a time that there was no real occasion in being here, so there was no fanfare. I also spent a lot of time getting to understand my roots, the language (Kankana-ey), which unfortunately I do not speak (but am slowly tryong to learn), but also my family history. My cousins decided to give me my Igorot name, as most of them have one. I was named Sagandoy. You usually have a naming ceremony or “gobuay” which involves killing a chicken and then having food. We did have a chicken… but it was bought from the local market.

However, even though I was really spending the time with my family; which to be honest was one of the best vacations I have had in the last few years, I still had that sense of wanting to do something for the affected people of the typhoon.  Before I left Manila, I met with Cindy from Ricefield Collective (www.ricefield.co). This is a charity that a friend of mine in the UK is involved in. The charity is located a few hours away from Sagada, and I always wanted to help do a video long before I was in the Philippines. I decided to seek this opportunity before I went away, but now with the typhoon it was apparent that sustainability for the people all over the Philippines was important. Even though people may have not been directly affected, life goes on. People would ask me, “what’s the atmosphere like out in the Philippines?” To be honest you would think a typhoon hadn’t happen in the unaffected areas, as people resume work and continue with their life. News coverage was on regularly to give you that feeling of this was happening in this country. But you know it’s definitely something in the minds of the people, as random thoughts come about what was happening in Eastern Samar or Tacloban, at random moments throughout the day. But people have to carry on with their life, they have livelihoods to sustain.


And it was this thought, that made me really want to film this charity with more of a desire than before. Being over 1000km away from what was going on, I decided to make the trip with my cousin to Banaue (the famous rice terraces) and then an hour on tricycle over the bumpiest roads I’ve experienced to this small community where all these wonderful women were knitting. I filmed the women working away, getting some great footage, but I also interviewed some of the women. My cousin helping with translations (even though she doesn’t speak Ifugao), it was great to see that this charity is providing a secure livelihood for a place that would be forgotten about. The people can now have some sort of income, stop taking out loans and being in perpetual debt. To me, this sits entirely with my ethos of working in the sector of long term sustainability. Unfortunately can be hard to fund raise for our programme of works, as it’s not as easy to ‘sell’ to donors than people who need help now.

Another organization I filmed whilst in Sagada, was called BeeKAS (www.facebook.com/sagadabeekas) – The Bee Keepers Association of Sagada. It’s alternative meaning is Bikas meaning hardworking, like the bee itself. This was something my cousin’s husband (and some distant cousins I only found out about) were a part off. Nearly all of the 25 members are environmental guides in Sagada. So they care about the preservation of nature for the local area, as they also look at reforestation and general preservation of the environment. They were really bunch of interesting people that also wanted to increase their income by starting up bee keeping, so they can produce honey to sell but also to ensure that pollination would really continue to help the environment. Helping the environment seemed so important to what was going on with climate change, and again this fulfilled my ideas of looking at long term sustainability.

After this trip, I went back to Manila and into work. Sadden by leaving my wonderful family behind, it left me with a feeling of I need to go back to my maternal home more often and to continue the education of my history, but also to spend time with some awesome people. But, being back in the office it felt good, to be working and contributing to an organization that in whatever way is contributing to the development of the Philippines. It was fairly quiet, as some people weren’t there as they have been working on the relief effort. VSO is not a humanitarian disaster response organization; however as an organization that talks a lot about putting people first, it was only natural we had to respond. Particularly as the programmes of work we do, and the partners we work with, the people that we help were directly affected by the typhoon. I spoke to Jay Neil who was out in Northern Cebu on a relief operation, and I asked how can help? I talked about my film making skills and his eyes lite up. They needed to try and document and capture what was going on but also they were working on a campaign #Savethebancas (www.facebook.com/vsobahaginan).  I spent a little time understanding the programme and how I could really contribute and it seemed to me that this is really something I can do to help support our fundraising effort but also our long term objectives as it covered three distinct things.

  1. We were to give three rounds of relief to cover 2,500 families ( in the Bantayan Islets, where they were really affected by the typhoon. There’s the obvious initial problem where people need immediate support for their families to start thinking about getting back on their feet. The main focus was PWD (Person with Disability) as these are the people who VSO and their partner organisations (Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme, De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, and Assiociation for Aid and Relief-Japan) focus on.
  2. The second thing was, which I was there to really support and film for was the #GiveABanca campaign. This will give primarily PWD’s the ability to secure their livelihood by having a boat, and being able to fish again. Meaning they can focus on getting an income and a regular source of food.
  3. The final thing that it would ultimately support is normal life resumes then the current programme of work we’re doing about enabling PWD’s to be involved in the elections, to understand how and why to vote and to ensure their say within the community, will be able to resume and continue once they know their livelihood is secured.

This relief effort and trip really covered all three important things for me, and I decided to do this for VSO. One of the key things of this trip was to ensure I could contribute something that VSO needed, which was media and coverage for the campaign. But also, to ensure that this trip was as cost neutral as possible. So I tried to ensure that I would contribute as much as possible and pay my way, as I was volunteering my time for VSO Bahaginan.


During this trip, seeing what unfolded was heartbreaking in terms of the devastated houses, boats, power lines and building. The video I filmed really sums up the things I saw and the atmosphere. It was a long journey to get there, but as the destruction slowly unfolded you can see the need increase more and more. But people are starting to try to rebuild their lives.

Another thing that happened that made my brain tick into overdrive, how can we prepare people for the future for any typhoons that may come again? How can we better sustain the people for the future? How can we have better data to use to help us with future planning? How can we improve the systems to make it work under these circumstances? And then the questions and the discussions with my fellow team started to ensue. Very interesting conversations from locals to people involved in disaster relief all over the world, was so educational. From this IT background to being out here really put so much of the work I’ve been doing over the last few years into a perspective that I think will help me in my work for the future.


It also made me realize that there are great organisations really providing change. Working on an IT System right in the backend, you totally forget about why you work for the organization you do. Then you see the great work that we do, meet the volunteers and the recipients of the programme and it makes you think “yes this is why!” I also met some amazing volunteers and people from our partner organisations who were so interesting, with amazing stories (shared over a few beers over a hard days work).  The volunteers, who were from GVSP, were young but incredibly intelligent, doing some very high level and complex tasks and operations… and were all national volunteers. That to me brought a sense of happiness I can’t really explain in words in this article. But one of the main things it did bring to me, is the importance of skilled volunteers. In what VSO primarily does in bringing skilled volunteers makes so much sense. Going back to my rule of not taking away food and resources away, having skilled people on the ground for overall international development is so important.

As we were returning, we stopped over to watch the Manny Pacquiao fight, at my request, but support from some of my team mates. I love Manny being half Filipino it’s the law, but I really enjoy boxing. Now boxing may be a sport that really makes people shudder due to the brutality, and I can understand why, but the reason I also wanted to watch the fight is that Manny brings unity of the people. When he fights, everything stops and everyone watches. This was evident as we watched it in a large gymnasium, which was also a relief centre. As he fought the relief was stopped temporarily as everyone was crowded around two projectors set up especially for the local people. To me when Manny won, me and my team mates who watched it, felt so happy. It was a boost the nation needed during this time, and being together with all these people all wanting the same thing, for Manny to KO Brandon Rios, it was a beautiful moment set against what was going on in the background.

As I returned, leaving behind the great people I met and became friends with over the 3 day trip, I immediately went back into work to start the editing process, whilst continuing with my project for VSO. And even though tiredness is my biggest enemy right now, I haven’t been more energised in my entire life. To say that this trip changed my life is very Hollywood and seems a bit over the top, but I can honestly say that is true. My entire time out here for the last 6 weeks has really opened my eyes and my mind, more so to my own family and country history that I’ve been proud off for a long time… but also about being able to work in the Philippines with some fantastically talented people, it has really brought so much contentment, but also further drive to the things that I am doing.

All I know is, I will continue to build on the connections I have reestablished and built for a very long time, and will continue to share my skill and knowledge wherever and whenever I can.

Written by Ivan – Director of Hentucky Productions and Madsons, the organisation that is currently working with VSO. 


To donate go to Give A Banca