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Cargill PH partners with CARE Philippines to increase Covid vaccination rates in the country

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Collaborating with 30 barangay local units to create vaccine awareness for ~260,000 people

Manila, Philippines (January 19, 2022)— Cargill and CARE Philippines, have collaborated with non-government organizations and business partners, to boost the vaccination rates in select areas of Bulacan Province, Batangas and South Cotabato by the end of 2021 through the COVID-19 Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) and Vaccination Roll-Out project. This vaccine advocacy project is expected to reach about 260,000 people.

More than a year after the Philippines launched its efforts for mass vaccination against COVID-19, there is still much work to be done to achieve population protection. The National Task Force against COVID-19 released statistics showcasing a slowed down rate of administering shots last October with only 375,773 compared to 523,018 of August 2021.

A possible reason could still be the existing hesitancies from Filipinos about vaccination, with only 61% of the population being willing to be vaccinated based from a survey released by the Octa Research group last October 22.

The Social Weather Stations conducted a survey to find out what the possible reasons are why Filipinos are unwilling despite being offered a free vaccination. The fear of possible side effects ranks as number one in the list followed by old age, being diagnosed with comorbidities and belief in reports of fatality.

“In Cargill, putting people first has always been a part of our values. And this value of caring for people goes beyond our employees and extends to those in the communities where  we live and work. Through the RCCE and Vaccination Roll-Out Project,  we aim to tip the scale in favor of population protection from COVID, thus allowing ourselves and our communities to bounce back from this pandemic,” said Christopher Ilagan, Cargill Philippines’ Corporate Affairs Director.

The RCCE and Vaccination Roll-Out Project, which is being implemented in Malolos City, Baliwag and Pulilan in Bulacan Province, Sto. Tomas City in Batangas, and General Santos City in South Cotabato, aims to support 30 barangay local government units (BLGUs) to increase their capacities in implementing COVID-19 policies and help encourage their residents to get vaccinated. More than 2,450 barangay officials, health workers and members of the peacekeeping team have already been trained by medical professionals to further spread information and provide communication about the risks of COVID-19 and vaccination benefits.

Support was also given to BLGUs with low vaccination rates by providing free transportation for vaccination to residents – especially women, PWDs and the elderly – from far-flung areas of the covered locations. Incentives were also given, like rice, food and hygiene kits, to encourage other community members to participate.

In alignment with the proclamation that 30 November – 01 December and 17-19 December 2021 as National Vaccination Days, the RCCE Project in  Batangas and Bulacan provided  free rides to 2,420 individuals from far flung barangays to the vaccination sites, free snacks and sanitary kits and distribution of information, education and campaign materials. The Community Health Educators (CHEs) hired and trained by the project also provided additional health manpower during the vaccination events at the selected barangays. Additionally, about 4,000 community members received rice and hygiene kits incentives from the project. Among these community members whom the project assisted to be vaccinated, more 700 of them confessed that previously, they are hesitant to take the shot but through the community education conducted by the project, they were encouraged to get vaccinated.

Romy M. Pagaduan, the chairperson of Brgy. Ligaya, General Santos City said that the project has made it easier for them to convince their residents to get vaccinated. He shared that his barangay is among those which have low vaccination rates due to people being less-informed, if not misinformed, about COVID-19 and the vaccines. “We now have the right answers to their questions especially those that were drawn from information they got from social media and rumors spread in the barangay”, he said.

The project is led by CARE Philippines and being implemented with Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (MINCODE) and Sarangani Province Empowerment for Community Transformation Forum (Spectrum) in General Santos City, Southern Tagalog People’s Resource Center (STPRC) in Batangas and CARE Philippines in Bulacan with participation from Cargill employees across all these areas. 

INCREASE Project turns over EWS Equipment and IEC materials in Mt. Province

Early Warning Systems (EWS) equipment were officially turned over to the community members and barangay officials of Natonin and Barlig, Mt. Province last September 8 and 9, 2021. 

EWS equipment include basic emergency and first aid equipment such as generators, spine boards with strap, two-way radios, amplifiers, public awareness devices, bells, rope, sets of BP apparatus, first aid kits, among others. All of which were identified by community members who were actively engaged in community risk assessments and contingency planning workshops conducted as part of the INCREASE: Increasing the Resilience to Natural Hazards project. Along with the equipment, household level flyers about the specific hazards in their community and the evacuation plan, and EWS signage containing warning signals and actions for community members were also handed over during the turn over ceremony.

In Barlig, barangay officials and representatives from INCREASE covered barangays, Kaleo, Chupac, Lunas, and Ogo-og, and Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative were present during the turn-over ceremony. Female household heads who were the main participants of the Resilient Livelihood activities of INCREASE, also attended the ceremony and offered a song of appreciation to CARE Philippines and Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Services representatives. In Natonin, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Officer along with Barangay Balangao and Alonugan officials and female household heads received the equipment and IEC materials. 

People-centered EWS

EWS is an adaptive measure for climate change, using integrated communication systems to help communities prepare for hazardous climate-related events. This means that through EWS, community members receive relevant and timely information in a systematic way prior to a disaster in order to make informed decisions and take action. A successful EWS can save lives and livelihood. To be effective, EWS needs to actively involve the communities at risk, facilitate public education and awareness of risks, effectively disseminate messages and warnings and ensure there is constant state of preparedness. 

During INCREASE workshops, risk information and the necessary equipment to relay warning signals were identified. This information was identified by the community members and barangay officials, and was documented and translated into IEC materials to make sure that warnings are understandable by all members of the community. 

The need for EWS Equipment

“When Typhoon Rosita hit our area, we thought it was the end. The experience awakened our community. We exhausted every means to prepare for the next disaster. Thanks to INCREASE Project, we were able to identify early warning devices needed in our area to better respond to natural hazards,” shared Brgy. Balangao Chairperson Conrado Limangan, upon receiving the EWS equipment. 

Recalling the worst typhoon in their memory, community members mentioned that since they had no equipment back then, members of the Barangay DRRM Council would only be shouting to instruct community members to evacuate their homes. Power and communication lines were interrupted then, hence they identified a generator as one of the main EWS equipment needed in their area. Natonin Municipal DRRM Officer Soledad Nasudman recognizes this and shared, “Thank you for bringing the project nearer to us. Even if the BDRRMC officials are capacitated, if equipment is not available, response and preparedness would not be as effective.”

Natonin and Barlig are both prone to typhoons and landslides. During their community risk assessments and contingency planning workshops, community members shared that they experience at least 3 to 4 typhoons in a year. One barangay was also named as the “Home of Rain” since rain is nonstop in the area for almost the whole year. While community members recognize the need for EWS equipment and IEC materials, they also acknowledge that they need to find a funding source for the purchase and installment of EWS. Barangay Chupac Chairperson, Benedicto Nabunat shared, “We express our deepest appreciation to the INCREASE team for the equipment because we know that our barangay’s budget can’t afford to provide these. We are thankful because it’s rare that a project reaches an isolated area like ours.” In addition to these equipment, risk maps plotting the community facilities, houses, forests, and farmlands, their level of susceptibility to several hazards that can affect them will be put up. To test the early actions and preparedness capacities of the officials and community members, a drill will also be conducted as part of the INCREASE Project.  

INCREASE aims to increase the resilience of 45,000 women and men small-scale farmers and fishers, including 720 extreme poor female-headed households, to natural hazards and the effects of climate change. It is present in 4 provinces, 8 municipalities, and 33 barangays. CARE Philippines and CorDis RDS lead its implementation in Mt. Province. 

INCREASE promotes leadership development for project sustainability

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.

How local organizations adapted to COVID-19 in their operations

Cordillera Disaster Response & Development Services Inc (CorDisRDS Inc.) is a non-government organization providing disaster response and community development services to the communities of Cordillera Provinces: Apayao, Kalinga, Abra, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet, and Baguio City. Their main activities include facilitating assistance to disaster-affected communities and helping in the distribution of relief assistance, giving training and seminars to capacitate community and people’s organization leaders and their members.

Support given by CARE:

CorDis-RDS is the local partner of CARE Philippines in implementing INCREASE project in Mountain Province. INCREASE or Increasing the Resilience to Natural Hazards aims to increase the resilience of 45,000 women and men small-scale farmers and fishers, including 720 extreme poor female-headed households, to natural hazards and the effects of climate change.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, CARE Philippines and CorDis-RDS, has provided personal protective equipment to municipal local government units (MLGUs) and sacks of rice as a relief to communities in Barlig and Natonin, Mountain Province. 

COVID-19 information materials were also distributed in the areas to promote preventive measures against the coronavirus

The Problem

What has been your experience since the COVID-19 pandemic started?

The CorDis-RDS team has experienced challenges in reaching the communities because of travel restrictions. Before community quarantine was implemented, the team would spend 2 weeks in INCREASE areas where they would visit 4 barangays in two municipalities. But because of the pandemic, they had to cut their field work short to one and a half week covering three barangays. Since then, they were not able to go back to these communities.

According to Liza Lomong-ey, CorDis-RDS Field Officer, “Since the declaration of enhanced community quarantine in March 2020, it has been so stressful because the team was not able to personally reach partner communities and local government units (LGUs) in this trying time and we have not implemented activities for almost 6 months and are confined within our homes and office due to the safety protocols being implemented.”

How have you adapted operations to reach your beneficiaries?

The pandemic has heightened the importance of network-building, especially on the ground, in implementing emergency response and development projects. While faced with travel restrictions, the team has worked on strengthening their relationship with people’s organizations and LGUs so they can understand the evolving needs of the communities.

Liza mentioned, “Communication between INCREASE team and partner LGUs was sustained through constant updating and coordination via phone calls and text messages. From constant updating with MLGUs and partner BLGUs, COVID responses in Natonin and Barlig namely the provision of PPES and rice assistance were implemented. This was made possible through building partnerships with LGUs and their willingness to implement such.”

It is also important to keep the response strategy adaptive to the changing situations in the communities. For example, Barlig and Natonin are in the same province but follow different process in implementing relief distribution.

Liza shared, “The distribution of PPEs and sacks of rice were implemented by the municipal disaster risk reduction officer. Particular for the PPEs in Barlig and Natonin, it was channeled to the PDRRM office which was later fetched personally by Barlig MDRRM officer together with the PPEs for Natonin. Likewise, the rice distribution in the municipality was implemented under the supervision of Barlig Mayor’s office and MDRRM officer. In Natonin, the distribution was implemented directly by partner BLGUs.”  

COVID-19 response was delivered with the help of barangay leaders

Since face-to-face interaction was not possible for CorDis-RDS team, they have supplemented the efforts of the LGUs with localized communication materials. This way, the communities would have reference materials for long term preventive measures as a community against COVID-19.

“We were also able to reach our partners through sending a localized IEC material on reminders for COVID 19 to 6 communities in Natonin and a minimal copy of COVID flyers (long term measures) to selected LGUs in the municipality,” said Liza. 

What has been the ‘word on the ground’?

Community lockdowns were implemented by the government, limiting people’s movement and livelihood options. This has negatively affected their income as several businesses have closed either temporarily or permanently. A lot of people have lost their jobs, while farmers couldn’t reach market places to sell their produce because of the travel ban.

Liza said, “INCREASE areas in Mountain Province are affected by this COVID pandemic in terms of economic aspect. Their livelihood is affected due to protocols on public transportation and transport of goods.”

How do you think the typhoon season is going to affect operations?

Operating in disaster-prone areas, CorDis-RDS team is used to shifting to emergency response whenever it is needed. However, this means that the regular activities being implemented for INCREASE project will have to be re-strategized so it can be pushed through in an efficient manner.

Liza shared her worries about the typhoon season, “The implementation of planned activities in two partner municipalities will surely be affected this last quarter of the year if there will be typhoons that will hit Northern Luzon. Some planned activities will not be implemented, the main reason is accessibility/ road cuts given the location of Natonin and Barlig which is mountainous in nature which is also prone to landslides and erosion. In addition, Cordis will surely shift to emergency mode wherein all pending activities and office works will be set aside for the meantime.”

Do you think you can weather the storm?

The team together with partner communities must weather the storm, not literally, but to adjust on whatever the plan and activities are and to strictly follow LGU protocols in this pandemic period,” said Liza.

CorDis-RDS team understands that increasing resilience to natural hazards is much more needed in a pandemic. Preventive actions to protect self and others should be observed, while planning for or experiencing disasters. Being fully informed of these measures and strengthening the capacities of the local actors are their best way to weather the storm.

Gender-sensitive Multi-Purpose Cash Transfer in times of Crisis

Responding to unique needs of women and girls

Food, water, and medicine are limited during and after a crisis. In a household where resources are limited, women are usually the ones to eat the least amount of food because they sacrifice their share for their husband and children. Women and girls, being more vulnerable during and after disaster, have needs that should be considered in designing and implementing multipurpose cash transfer (MPCT). Therefore, their involvement is important to ensure that the MPCT actually addresses their and those of their families and communities’ needs, challenges, and opportunities.

In the Typhoon Kammuri response led by CARE together with Leyte Center for Development Inc in the early months of 2020, MPCT has involved women from the design phase of the distribution process. Each household was given the opportunity to decide which family member should be registered and receive cash transfers on behalf of the household. In these cases, women were as likely to receive the MPCT as men. Because of this, the usual tension on financial decision-making upon the receipt of the cash was reduced, as the registered names in the distribution list came from and owned by the household. Women will then have a voice on where to allocate the cash.

Prior to the distribution of the MPCT, the community, especially women, has also received complementary training sessions on Build Back Safer and hygiene and sanitation. Build Back Safer which involves lessons on carpentry, usually gathers men as participants because carpentry is traditionally considered as men’s work. However, since women were encouraged to come, they have attended and realized that they can also do such work. This has also been useful for men participants to be aware that women can also do other roles. Women have also reported that they appreciate such sessions because they served as a safe space so they can share their experiences and learn from one another. It is also important for the women to have learned handwashing measures that they can share with their children at home. This has proven that complementing MPCT with learning sessions raise awareness on disrupting gender roles among men and women in the community.

Women supporting women

Most volunteers during the distribution of water kits and MPCT were women. Their initiative comes from the sense of responsibility they have towards their community.

Women volunteers assisting distributing water kits

In one barangay, a woman leader in an organization ensured that people in her community are informed if there is a disaster coming. Without her, people at-risk might have not been able to prepare or evacuate their area since information dissemination is a challenge in the area because of limited cellular signal. This leader has also expressed the need to revive the women’s organization to have more activities that could benefit the community and to access basic services collectively.

To save time, effort, and resources, women and men who collected the cash took the opportunity to buy their needs on the same day of the distribution, since the distribution sites are near market places. Due to lockdown measures by the government, pregnant women and the elderly were not allowed to go outside. Their women neighbors, then, offered to buy their needs for them. This sense of solidarity among women has been more evident in times of disaster and pandemic. Safety issues due to the distance from the distribution site and their communities were reduced when women self-organized to go together to protect one another.

Eva used the cash she received for their house repair

Women protecting other women has also been true in Brgy. Magsaysay. Josefina, 68, is a farmer whose income has also been affected by the pandemic. Because some of her farm produce were not sold due to travel ban, she shared them to her neighbors since she knows that a lot of families in her community are suffering from hunger. She has also visited houses of women to talk to them to make sure that they are safe. This has given these women psychosocial support. In times of extreme experiences brought by a disaster and pandemic, it is likely that people feel fearful and anxious. Mental health and psychosocial support is a clearly-identified need, and therefore, doubly crucial.

CARE and Partners Prepare For 2020’s Strongest Typhoon Moving Towards The Philippines, Ready To Respond

(Manila, Philippines – October 31, 2020) Typhoon Goni (locally known as Rolly), is likely to be a Super Typhoon once it hits the Philippine land mass. It continues to intensify and is expected to make landfall on Sunday, November 1, 2020, affecting at least 20 provinces in the islands of Luzon and Visayas. 

As of October 31, 8 AM, Goni is still at sea and continues to move west towards the coast of Bicol at 20 km/h. Goni is predicted to have maximum sustained winds from 185 km/h to 215 km/h near the center and gustiness of up to 265 km/h by time it grazes Bicol and makes landfall over Quezon. 

The typhoon is forecasted to bring heavy rainfalls and winds in the Eastern Visayas Region, the Bicol Region, CALABARZON region, Central Luzon, and the National Capital Region according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Sciences Administration (PAG-ASA). 

The typhoon is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) on Monday, November 2, 2020. 

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has also warned that torrential rains may cause lahar to flow down the slopes of Mayon Volcano in the province of Albay, Taal Volcano, in the province of Batangas, and Mt. Pinatubo in the province of Zambales.

Local authorities warn people to prepare for storm surges of up to 3.0 m in coastal communities of Quezon and Aurora. Landslides and flash floods are also possible in upland and low-lying areas. Its powerful winds can uproot trees and topple electric posts.

Local government units are preparing for the possible onslaught of the typhoon and are already setting up possible evacuation centers which adhere to minimum public health standards under COVID-19 restrictions.

 “Apart from the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines is also facing the start of the La Nina season. CARE and partners are monitoring the situation. We are ready to conduct assessments and respond as needed, while ensuring staff and partners have proper protective equipment and follow local health protocols,” said David Gazashvili, CARE Philippines Country Director.

CARE has been working in the Philippines since 1949, helping communities prepare for disasters, and providing emergency relief and recovery when disaster strikes.  CARE has ongoing programs across the Philippines, including in the areas potentially affected by Typhoon Goni.  CARE is closely monitoring the track of the typhoon, and is ready to activate assessment and response teams in coordination with partner organizations and local government units on the ground.

Selling Flowers in the Streets during a Pandemic

Rose (24 years old) is a resident of Sapa, Barangay Panghulo, Malabon City. Her household is composed of eight individuals which includes her five children, her mother, father, aunt who is a senior citizen. Her family’s main source of income is distributing and selling Sampaguita flower garlands. 

Most members of her community lost their employment. Rose revealed that since most men in the community work at construction sites, all of them lost their jobs during the lockdown enforced by the government to control the pandemic. Women while primarily responsible for caring for the children, also sold sampaguita garlands on the side to augment household incomes. Due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown, they were unable to sell the garlands and had no sustainable source of income. 

“Bawal kasi talaga lumabas. Halimbawa, nakita ka ng barangay sa labas, huhulihin ka kaagad lalo na pag wala kang mask” (Rose, female, 24 years old, Malabon City) 

“We were not allowed to go out at all. If the barangay officials see you outside of your house, they would arrest you immediately especially if you do not have a face mask.”(Rose, female, 24 years old, Malabon City) 

Rose also mentioned that the quarantine protocols in their barangay are extremely strict. For each household, throughout the ECQ, only one person is allowed to go out and do errands. They did not have curfew hours since residents were not allowed to go out if they do not have a quarantine pass. If apprehended, curfew violators are taken to the barangay office. Rose also mentioned that those who guard and enforce quarantine protocols in their community are all men. 

When asked whether they had access to face masks during the ECQ, Rose shared that they could not afford a box of face masks. It was too expensive, so they used cloths and handkerchiefs as an alternative for protective gear. She also mentioned that practicing social distancing was difficult and almost impossible for them since their house is small and all of them were forced to stay inside.

Rose shared that they received food aid four times during the lockdown. However, this was insufficient to meet the foods needs of the whole household. Most of the time they were eating only twice or once a day in order to make food supply last longer. As for the cash aid, she mentioned that there were a lot of households in the community that did not receive cash assistance even though they lost their jobs and applied for the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP). 

“Kulang po talaga ang binibigay ng barangay. Minsan sabi ko sa anak ko pag humihingi ng pagkain, inom na lang siya tubig para ma-survive ang gutom.” (Mary (Rose’s mother), female, 49 years-old, Malabon City) 

“The food aid given by the barangay is insufficient. Sometimes when my children ask for food, I just tell them to drink lots of water so that they can endure their hunger and survive.” (Mary (rose’s mother) female, 49 years-old, Malabon City) 

Since the implementation of General Community Quarantine (GCQ), Rose and her family were able to go back to selling and distributing Sampaguita garlands. However, it would take them 8 to 9 hours of walking every day since there is no public transportation. They also mentioned that as of now there is little profit from selling since the pandemic has caused the closure of many business establishments.

How to Better Manage the COVID-19 Pandemic: Some Suggestions

Care Philippines Integrated Risk Management Director Celso Dulce shares his thoughts on how the Philippines could have handled the pandemic better.

The Philippines has been acknowledged globally as a leading practitioner on disaster risk reduction, applying community-centred approaches. We should have been drawing from this vast reservoir of experience and knowledge in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The call of the frontline healthcare workers to “sit down and talk and replan with a sense of urgency,” as infections rise unabated despite four months of lockdown, should impel us, and especially our government leaders to rethink and recalibrate.

Risk communication

We are very good at managing natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is an unknown, unfamiliar threat. We must saturate therefore communities, in urban slums and gated villages, in coastal areas as well as remote mountain villages, with correct information on the risks related to COVID-19. The infection prevention and control (IPC) protocols, the need to wear face masks, to frequently wash hands, to not to touch eyes, nose and mouth, to keep physical distance require behavioural change. This change does not come overnight. There is therefore the need for constant reminders, about the risks, about the capacity of the healthcare system being swamped, and about what the people can and should do. The messaging that we are doing okay, that we have beaten the UP projection, that we are doing better compared to other countries does not help.

Threats of, and actual arrests are also not achieving their intended outcomes. Threats of arrests alone do not work. A comprehensive plan and approach, and effective implementation should prove superior to threats of arrest. It is also equally important that the leaders we look up to, from the national level to the community, are observed to be models in practicing IPC protocols. It is important that leaders lead by words and by actions.

Equally important, let us undertake risk communication applying our vaunted community-based approaches. Let us raise the awareness and educate every community official, every informal community leader, every community member, on the risks of the pandemic and on the appropriate measures to defeat the threat. Let us mobilize all of them as our risk communicators.

Monitoring, testing, tracing, isolating, and treating

Health surveillance should involve every individual in every household, community, economic enterprise big and small, and all government offices and facilities. Self-assessment tools are available. Some households and offices are already conducting self-assessment regularly for early detection of symptoms of infection among them. This practice should be expanded, with support in terms of setting up reporting mechanisms linked to official COVID-19 surveillance systems in the community and local government unit.

Much energy has been spent on the debate about mass testing. We need free, mass testing. By mass we mean bulk, or quantity, not 100% of the 110 million total population. Targeted mass testing should be done, informed by monitoring information on the geographic concentration of COVID-19 cases. With targeted mass testing, 100% coverage can be carried out in specific communities and sub-villages. Why free? Vulnerable households cannot afford the costs of testing. Free testing also removes the excuse for not undergoing the test.

Failure to identify infected persons, using available information coming out of the tests, will put to waste all pandemic response efforts, and result in unimaginable economic costs and human suffering, as we are now experiencing.

Aggressive contact tracing must be carried out. This is an efficient use of the mass testing results compared to random, hit and miss testing. It also narrows down substantially the number of individuals that will be actively monitored for possible infection.

Effectively isolate the confirmed, suspected and probables. Apply a mix of approaches appropriate to specific contexts. Home quarantine is possible for upper middleclass households but not for the urban poor. Conditions among the poor (highly congested living spaces) would just result in whole families being infected. Putting urban poor communities under hard lockdown, with threats of arrest but without putting in place other measures to isolate the confirmed, suspects and probables would be counter-productive. Continued access to critical services shall also be made available especially to vulnerable groups including older people, persons with disabilities, seriously ill persons, and indigent households in lockdown situations so that there is no reason to violate protocols.

More isolation facilities can be set up. Alternative temporary shelter models are available; they can be adapted to different requirements for isolation, in place of cramming people during lockdowns into congested spaces with little WASH facilities and other basic necessities.

Provide free treatment to those infected, giving priority to the poor. The cost of hospitalization and treatment is literally driving potential patients to the ground. By encouraging people to seek treatment, think about the benefits in terms of the number of individuals that will no longer be affected because patients are actively seeking health care.

Our healthcare system is near collapse. There is no reason not to believe the cry for a timeout and for decision-makers to reflect on the situation and to introduce essential changes. For a start, government should take better care of our frontline healthcare workers. Provide adequate PPEs, better working environment, shorter working hours, increased salaries and benefits, and transportation support. Without improving their working conditions, we cannot expect prospective healthcare workers to queue in recruitment offices.

All the surveillance efforts must be closely linked to risk communication objectives. A negative test is not a guarantee that an individual will no longer be infected later. A patient that has recovered already is not guaranteed that reinfection will not occur. Risk communication must be continuous, so that the change in behaviour we want is achieved and maintained.

Resilient livelihoods

Household livelihoods should be given equal importance. We must not be blind to the fact that many people are violating protocols because they feel they have no choice. This is supported by a Gender Analysis study. “Its either the virus will kill us, or hunger will” is also an oft-repeated declaration of the poor. Government should support financially and technically poor and economically-displaced households to shift to livelihood activities that are safe to undertake for them and for the community. Disasters can also create opportunities, including in livelihoods. Now more than ever, the strategies of diversification, protection and strengthening must be applied to make livelihood activities resilient.

For those employed in the private sector or government, each office or business enterprise must put in place strict IPC protocols. Daily symptoms monitoring must be carried out, work from home arrangement be put in place where appropriate, workplace safety measures must also be in place. Extreme lockdowns are bad for business. Serious infection in workplaces are similarly bad for business. A happy balance between keeping the business going and ensuring safety of employees and the public must be achieved. In this light, the responsibility of government to monitor private and public sector compliance with health protocols as well as employees rights must be ensured.

Transportation and travel

Transportation is the lifeblood of the economy. Transportation is also vital in delivering basic services, as well as urgent humanitarian assistance. Strangle transportation and we asphyxiate the economy, basic service and humanitarian assistance delivery. There is a need to rethink the transportation strategy in the time of the pandemic. Pre-COVID, developing mass transportation was seen as the ideal path to development. Mass transportation has become more important at the time of the pandemic, due to IPC concerns. Government must therefore seek out new strategies to make mass transportation available to the public. Look at the option of subsidizing the operations of bus companies. Seriously rethink the policy on jeepneys and motorcycles. If there are risks about observance of health protocols, what should be done to mitigate the risks? This of course should be combined with limiting movement to essential travel. Require big private companies and government offices to bring to the office and bring back home their workers. In the minimum government should provide transportation to hospital workers. They can barely don off and then put on again their PPEs. The least that government can do is reduce the hours they need to go home to their families, if we desire our healthcare system not to totally collapse.

In terms of compliance to let travel restrictions, enforcement should be made at point of source and destination instead of having highly visible checkpoints that create monstrous traffic jams along major thoroughfares. Let us empower communities and homeowners’ associations to become responsible travel restriction enforcers.

Participation and community engagement

The magnitude of the problem is so massive that government alone cannot manage the pandemic. To be successful, government has to rely on the people, on their participation in all aspects of COVID-19 response. As mentioned earlier, we have extensive experience in community-centred DRR. We should use such experience to our advantage.

Vulnerable groups have specific needs. We have seen an elderly couple, the husband pushing a wheelchair several kilometres going to the hospital for regular dialysis on wheelchair. We have seen young couples with dead babies in their arms because they could not be admitted in hospitals. We have seen senior citizens braving the rain and possible infection to get their ayuda (assistance). The list is long. Older people, persons with disabilities, persons with chronic illness, pregnant and lactating women, solo parents, indigent households and indigenous people, among other have specific needs during disasters and pandemics that must be identified and addressed.

Civil society organization, NGOs, international NGOs, UN agencies and institutional donors have been our partners in past emergencies. They should not be excluded from participating in all aspects of the response to COVID-19.

Upholding human rights

All people have rights, including the right to life with dignity. The rights cannot be set aside in the name of pandemic protection and control, or any disaster. Where people are vulnerable to natural hazards, climate and environmental risks, or pandemics, violations of human rights exist. Their vulnerability indicates the lack of access to basic services. These vulnerabilities are often heightened during times of humanitarian emergencies, when access to basic services and humanitarian assistance is denies. The right to receive assistance, the right to participate, the right to have a say in decisions affecting them, the right to life with dignity are often violated during emergencies.

It is the right of the people to benefit from quality design and delivery of programs and services. This right creates an obligation on duty bearers, foremost the government, to constantly work for excellence, regularly reflecting on implementation to with the aim of identifying areas where improvement can be undertaken. All duty-bearers have the responsibility to uphold these rights, especially during emergencies. And being onion-skinned in the face of public criticism has no place in public service.

Women Leading Emergencies

Gender equality and social inclusion are cross-cutting themes that are central to CARE’s emergency and development programming.

Why Women Lead in Emergencies? Most women affected by crisis have little or no influence over decisions that affect their lives and this matters because participation is a right. Women have a human right to participate in the public and political life of their community and country. But it’s a right that’s not put into practice, and especially in emergencies. In CARE, we believe when women’s voices are not heard, women’s rights and needs are often not adequately met, and emergency response can reinforce gender inequality. Women’s equal voice, leadership, and participation save lives, and challenges and transforms the root causes of poverty and injustice. Through the latest project, Women Lead in the Philippines (WLiE), Gender Equality and Women’s Voice meets Inclusive Governance in CARE’s 2020 Program Strategy as a joint initiative.

The said project is a 9-month action research that pilots a 5-element model built on the objective of women being able to influence decisions about their lives. Globally, this project is part of a larger Women Lead in Emergencies initiative. In the Philippines, Women Lead will be embedded in the programming of three diverse projects and teams working in disaster risk reduction and climate governance (INCREASE), Bangsamoro women’s health (NCD), and rural women’s organizing with a focus on Protection and GBViE/SRHiE (PKKK).

Through WLiE, the organization looks to integrate the projects in its already existing humanitarian and development/resilience projects across 23 municipalities in 7 provinces, including 6 mass evacuation camps in Marawi City. The natural and man-made crises experienced in these sites vary – Eastern Samar, Cebu, and Leyte in the Visayas islands are regularly beset by typhoons; Marawi City is Ground Zero of the 2017 siege in Mindanao, which displaced 350,000 people;  Surigao del Surand Northern Samar are incredibly remote, with some communities located eight-hour hikes away from the nearest town center.             

The goal is to engage more than 500 women leaders and 2,000 individuals through community-based women’s groups and collectives in 8 months, while working  with local DRR organizations AADC and LCDE, and continue to develop relationships with local women’s rights networks PKKK through stand-alone activities to strengthen the voice, leadership and meaningful participation of poor and marginalized women directly affected by crisis in humanitarian action and programs, and in public decision-making, both formal and informal. WLIE adheres to six principles: women acting with women, women deciding, doing no harm, meeting women where they are, increasing quality of participation, and transforming unequal power and decision-making skills.

Women Taking on More Leadership Roles

Jovelyn Malinao, 49 years old, has been Brgy. Gamut’s Chairperson since 2013, after serving as a Barangay Councilor for 9 years. But unlike other public servants with aspirations of public service, Jovelyn never imagined that she can lead a barangay. “Before, I was shy as I was a mere housewife. I don’t usually talk to people. I prefer to stay at home, take care of my children, do our chores like washing our clothes, and take care of my husband,” said Jovelyn. It was only after her friends and other individuals in the barangay have encouraged her that the thought came to her mind. She finally decided to run for public office when her husband also told her, “Go and try it.”

Jovelyn understands the barriers that women have to go through to become leaders. “Before, leadership is only for men,” said Jovelyn. Women face challenges and could not easily participate in community activities. “First, women are hindered from participating in community activities when there’s no support coming from the family, especially when the husband doesn’t give consent. Secondly, women always think of the family’s livelihood first. When they don’t have enough income to support the family, they prioritize the family’s needs first and they can’t participate in community activities. Thirdly, women want to focus more on their children and their needs.”

Jovelyn may relate to the challenges to women’s community participation, but strongly feels the need to serve their barangay. She knows that a woman leader and women, in general, can do more. “I believe that both sexes have the same concern for constituents. But, I think it is best that we give women a chance to become leaders, because women can easily encourage participation from the community. It can be compared to a home when children would run to their mothers when they have problems because mothers are empathetic and understanding,” she shared.

To overcome these challenges, women leaders must step up and encourage participation of other women to community activities. Jovelyn focused her efforts on information education campaigns and communal learning activities such as trainings, seminars, and workshops. She personally went to the women in her barangay to motivate them to join in these activities. For her, everyone should know that women have equal rights as men in accessing opportunities. “It is important to make women understand that they have rights to lift up themselves and for the men to know that they should not hinder what the women want to achieve,” said Jovelyn. Because of Jovelyn’s efforts, along with the support of her barangay council, more women in Brgy. Gamut participate in community activities and also take leadership roles.

Brgy. Gamut, in Barobo, Surigao del Sur, is one of barangays supported by Philippines: Increasing the Resilience to Natural Hazards (INCREASE). INCREASE aims to increase the resilience of 45,000 women and men small-scale farmers and fishers, including 720 extreme poor female-headed households, to natural hazards and the effects of climate change.

This project is implemented by CARE Philippines, together with Assistance and Cooperation for Community Resilience and Development, Inc (ACCORD), Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Services (CORDIS), Leyte Center for Development, Inc (LCDE), and Agri-Aqua Development Coalition – Mindanao (AADC), through the support of SKala Initiatives of Germany

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