"Collaboration More Important Than Pity"
[Date Created: November 22, 2013]



* Article from Telegraf, translated by Benito Bernabela
* Click
HERE to visit the main Operation Walang Iwanan: Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) page and give to Relief, Rehabilitation or Reconstruction

Tacloban looks like it was hit by a nuclear bomb, but the damage in the much less accessible hinterland is much bigger. Says Luis Oquiñena, CEO of the big Filipino aid organization Gawad Kalinga. He is briefly in The Netherlands these days to ask help and attention for his heavily afflicted country. By invitation and on the expense of KLM, with which Gawad Kalinga (GK) is in partnership. A manifestation of this is one of the 2,000 special GK villages built almost out of nothing during the past years, which consists in Delftware-blue colored houses. Right after the typhoon, Haiyan Oquiñena left immediately for the afflicted areas, to lead the 25,000 volunteers of the organization.

“That is our strength, we are situated in the capillaries of the Filipino society”, he says. “In literally thousands of places, even in the very remote regions, we have contacts that immediately took to action. 60,000 food packages have already been distributed, and 200,000 more will follow. What we see now on television and in the newspapers is actually least bad. Because those are the cities where there is still infrastructure, where airplanes can land and boats can moor.”

"We are here to honour the survivors and thousands of GK volunteers," Gawad Kalinga Executive Director Luis Oquiñena shares with the leading 7 Dutch newspapers and magazines. The journalists were left teary and inspired by the many stories of resilience, kindness and human spirit amidst the destruction of Haiyan/Yolanda. In the evening it is Kuya Jose Luis Oquineña and myself who are left humbled and emotional as we take part in the national Dutch TV appeal for the Philippines. I'm not often lost for words, but tonight to see the Dutch raise more than Euro 15 million in one day is leaving us ever so determined to rebuild our nation! To the survivors: The global community cares and are looking for you! Thank you to everyone who made Kuya Luis 15 hours visit from Typhoon hit areas to Central Amsterdam happen!" (An update from GK Europe)


Oquiñena is impressed with the enormous helpfulness of the Netherlands: “You are the first country to organize such a large-scale support operation. That means very much to my fellow countrymen, who are now busy trying to survive. Those who are hungry cannot think about rebuilding the village.”

His organization does think about that: at the beginning of next year, GK wants to – together with as many as a million volunteers – begin to build new houses. At preferably with typhoon-resistant material, because the destruction of the 2,000 solidly built GK-villages is near zero, compared to what has happened in the slums. “Building houses solidly means less victims, because there is less chance to be hit by rubble flying around.”

By now, well-known Dutch firms like Royal Haskoning and architecture agency MVSA (known for ING headquarters) collaborate on a non-interest basis in the development. “Just like your TU [technical university] Delft”, says Oquiñena. His aid organization is known for engaging in partnership mainly with companies, accepting support in kind, and working with volunteers: “In that way, money can never be lost in overhead”.

His main concern now is reaching those regions where there has not yet been any aid worker. But he also hopes to maintain the attention for his country for a long time to come: We Filipinos don’t need pity, but we do hope for a lot of collaboration. Long-term, because the reconstruction will take a long time. In that way, perhaps this disaster will even bring forth good things.

Aid providers Gawad Kalinga
‘Food packages will long be needed’

* Translated by Benito Bernabela

So, millions of Euros are collected, and now what? In part to answer this question, Luis Oquiñena, the leading figure of the organization Gawad Kalinga (GK) that deploys 25,000 volunteers to help every affected Filipino in every corner of the country, was in The Netherlands yesterday.

Whoever is afraid to lose their donated Euros in a country of chaos and bureaucracy can find confidence in Luis Oquiñena, the highest boss of Gawad Kalinga. This Philippine organization (supported globally by multinationals) has built in almost 15 years more than 2,000 villages spread over the archipelago to lift squatters out of poverty. And in addition to that, Gawad Kalinga also has a legion of 25,000 volunteers: A readily available infrastructure that is so much needed these days in the from-east-to-west shattered country. And Gawad Kalinga is used to it. It is not at all the first time that the legion dedicates itself to rebuild the country after again another typhoon or earthquake.

Oquiñena already travelled through the entire ‘Haiyan-area’. Everything the past ten days has been aimed at providing the millions of afflicted with their basic needs for life. “We have already distributed 60,000 food packages, rice, canned food and water, enough for four to six meals,” says Oquiñena. “We will raise that to 200,000, but the average family can only survive 2 days of this, so we will have to keep on doing this. We immediately went into those areas that are the hardest to reach. We always ask for that immediately at the local municipalities. Because those local leaders are also faced with a dilemma: Who do you help first: your family or your municipality.”

Oquiñena: So nearly everywhere we are the first to arrive to offer aid. The people cry when they see us. They had to slaughter their last chicken to stay alive, but then they see they have not been forgotten. Can you imagine the emotions at that moment after days in the ruins? And at the moment there are still areas, at Roxas for example, on Panay Island, where no one has been. It is now so hard to reach those areas.”

Emergency Aid

So, the fact that aid is badly needed is clear. But also that nothing is impossible. For many months emergency packages (food packages and an improvised roof over the head) will be needed. But Oquiñena knows that his legion of volunteers will grow over the coming months to one million. “Those people we will then distribute throughout the country to build. Everyone a week of their time, rich and poor, celebrities and the nameless, all mixed together. Tens of thousands of houses we will build, though hundreds of thousands are needed. But there really are so many people who what to help. They only need organization. Rich and poor, they share food and clothes, many good things are going on in the Philippines.”

Gawad Kalinga is big and renowned, but not the only active organization. If Oquiñena were to decide, all collected Dutch Euros would go to first aid goods in the form of food packages. Those will be the most urgent for the time being.

“I think that our own government has to build bridges and restore the roads. Cebu island is relatively rich, that is where they will start the soonest to rebuild. Leyte, where Tacloban is located and Samar in the east, it will take the longest and will be the most difficult.