Written by Ladylyn Lim Mangada.

When Super typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda) overwhelmingly devastated Tacloban City, aid and development organizations were confronted with the task of delivering assistance to enable the affected population to recover quickly and build back better. Traditional approaches emphasized material and capital schemes, focusing on individuals over communities. Yet, this process quickly begged a number of questions: how can aid money be used to improve the livelihoods and living conditions of entire communities? Which should come first, shelter or livelihood? And what does a livelihood recovery program driven by the survivors look like?

The Pope Francis model, however, is a significant departure from old style post-disaster economic approaches. It prepared the shelter beneficiaries for a cooperative enterprise as a way to fight hunger, poverty, and other socio-economic vulnerabilities.

Unlike other humanitarians, development groups partnering with the Pope Francis Village in Tacloban City immediately recognized the importance of providing a future means of living, hence their focus on assisting the breadwinners within families who survived Haiyan. The survivors of the coastal barangays in Magallanes, Sagkahan and San Jose districts are beneficiaries of the Pope Francis Village.   Since 2016, a number of typhoon and earthquake resilient housing units have been constructed, which will eventually house 550 families.  Some units have been “awarded” to them. However, not one of the identified beneficiaries has yet been transferred to the resettlement site due to the absence of electricity and water.

While waiting to be relocated the donors partnered with the survivor-beneficiaries on a livelihood activity while still in their original villages or temporary shelters. The beneficiaries who are neighbours formed themselves into a cluster, composed of 20-30 families. They met to discuss and prioritize possible sources of income that could be managed by themselves. The cluster then presented their proposal to the Donor and the cluster put up half of the total cost. In other words, any handouts were ruled out. After being organized, the donor inducted the survivor-beneficiaries into partnerships, a participatory approach in decision-making, a cooperative spirit, savings and trustworthiness. In the different coastal barangays, they tried gardening, communal piggery, and Bigasan (Rice Enterprise).  However, only Bigasan survived.

The members of the cluster contribute a share to the Bigasan’s capital.  The members decide on the goods to be sold, its pricing as well as penalties. Initially, only rice was sold. Yet, after a year, some grocery items (cooking oil, soy sauce, sardines, noodles, eggs) were made available.  Depending on the agreements reached in the cluster, the members may borrow several kilos of rice and other goods payable in a week’s time.  Penalties  are imposed on members who cannot pay on time and who miss meetings. To manage the store, members take turns. As an incentive, a member gets a peso from every product sold under their turn. At the end of the year, the profit is distributed to its members according to one’s share. A mother happily explained that with her share or dividend, she did not worry about the food items they needed for the Christmas season. Another mentioned that with the Bigasan, she no longer needed the assistance of loan sharks.

Beneficiaries were also encouraged to save. With this in mind, Bayanihan Savings was born. A member saves PHP10-50.00 a day. This amount is collected weekly. A good saver can borrow double the amount they save. Like Bigasan, the Bayanihan Savings is now on its third year. Beneficiaries noted that with these interventions they realized that no matter how small the income, they can still generate savings. Prior to Haiyan, any capital they acquired had to be spent in order to sustain the family.

In contrast, most ‘livelihood’ programs  in other resettlement areas consist of distributing ‘assets’ to individuals (equipment, capital, skills training) after they have been settled. The Pope Francis model, however, is a significant departure from old style post-disaster economic approaches. It prepared the shelter beneficiaries for a cooperative enterprise as a way to fight hunger, poverty, and other socio-economic vulnerabilities. Given the scale of aid and assistance after Yolanda, such cooperative models offer a different, community-based approach that could ultimately help post-Haiyan communities build back better.

Ladylyn Lim Mangada is Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of the Philippines – Visayas.  Her work has focused on issues related to elections, law enforcement and disaster risk reduction. This article forms part of the IAPS Dialogue edition entitled ‘Yolanda: Building Back Better,’ run in conjunction with the ESRC/DFID ‘Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research’ project entitled ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. Image credit: CC by Flickr/ Matthew Herradura.

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