The Philippines: DARE show how to do relief work

We’re pretty chuffed to update you on our former volunteer Josh’s role in the aid effort after Haiyan. As reported earlier on our blog, Josh and his partner Arion set up the Direct Assistance Relief Effort (DARE) in a bid to tackle the problem of aid distribution in the Philippines.   They have distributed supplies to hundreds of families.

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DARE’s aim is to provide relief directly to communities that are being overlooked by the larger NGO’s efforts, where the most pressing need has been for food. The first area to receive assistance was Lantangan village on Gigantes Island. DARE delivered 323 food packs each containing 2kg of rice, noodles, canned goods, 500g of sugar and some coffee and milk. The sheer scale of need became evident on arriving and as the village numbered 1,096 families, it was decided that each food pack had to be shared between four families.  This meant only a temporary respite from hunger so more food had to be sourced that day from the mainland.  DARE went on to provide food relief to over 200 families in Kalibo and Binantuan in Panay Municipality, Capiz. The indigenous population of Libacao, Central Aklan, also received assistance with food packages being provided for over 200 more families.

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DARE’s story is particularly inspiring in light of the usual warnings that are given by aid agencies regarding relief volunteers. Understandably, would-be helpers are often discouraged from pitching up at the scene of a disaster. NGOs are concerned that, at a time when their human resources are already stretched, they may not be able to look after and organize a disparate group of volunteers efficiently. Moreover volunteers may lack specifically useful skills, private transport, or not be emotionally prepared for what is stressful and sometimes traumatic work. For DARE, their holiday in the Philippines was suddenly transformed into time spent setting up a relief organisation.  We spoke to them about how they faced the tests inherent in this type of work.

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Josh identified the three main challenges that DARE faced: private transport, local leadership structures and struggling to leave the communities behind once they had delivered aid. He explained that ‘the communities we decided to assist were remote and difficult to access. We had to coordinate connecting transportation such as air-freight, trucks, boats and even canoes and motorcycles.’ As a solution the team bought as many of the goods as possible from the affected communities or as close by as possible. It was also hoped that this would be beneficial in stimulating the local economy.

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Communities in the Philippines have a ‘hierarchical social dynamic that it is impossible to circumvent’ says Josh. So they devoted time to negotiating with community leaders whom they felt they could trust and oversaw the distribution of goods to ensure no misappropriation. Key to DARE’s work is to utilize a ‘bottom up’ approach to providing aid. They believe that it is only by talking to an affected community that its issues can be understood. In pursuit of this aim Josh and the team  spent a day surveying Gigantes Island.  They talked to the leadership but also to women, children, fisherman and teachers so as to ascertain the real scope of the Island’s problems.

Lastly, as many relief workers find, it was a struggle for DARE to leave the communities they had helped. Josh said that after days of living and working with the communities, meeting the families, playing with the children and providing food, care and often education, to pack up and leave them to whatever fate’ was really difficult. Josh intends to return as soon as possible to help  with more sustainable models for rebuilding homes, livelihoods and the environment.

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 By Eleanor Paton, images copyright of DARE.

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