With the goodwill pouring in from literally all corners of the globe, the relief goods are coming together more and more quickly (while unfortunately, aid is not keeping up pace -- but that's another blog for the next time). I find it amusing (in an "awwwww" sort of way) that people are packing massive gymnasiums... and then slowly edging themselves out of the building as the food packs begin to take over. In the US, my uncle sent word that Americans curious about the commotions around huge Fil-Am communities are stopping their cars to ask what's happening and then handing over fistfuls of cash when they find out what for. These are truly Christmas stories in the making (oh yes! It's Christmas season!).
But before the well of generosity runs out (after all, we're not limitless pools of cash), let me put out there the idea of alternative kinds of relief. These may not be answering to the basic needs of food, water and shelter, but supports families in very convenient ways. There is such a thing as volunteer fatigue (which thankfully, hasn't seem to have started yet) but there might be such a thing as volunteer boredom also. And so here's a list of alternative relief items that might peak your interest to give. (P.S. This post may grow, especially if ideas are shared!)
Solar lamps and mobile chargers
With Leyte's power plant putting a lot of Visayas electricity out of commission, it's safe to assume that survivors of Yolanda are going to live in darkness for a good few months. That worries me because something as simple as light can actually do a lot to improve protection and security for the affected. How? Well imagine you're a little girl staying in an evacuation center. It's the middle of the night, there are no lights and it's pitch dark and you urgently need to use the restroom. You decide to go use the latrine and make your way in the dark... and then someone touches you inappropriately... or worse. Even if you call for help, can you tell who the person was. You'd be surprised at how light does so much for someone's peace of mind and particularly for vulnerable groups like women, children, elderly and persons with disabilities.
Solar lamps are great because they recharge using radiation (not a person who is well-versed in explaining how things work so bear with me) and with the amount of sunshine we've been getting, there's currently no shortage of that. Conveniently, there are also solar lamps that have the mobile charger option as well. It's fantastic that telcom companies are working quickly to restore cellphone signal in as many places as possible but without electricity to charge phones, then it's moot. Generators and mobile charging units are being set up, but I wouldn't be surprised if these were concentrated in bigger communities or cities, leaving inaccessible areas, even more inaccessible. With the Philippines being such a mobile-friendly country, it's no frivolous thing to encourage giving these to affected families. Being able to know your families' lives are gradually improving in Yolanda-affected areas on a regular basis, or being able to tell your family elsewhere that you are doing okay does wonders for emotional well-being. Don't forget, information also improves aid and being able to get firsthand accounts straight from those affected is a step up from unvalidated hearsay.
I was able to get a solar lamp and mobile charger for about PHP 1,600. I'm not too sure about the quality however, so it's best to look for a trusted brand to give. A hygiene kit or good food pack would probably also be in this price range so it can be a possibility to be able to distribute this per family, but if it's not, a good number of lamps per evacuation center or community should be sufficient. Other things you can do, if you just so happen to be a millionaire tycoon, is give those giant solar panels to cover more ground.
Once again addressing the electricity issue (and of course, lights = improving protection + security = watching out for women, children, etc.), gensets would be amazing. Unfortunately, with the power out in so many areas, gensets are tough to be had around Visayas, particularly with more and more agencies heading down to set up hubs in also power-insufficient Cebu. When I go back down to Tagbilaran, I'm actually lugging on the plane with me a 95kg genset from Manila. Supply has been that difficult. Gensets are run by either fuel or gasoline, but there are also alternative gensets that can be run by what I like to call 'sexy power.' Pedals or a bicycle set-up helps charge it so while you're pedalling away and losing them pounds, you're also charging up the generator to supply power (win AND win).
Gensets range from around PHP 20,000 (but that's pretty small horsepower) upwards so it's not always the first option people think when they want to donate (that is a pretty hefty price range). What you can do is opt to donate or lend gensets to key mobile offices and units like clinics, hospitals, police stations, government offices, etc., just to be able to support the local government in recovering their offices much more quickly.
So yes, there are a lot of options for chargeable lights out there. These are cheaper in price so can be distributed en masse and they work just by hand power (much like exercising your grip).
Right now, roads are still not too great and fuel is quite limited, making vehicles harder to run in the areas. One alternative is to donate bicycles so people cut down on walking long and long miles and get there faster and more efficiently. Granted, the Philippines is not a huge bike-riding community, but it's worth teaching people so people don't spend 3-4 hours getting assistance and bringing back added weight for roughly the same 3-4 hour walk. Our rapid assessment teams told us of walking that length of time just getting from one area to another as they assessed the areas. I don't know about you, but it doesn't sit well with me that this basically discriminates once again against the more vulnerable members of the community. I can't imagine that pregnant women or elderly would be able to walk that length of time to get relief.
Clothing is a basic need and especially underwear, but bras somehow do not get covered. I remember visiting an evacuation center about a month after we distributed hygiene kits for Ondoy and a woman wistfully asked me "Sana may bra. Nakalawlaw lang talaga" (I wish there were bras. It's just hanging there). I laughed along with the entire group of women but she had a point. Panties are easy to supply (you range from XS - XXL or something like that) but people tend to not give bras because there are so many combinations! So think about this (and think new! Underwear is not the time to go pre-loved. Nor is it super practical to go the lingerie route).
Right now, it's crazy how much the lack of fuel is affecting mobility and access. We've gotten to a point in the world that we rely so much on fuel and electricity in our daily lives that the lack of it is making me realize how much we've come to depend on it. What fuel will mean in Yolanda-affected areas is transportation, electricity, and so many other things. Our rapid assessment team came back to us saying fuel was being rationed and costing from PHP 80/a liter (in a news headline, I saw that it was PHP 300???). When things have settled down, one option to consider to support the affected is to make voucher arrangements with gasoline stations around the area (assuming they have fuel) to supply families with gasoline (encouraging the price of fuel to normalize and without the added burden of people digging into their finances reserved for more essential items like food and water just to buy fuel).
Whether or not there is a disaster, children remain children. The way they process a tragedy is very different from an adult and requires a special kind of care and attention. I've definitely never gotten involved in psychosocial support but I have seen that counselors use a lot of toys to get children to deal with their tragedy. A friend, Mon Corpuz from Black Pencil Project, told me this touching story of setting up a room full of toys for a disaster-affected community, including some large bears. Children were encouraged to go choose a toy to bring home and a parent Mon was talking to was puzzled that their child had chosen a rather small toy when he could have chosen a bigger one. The kid was very decisive about his choice and it reminds me that we can't impose how we deal with a tragedy with a child. This close to Christmas, one thing we can do for the kids of these areas is keep Christmas for them as it should.
It happens that in the rush of giving aid to meet the most basic needs of people, people can forget that there are groups people who have more specific or special needs. Vulnerable groups such as women, children, persons with disabilities and elderly have specific types of needs that are really important but not covered by food, shelter or water. It takes a bit of creative thinking, practicality and just plain common sense that women need this, children need that, etc. I may not have covered all of this so a key thing to do is place yourself in the shoes of someone who may not be the strongest in a society or community and imagine what you would need. You'd be surprised at how creative and innovative you can get.
There is a reason why people, especially women, down south of the Philippines love malongs. The malong (a piece of cloth sewed together on both ends so it's connected (I'm not very good at explaining what a malong looks like). But it's not just a piece of clothing women (or men) use but has a number of purposes, like for changing or for sleeping. It's incredibly flexible and comforting to have a malong.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.