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Storing Hope, Restoring Lives

Trevor Knoblich, LWR's Program Coordinator for Emergency Response, reflects on a quilt and kit distribution in the Philippines.

Trevor Knoblich is the Program Coordinator for Emergency Response at LWR. In July of 2009, he traveled to the Philippines for the opening of LWR’s first overseas warehouse. A condensed version of this article appeared in the January 2010 edition of Faith in Action.

The Philippines represents an unusual set of circumstances for organizations like Lutheran World Relief that respond to international emergencies. Because of its geographic location and ongoing conflict, the country has the potential to face multiple emergencies simultaneously. Reducing the risks of these emergencies is a crucial component of LWR’s work in the area. Moreover, thanks to a new warehouse in the Philippines, quilts and kits are being introduced to provide comfort and hope to Filipinos affected by disaster.

It is often difficult to imagine the disruption international disasters cause in the lives of affected individuals. People may lose their belongings, their livelihoods, and even family members and friends.

It is even more difficult to imagine facing multiple emergencies at the same time. A single major emergency often threatens communities with damaged infrastructure, increased disease burden, malnourishment, trauma, loss of crops, and other devastating impacts on people’s lives. A second or third emergency in the same region only serves to heighten those risks.

But Filipinos face the threat of multiple emergencies each year. For example, in the fall of 2009, these Southeast Asian islands were hit with multiple typhoons. The largest, Typhoon Ketsana, displaced millions of people in 25 provinces on the island of Luzon, which includes the capital city of Manila. Typhoon Parma, which followed soon after, destroyed rice paddies and other staple crops.

In late December 2009, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mayon, threatened to erupt. The volcano, also on the island of Luzon, showed fluctuating seismic activity, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Further, just south of Manila on the island of Mindanao, conflict has raged for more than 35 years between the government of the Philippines and rebel groups including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Tensions increased throughout 2009, and are expected to continue in 2010. Over the decades, thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict.

In response to these constant emergencies, LWR established its first-ever overseas warehouse on the island of Mindanao in 2009. From this warehouse, LWR will serve tens of thousands of families who have been affected by decades of conflict and be able to respond more quickly to natural disasters that strike the area. As a pilot effort, LWR sent more than 4,200 quilts, 3,800 health kits, 2,800 school kits and 2,100 layettes to Mindanao. The materials were given to individuals affected by conflict there.

This past July, I traveled to Mindanao to meet with recipients following that pilot distribution and learn more about their daily lives. During my travels, I met a woman named Ling Magon, whose family was driven from their farm in the mountains of Mindanao when militant rebel groups moved through the region in early 2009.

Ling and her family had to seek shelter in an elementary school in a nearby town. When they returned to their farm – the sole source of income for the family – they found it had been completely destroyed. They were unable to harvest any crops this past season. Unfortunately, stories like Ling’s are not unique. Communities across all of Mindanao face constant turmoil.

LWR was able to provide quilts to Ling and other mothers. This was the first aid the community had received since they were forced to evacuate months before, and they expressed an overwhelming spirit of joy at receiving the colorful gifts.

Another member of the community, Joel Libradilya, expressed relief that he could use his quilt to cover his 1-year-old daughter at night. “This is much nicer than relief blankets—thicker and more colorful,” Joel explained. “This will help because it’s cold up in the hills.”

In another district, I spoke to a school teacher named Eden Ladao. She teaches first grade and has 101 students in her class. She said it takes nearly all of her time just to keep the students settled. Her class size used to be much smaller, but the conflict has forced more families into the region, increasing the size. “There are three students for every one chair,” Eden told me.

Even day-to-day life in Mindanao can be difficult. For example, the students in Eden’s class have to walk to school – some more than 10 miles. Since the long walks separate the children from their families and farms for so long, few children attend school past grade six.

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