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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.

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