Challenge Anneka – The Great Rice Seed Race


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This week’s fictional guest post is by Anneka Rice, 90’s TV personality and star of “Challenge Anneka”

*Disclaimer – Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, and any similarities between this post and actual aid work should not be taken seriously. 

December 5th 2013

Wow!

Hi folks, it’s me, Anneka Rice here. I’ve been dragged out of retirement to help support the emergency response after a massive super-typhoon (Haiyan/Yolanda) cut a swathe of destruction through the middle of the Philippines. Maya asked me to help out by writing about our adventures on her blog, as she’s been a bit too busy to jot it all down.

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Most of you will remember me fondly from my “Challenge Anneka” days back in the 90’s. If you don’t, feel free to look me up on the interweb. I’m the one wearing the sexy neon jumpsuits and hanging out of helicopters.

Now then, Maya’s been in the province of Leyte, in a city called Tacloban, which was totally destroyed by the typhoon and subsequent storm surge (the waves were over 10 metres high! Can you imagine?). So let me set the scene for you.

Rice is one of the major staple crops here in Leyte, and in November most farmers had either just harvested, or were about to harvest their crops when the storm hit, wiping out almost all of their harvest, including their seeds. The next planting season is in December, towards the end of the rainy season, and it is crucial that the farmers are able to plant the next crop – as 2 failed harvests in a row means there could be a massive rice shortage in the coming year across the Philippines, not to mention the fact that those poor farmers won’t be able to sell anything or make any money for several months. Tragic!

So, Maya, along with her organisation, have decided to give out rice seeds to approximately 10,000 rice farmers in order to help them plant their crops before the rains come to an end.

So here we are, in the thick of it! It feels just like the good old days of Challenge! I dusted off my favourite pink and blue jumpsuit and headed for Tacloban. Maya told me the rice had to be planted by December 15th so the pressure’s on! Only 10 days to distribute 10,000 sacks of rice seed!

(I did point out to Maya that it would make for much better television if we could try and do it all in 3 days, but she didn’t look too keen on the idea. Plus technically my film crew aren’t actually here, but still, it’s the drama of a ticking clock that draws a crowd, and gets the adrenaline pumping!)

Anyhoo, it’s all Terribly Exciting, and there’s a lot of high-stakes pressure here.

December 7th

Maya’s been busy bustling about, talking to the Department of Agriculture, Local Government Units, Municipal Agricultural Officers and coordinating with other NGOs doing the same things, gathering lists of all the beneficiaries that need to be typed up (10,000 farmers! All in a spreadsheet!). There’s been a lot of discussion about Trucks, as apparently the issue is that there’s nowhere here to store this rice seed. All the warehouses were destroyed in the typhoon, and the temporary tent-warehouses the NGOs use aren’t suitable – Maya tells me that the rice seed has to be kept dry, and stored off the ground, otherwise the moisture might cause the seeds to start germinating early or something like that – apparently that would be very bad for the seed, and even worse for the farmers.

So, the distribution itself has to be planned with military precision, to make sure that as the trucks arrive, we’re ready to deliver it immediately. Apparently we can’t have all 10,000 sacks just show up all at once (although that WOULD make much better television…) – so all the deliveries have to be staggered. I suggested we get some helicopters and just chuck it out at people – pretty sure we could definitely do that in one day, and it would be WAY more exciting, but Maya just looked a bit impatient and told me to read her other blog posts on the subject of helicopters….

It’s unfortunate that Maya’s NGO uniform of baggy shorts and t-shirt is so unflattering. I did suggest that she could accessorise it with a snazzy belt nipped in at the waist, and maybe some heels (my stylist Chardonnay has plenty of things she could borrow), but Maya says it’s best not to wear high-heels while traipsing about disaster-stricken areas. Slows you down, and doesn’t look terribly professional.

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December 10th

Well things all seem to be going to plan. Maya’s been working very long hours trying to get everything ready in time. She does look rather tired and worn down, so I offered her some blusher and a set of false eyelashes (SO much easier than mascara!), as well as the use of Sven, my masseuse, but she politely declined. It’s also been very damp and humid recently, what with all the rain, and her hair appears to have taken on a life of it’s own.

Today we discovered a slight problem while out scouting locations for the distributions, as there is so much debris everywhere that there aren’t really big open spaces where we can distribute to a large number of people easily. There are also some places which have small bridges with limited weight loads. Major Drama! 

How are we going to get our big heavy trucks over to the communities that need them?

Maya did some quick calculations (very impressive by the way) that if we have 500 x 40kg sacks of seed in a 10-wheeler truck, that’s a 20 tonne load, not counting the weight of the truck. The driver suggested that if the span of the bridge is smaller than the distance between the two axles, then there would never be more than 10 tonnes on the bridge at any one time. So I got all excited and started pacing out the width of the bridge to measure it, but Maya insists that it’s more complicated than that. Something about the weight not being evenly distributed across the axles, plus the risk of causing huge amounts of damage to vital infrastructure. I suppose it would suck if we broke the bridge and the people were no longer able to access markets to sell their produce, or hospitals etc. 

Also in our discussions with communities, it seems that lots of them can’t plant the seeds we are planning to give them, as their fields are still covered with fallen trees and debris, and the irrigation channels that bring the water to the rice paddies are all blocked too. Luckily we were able to organise some quick cash-for-work activities and pay the farmers to work together in teams to clear the debris off the farmland and irrigation channels so they would be ready to plough in the nick of time.

December 12th

Well here we are, it’s D-Day folks. Our first distribution! Very exciting. We’re all set, got checklists and beneficiary lists, and cars and trucks. It’s all go! Maya has sensibly decided to wedge her hair under a hat for the day, and although it’s not the most attractive look, it’s definitely an improvement. I did try and suggest she let Chardonnnay give her a deep-conditioning treatment and straighten it for her, but Maya gave me a rather dark look and muttered something under her breath about some people having more important things to do this morning. I do think a personal stylist could do wonders for her though, I mean, when I was on Challenge Anneka, I was leaping about in helicopters and rebuilding seal sanctuaries at 3am, but I still found the time for some basic follicle maintenance.

Unfortunately when we showed up at the basketball court we were using for the distribution, another NGO was already there and about to set up to distribute too! Total confusion there for a while, but it all got sorted out in the end. Lesson learned – next time find out who else is doing what before we show up – otherwise there will be all sorts of NGOs trying to muscle in on the show and steal our thunder….

December 13th

Distribution Day 2: Finally! A camera crew! Apparently a local news station wants to cover our work, and so they will be accompanying us on our journey today. Maya was extremely unpleasant about the fact that I was a teensy bit late – I had to have my hair and make-up done properly in order to be camera-ready, and besides, Sven’s morning meditation  session is the only way to mentally prepare for such a long and exhausting day of racing about.

Maya ruined my calm aura by storming in at 7am and demanding that we get in the car immediately or else she would leave us behind. Ordinarily I suspect Maya’s really quite scary when she’s angry, but unfortunately her hair is just so hilarious right now that both Sven and I collapsed into giggles, which just made Maya even angrier.

When we got out to the car, the camera crew asked Maya if they could hang out the back of the car to film while we were driving along. Maya looked so shocked they might have well asked if we could teleport to the distribution, and said no.. They pointed out that camera crews in the Philippines always film that way, and I helpfully mentioned that we’d have never been able to film half of Challenge without our film crew hanging precariously out of a helicopter, but Maya was remarkably firm on the matter of staff health and safety. 

On the way there, Maya was getting antsy, cos the company supplying the seeds had been ignoring her calls and texts asking how far away the trucks were, although they had guaranteed the trucks would be at the site ready for a 9am start.

When they finally picked up the phone, the camera crew decided to turn the camera on her in the car to film while she had a hurried and urgent conversation about traffic jams, ferry bookings and things like that. Can’t think why they bothered filming her in that state, you can barely see her face anymore underneath that mop, only the occasional angry flash of the eyes.

Anyhow, she was smouldering furiously under all that hair by the time we arrived, and as soon as we got there she leapt out of the van away from the cameras and started calling people and gesturing a lot. Apparently, the trucks got stuck in a 3km tailback and couldn’t get onto the ferry, so they were actually still on another island, which is about a 15-hour drive away!

Quite the Drama!

Then just as she was busy calling everyone under the sun, a nurse from the health centre next to the distribution point rushed up and announced a woman had just gone into labour, could we give her a ride to the hospital? I said yes of course (how brilliant!) and chucked her into the van, ready for a hair-raising ride to the hospital. Maya stopped me cold with a look, and explained that NGOs have very specific rules and policies about transporting non-staff, beneficiaries and community members etc, and said she’d have to call it in to her Programme Manager and ask permission first. Totally ruined the drama and excitement, and I had a camera crew there and everything! Of course after she spoke to the PM we got the all clear and were allowed to take her to the hospital, but it wasn’t the same. She’s such a wet blanket sometimes.

Then there was just the small matter of 1100 farmers waiting patiently to get their seed, so Maya got on the megaphone and explained that she was terribly sorry but the trucks had not actually arrived and we weren’t going to be able to give them anything today. She commented later that in any other country that would have turned into a riot VERY fast, but the Filipino people are some of the most polite, kind, and forgiving people she’s ever come across. When she announced she had nothing to give them, they applauded and thanked her anyway. Quite amazing really.

December 14th

Oh dear. Still no trucks! Maya and her hair remain unamused.

We also had some worrying reports that the seeds we were delivered were not certified, which has raised some questions at the Department of Agriculture. The team are investigating the matter, while Maya spends most of her days talking to the supplier and the logistics team about the whereabouts of her precious trucks. She’s becoming slightly obsessed with trucks to be honest, and has started talking about them in her sleep.

December 17th

Finally the trucks have arrived! Started up distributions again, although the issue of whether or not the seeds are actually certified has been escalating, as the supplier tells us they are, he just doesn’t have the paperwork to prove it….

It’s been very wet here, lots of rain, and I would have thought Maya’s hair would reduce in volume a bit when wet, but sadly not. She runs around in the rain getting very wet and muddy, and doesn’t seem able to go very far from her beloved trucks….

I did however have a laugh with some of the beneficiaries. Senior Citizens are asked to come to the front of the line usually, along with any pregnant women, or mothers with young babies etc. So when the message went up the line that people with babies got to jump the queue, a whole load of them suddenly materialised, accompanied by shouts of “Oi! That’s not her baby!”

Another woman decided to shove a shawl up her t-shirt and pretend to be pregnant to get to the front, but she was laughing so hard she fell over.

Good times.

🙂

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December 19th

So distributions have continued, although the discussions with the Department of Agriculture over the certification have escalated. They’ve allowed us to continue distributing seeds, but are sending a seed inspector to have a look at the sacks.

Today’s distribution was a bit chaotic. After people register for their vouchers, they have to queue up outside next to the truck to get their sacks. Most of them try and get their motorcycles as close to the truck as they can, as the sacks are really heavy, but as the truck was at the side of the road, and there was a big line of beneficiaries queuing, things got a bit hairy.

Motorbikes were whizzing about, everything was very crowded, and suddenly one bike, which had been overloaded with about 7 or 8 sacks of rice (that’s well over 200 kgs) tried to go forward and flipped over. Unfortunately it was facing the crowd, less that a metre from Maya, and the weight of the load caused the front in to flip up, while the back wheel kept moving forward – effectively doing a wheelie and heading straight for Maya’s face.

Thankfully the weight of the sacks stopped the bike (thank god the ropes held – otherwise that bike would have smashed into the line of people!).

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Unfortunately, Maya then had a cow, and flipped out a bit herself. It was very unprofessional, and I was rather embarrassed to be associated with the red-faced, screaming, foot-stamping, whirlwind of hair that followed. She stopped the distribution and refused to continue until the road was clear and it was all a bit safer. Frankly quite melodramatic if you ask me.

December 20th

Oh dear, we’ve had a cease and desist order from the Department of Agriculture on the seeds, after the inspector announced they are definitely not certified, so no more distributions. Having had issues initially getting the trucks here, now we’ve got loads of them piling up and sitting around.

We’ve been told not to talk to the supplier anymore, as our legal team have got involved, and it seems we’ll have to start again by buying new seed from a different supplier that definitely is certified. However, it’s clear that won’t happen until after Christmas and New Year, as it’s a Christian country that takes xmas pretty seriously, so most things shut down for the holidays.

Maya’s manager told her to go and take her R&R break now, so that she can come back rested and ready to do it all again in January. I think it’s wise, as she’s developed a slightly crazed look, (which is only occasionally visible when the wind is strong enough to reveal her face under that mop) and is threatening to shave her head….

And she’s still talking about trucks in her sleep.