When lockdown measures were implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even development projects were halted. Community-based trainings and workshops implemented by actors from outside the barangays were not allowed as they could be carriers of the virus. Local leaders play a critical role in a time when external support is limited and when the community’s safety is prioritized.
CARE local partner organization, ACCORD, Inc., ensures that potential leaders are recognized and gradually help them develop their capacities, self-confidence, and credibility. ACCORD shared, “Organizing and building capacities of local champions, community facilitators, and project steering committees at the barangay level was done as part of the project’s adaptive and sustainability measures. When staff’s mobility was restricted, valuable assistance was provided by the community champions – not only in the implementation of emergency responses on the ground, but also in setting up regular project activities with our field teams. The project intends to engage and work with the same champions throughout the project, whose capacities for local leadership will remain, even after project closure.”
Among these local leaders is Josefina, 65, who serves as a Barangay Health Worker in Cullit, Gattaran in the province of Cagayan. Her daily duties include monitoring the health of children and elderly persons in their community. Since resources are scarce, she also helps out in medicine allocation, prioritizing the old and the sick. Now that there is a pandemic, she also helped out in the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) of the government, ensuring that the most vulnerable are included in the list. Josefina said that what she does in her barangay brings her happiness because she was able to provide help to her fellow senior citizens, especially now that the pandemic made serving her community more challenging. She recalled that her worst experience of a calamity was in 2012. She shared, “our community and livestock had to be evacuated in higher grounds, and whatever was left behind were covered in thick mud after being submerged in the flood. Our family and neighbors had to clean the waist-deep mud in our houses, and had to sleep on the streets for about three weeks.” Because of this, she recognizes the importance of disaster preparedness, “the INCREASE project helped our community in planning and preparing for hazards and disasters.”
To also continue actively involving the communities despite the restrictions, INCREASE also responded to COVID-19. The timing of the pandemic coincided with lean season when farmers had to engage in alternative income generating activities such as buying and selling vegetables. With lockdowns and restrictions in accessing goods, such activities are not allowed. For Josefina, “the rice packs helped my community, especially those whose livelihoods were affected because of the travel restrictions and lockdown. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 information materials remind my community to follow health protocols and what to do to protect themselves from the virus.”
Involvement of local actors also includes inviting them in knowledge exchange sessions which are relevant in their current context. Made possible through the Resilience and Innovation Learning Hub (RILHUB), INCREASE partner LGU in Cagayan was able to attend relevant webinars on resilience and DRR – covering topics such as Contingency Planning during COVID-19, Setting Up Community Quarantine Facilities, and Camp Coordination and Camp Management Training. Such information exchange sessions were seen timely by local actors as these webinars coincided with their preparation timelines for updating municipal disaster risk reduction plans, comprehensive development plans, comprehensive land use plans, and local climate change action plans – undertakings defined as actual project outputs in INCREASE’s result framework, and areas in disaster governance INCREASE’s technical assistance seeks to enhance.
While activity implementation under INCREASE remains restricted, it is through these emergency responses and knowledge exchange sessions that ACCORD was able to check-in, and assess the evolving needs of INCREASE barangays in actual emergencies. Local leaders were also more involved in the project and appreciates its flexibility in delivering the appropriate emergency response given the urgent situation.