Coming to you live….

I believe I mentioned in my previous post that I was roped into hosting/anchoring a live talkshow here in Tacloban covering the Haiyan Candlelight Memorial.


I found out on Wednesday I was doing it, and so had very little time to practice for the 5-hour long live event on Saturday!

In spite of the nerves and jitters, we got there in the end, and it was actually really fun! During the rehearsals I had a large rat crawling across the beam in my eyeline, and I got somewhat frustrated by not having enough clear/straight answers to my questions. The producer was a lovely guy, but he has a tendency to sermonise everything and talk in riddles, which is not helpful when you have limited time…  I would ask things like “What order will the interviews and reports be in? Can I have a schedule in advance so I know what’s happening before I actually go live on-air?” and he would talk for 30 mins about humanity’s finest hour…. That was very frustrating! He also kept misunderstanding my frustration as nerves, and when I asked him to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do (like sit up, speak loudly, don’t turn your head etc) he asked me if I knew the difference between speaking and talking. I said no, not really, cos they’re synonyms, and he started singing “The Sound of Silence” to me. It was excruciating.

So as a result of that, right up to when we went live on-air, I had no idea what was happening next – there was no schedule to follow, it was more like them just waving bits of paper at me from behind a camera saying things like “Joe on the line” or “Go to Commercial” or “More energy!” Continue reading

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda – 1 year on…

We are building up to the 1-year anniversary of Super-Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Haiyan), so all hands on deck, and a lot of activities going on, candlelight marches, memorial services, exhibitions, and so on.

Everyone is busy putting together summaries of our work in the last year, numbers of beneficiaries reached and support given, and advocacy messages for the coming year.

A few quick figures for you. My organisation has, in the last year, provided support to over 800,000 people, including:

  • Provided clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits to over 500,000 people
  • Provided cash and income support to over 530,000 people
  • Distributed non-food items such as mosquito nets, tarpaulins, and mother and newborn kits to over 430,000 people
  • Supported the recovery of over 200 small businesses and micro-enterprises
  • Distributed over 8,000 sacks of rice seeds to support farmers

and many many more things as well. We’ve given out boats and cleared loads of agricultural land as well, but I don’t have the numbers handy…. Continue reading

Winding Down…

Wow, after over 11 months here, I suddenly only have 3 weeks to go!
It seems to have snuck up on me somehow, and now that it’s looming I’ve realised how much I have to do!

In addition to all of the handover of the work here, and supporting the teams through what is turning out to be a tough transition, there are a million and one other things to do in the next three weeks…

As I don’t know how long I’ll be at home for, I need to start planning to see my family and friends, as there is never enough time to see everyone, and I won’t have time to get around the UK much. If I don’t start organising things in advance, people will be busy and before you know it I might be off somewhere else!

Then there is all the life admin that builds up and needs attending to, like Dr’s appointments, renewing prescriptions, seeing the dentist (and getting my teeth cleaned) and the optician (getting new glasses), taking the cats to the vet for their check-ups and vaccinations, and so on.

Oh, and at some point I have to find another job too!

So much to do, and so little time. Continue reading

Empowering Women

Last week was a real rollercoaster for me. I had some serious ups and downs.

There was the usual internal bickering and politics and bureaucracy that makes me want to tear my hair out several times a week. Plus a bit of a bollocking which I feel was slightly undeserved, so that never puts one in a good mood.

Then we had an unexpected donor visit – we found out at 4pm on Wednesday that they were coming at 9am the next morning, so we had to scramble to come up with some activities we could take them around and see. Luckily we pulled it all together (on account of having such an awesome team) and they absolutely loved it, so we ended the day on a massive high.


However, at 5pm on Friday, my lovely colleague P made my day – no, he made my week. Continue reading


Well now, here I am, coming up to 11 months here in the Philippines, and a lot has changed.

Tacloban is a very different city, with most shops up and running again (with the noticeable exception of McDonalds, whose refurbished grand opening is still being awaited with baited breath here in our bustling office….) 🙂

Organisations and Government officials alike are starting to plan and prepare for the 1-year on anniversary – a useful milestone to reflect on the fantastic achievements of the many many NGOs, Government staff, and others, while also taking stock of the long, long road to recovery ahead. Continue reading

Humpty Dumpty…

Note: I wrote this one a few months ago but forgot to post it, so some of the dates may not make sense…

A fascinating conversation with some colleagues yesterday raised the question of whether we are looking at recovery, reconstruction and resilience from completely the wrong perspective.

What if “building back better” (the buzzphrase being bandied about over here at the moment) isn’t going to work?

Don’t get me wrong, the concept of building back better is a good one. In practice it means helping communities to rebuild their houses more safely, re-designing wooden and bamboo houses to make them stronger and more resilient to typhoons. Designing roofs that have 4 sides instead of 2, having smaller roof overhangs that will produce less wind-resistance and lift, using hurricane straps to hold down corrugated iron sheets on the roof, and using concrete and hollow-blocks to stabilise the base of the core structure.

All of which are sound and logical ways to improve people’s lives, and help make them, and their houses, more resilient to the next typhoon.

But, with climate changes that are bringing us ever bigger and stronger storms, floods, and other natural disasters, will “building back better” ever be enough? Continue reading

Mountain villages in rural Leyte-Leyte…

Some pics from my recent adventures clambering around through rice paddies, balancing on wobbly logs over streams filled with water buffalo, and driving along what can only loosely be called roads to reach some hard-to-access remote villages in upland Leyte-Leyte Municipality.

Bagabao Barangay



End of the road for the car… we’ll have to carry on on foot…


Continue reading

Bagabao and Mataloto

*Started writing this about 2 weeks ago, but only just getting around to posting it….

Tuesday 1st April 2014

This week I went to visit a couple of very remote barangays (villages) in Leyte-Leyte.

It’s an area that had high levels of poverty even before the typhoon hit, and people there have been living on very little for a really long time. As they are so remote and hard to access that they haven’t received much aid/relief, and trucks can’t get up to them, so in order to get rice (aid/relief) supplies they have to walk about an hour to the nearest accessible village.


I spoke to rice farmers there who had planted seeds after Yolanda, but the seeds were clearly damaged and now that it’s harvest time the yield is less than 30%. We saw stalks of rice with no grains inside, due to the poor quality of the seeds, and as the food aid has slowed down and is now being phased out, you wonder how these farmers will feed their families for the next few months until the next planting and harvest season…

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The Coconut is not a nut….

So, moving on to part 2 of this post about how to rebuild livelihoods after typhoon Yolanda. This time – the Coconut challenge!


The coconut tree is a truly fascinating plant.

Did you know that the Philippines is the largest producer of copra (coconut flesh used to extract coconut oil) in the world? Or that the coconut tree is incredibly versatile.

It can produce copra, which in turn can be turned into coconut oil, and the leftovers converted into high-protein animal feed. The oil itself can be converted into edible cooking oil or coco biodiesel used in the cosmetics industry, or converted into diesel fuel.

The coconut shell can be turned into charcoal and used as fuel, while the fibres from the outside of the shell, or coir, can be used as material for upholstery padding, floor mats, mattresses and handicrafts, and as a soil erosion control tool. Coconut shells make lovely handicrafts and holiday souvenirs too!

The coconut water can be used as a drink, as well as to make vinegar, wines and coco sap brown sugar.

And of course there’s always the lumber you can get from the tree trunk after it stops producing fruit.


So, all of these fascinating facts bring me onto the massive challenge faced by NGOs in the Philippines in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda.

33 million coconut trees were damaged or destroyed during the storm, which equates to a MASSIVE portion of the Philippines copra export market. Furthermore, it takes between 7 and 10 years (depending on the variety) to grow a new coconut tree from a seedling to fruiting maturity. And the Philippines does not have 33 million coconut seedlings kicking about. So you can imagine what effect that will have on the Philippines GDP over the coming years.

And more to the point, what will all those coconut farmers do to make a living in the meantime?


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Plenty more fish in the sea?

So I’ve just come back from an intense 2-day workshop attempting to bring together all of the Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods (EFSVL) staff, along with key staff from the long-term Country Programme in the Philippines, to plan our strategies for the next few months, and try to integrate our emergency response work with longer term sustainable livelihoods frameworks.

Sounds fascinating? It really was.

Here are some of the really interesting challenges and issues we are facing in the long-term recovery process for some key livelihoods sectors in the Philippines. As I started writing this it got longer and longer, so I’ve split it into two separate posts about Fisheries and Coconuts – two sectors that were heavily affected by the typhoon, and face massive challenges in rehabilitation and recovery….


How do you support a fisherman to rebuild his livelihood, and at the same time encourage him not to fish?

boats 2

Over 30,000 fishing boats were damaged or destroyed by typhoon Yolanda, but even before the typhoon some areas were being heavily over-fished, and it wasn’t just boats that were destroyed. The storm caused massive damage to marine eco-systems, corals, mangroves and other fish and aquaculture breeding grounds which will need time to recover.

And it turns out, fish need corals and mangroves in order to hang out, meet other like-minded fish, and have lots and lots of baby fish….

Continue reading