“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
In December 2019, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake rocked the province of Davao del Sur on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines. The earthquake caused significant damage in 207 of 232 barangays (villages). As officials took in the destruction around them, they realized the earthquake had also created unstable hillsides and the danger of landslides. People had to be evacuated to safer ground. Hundreds of affected families had to leave behind their belongings, their homes, and the farms that had earned them income.
World Renew committed to respond to this disaster and expected to have a team in Davao del Sur by March 2020. But due to travel restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, relief efforts had to be delayed. During all these delays, World Renew’s International Project Manager Jeff Cosico was impatient to address the recovery needs of Mindanaoans. Finally, with COVID-19 restrictions lifted in October 2020, he rallied a team to travel to the region.
When Jeff and his team arrived in Davao del Sur and saw the suffering of the people, the team was overwhelmed by the need. He explained, “…we saw families still living in worn tents and congested evacuation centers. I felt the hot temperature…if I [was struggling] after just a few minutes inside their tents, [I can’t imagine how these families lived] there for almost a year.” But it was not only the uncomfortable temperatures in the makeshift shelters that were a concern; families did not have the room to keep a safe enough distance from one another, which made the spread of COVID-19 a real threat.
COVID-19 had not only delayed World Renew’s response, it had also diverted the local government’s efforts to support the evacuated people. One village leader, Cesario Banan Sr., said, “More than 400 households of Barangay Tagaytay [had] been living in tents…We [were] holding on to God’s promises that one day our lives [would] be better. We understood…why we [were] not receiving rations from the government…the pandemic [had put] the local government’s finances under strain.”
For 723 households (over 2,700 people) in five villages in the municipalities of Magsaysay and Bansalan, World Renew arrived in the region at the moment of their greatest need. Cesario explained, “Families [had] been crying out to God because they [had] no source of income and there [were] many emerging needs every day. World Renew came to our community in God’s perfect time.”
Jeff and his team’s ultimate goal was to enable the most vulnerable families to meet their basic survival, recovery and rehabilitation needs. These families included members with disabilities, senior citizens, the infirm, children under five years old, single mothers, and child-headed households. The team provided 723 families with COVID-19 awareness materials and distributed much-needed hygiene kits that included bars of soap, toothpaste, laundry soap, liquid disinfectant, reusable masks and face shields.
Training was first provided in animal husbandry and vegetable farming, after which families received livestock such as goats, piglets, rabbits, and native chickens, as well as vegetable seeds and farm tools. Four horses were also provided to help bring people and farm produce to markets, and two carabao一a water buffalo native to the Philippines一were given for tilling and various farming activities. Small business owners revitalized their enterprises after attending training in business and financial management. These trainings included food vendors, fish vendors, vegetable resellers, sari-sari sellers, and other local businesses. All in all, 526 families regained their ability to earn an income.
The livelihood participants were also included in the CFW program targeting 681 participants, in order to address their families’ immediate needs until their livelihoods could generate income. Jeff noted, “Ninety-six percent of the families used their money to buy rice. Asked why rice, they said that they [had] been eating root crops for months and very seldom did they have rice on the table.” Other families used the income to pay for medicine, hygiene items, vitamins, kitchenware, farm tools, and other essential items.
The CFW program also helped address long-term community needs and improve infrastructure by clearing 7.2 kilometers of roads, dredging 16.5 kilometers of canals, and laying three kilometers of pipes for water supply. Cesario said, “Through the [program], roads are now cleared and accessible and we are able to bring our products to the market…Unpleasant odor from our trash was eliminated after ten Materials Recovery Facilities were established within the evacuation camp…Rainwater…does not [settle] when there is a heavy downpour because we made and dredged the canals. Pipes for water supply were installed from the source to the evacuation camp, making the life of the women in the village better. Women and children don’t need to walk four kilometers to wash clothes and take a bath because water is now in the evacuation camp.”
After almost five and a half months in the region, it was time for the team to return home. One grateful farmer promised, “…after you leave…we will continue what you have started.”