Self-esteem and Community Organizing at a Time of Natural Disasters

Today,December 25, 2009, Mayon Volcano in the Philippines is scaring people to death. Since the middle of December 2009, Mayon eruption alerts have been issued by PHILVOCS (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology). As in every eruption of Mayon Volcano, the ones who are most vulnerable are always the poor – the ordinary tillers who depend on the land for their livelihood and the agricultural workers who survive each day as hired farm hands .

As I write this, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10,030 families (47,558 people) are spending their Christmas in 28 evacuation centers in the province of Albay. These are people living within the permanent six to eight kilometer permanent danger zone surrounding the volcano.

It was only three months ago (September 26, 2009) that the Philippines was on its knees because of the flash flood from Typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng. The survivors of the flood are still anemic from the destruction which left 115,898 in 204 evacuation centers (data from the National Disaster Coordinating Council). Most evacuation centers in Metro Manila were public schools and now, classes are back. But the trails of pain in the psyche of the flood survivors haven’t blurred yet as they move on rebuilding their lives.

At this writing, there are still evacuation centers in the province of Laguna because of the flood waters that will still take months to recede. Humanitarian organizations are around to help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase of the Typhoon Ondoy aftermath. Self-esteem building and community organizing will be at the core of the rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

In any natural and human-made disaster, the poor have shown that they are not just at the receiving end. They are the ones tapped to guide humanitarian organizations to validate the masterlist of those hardly hit by the disaster. Vulnerable as they are, they are also the ones who are able to pick up the pieces of their lives immediately despite the loss of whatever material possessions they have.

Community Organizing as a process of building self-esteem is very important in the aftermath of calamities. Hope as a value has to be salvaged too immediately after a typhoon. While it is important to be fast in providing relief assistance to communities, it is just as important not to make people feel that they are just at the receiving end. People need help to make rehabilitation and reconstruction of lives happen immediately. The period for relief work should not take too long. While it is true that some sectors in the community need longer relief assistance as in the case of the other-abled, the children, the elderly and the sick, the move towards the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase should already be targeted by humanitarian workers. The community organizing process which is based on the principle of helping people help themselves should be a glaring reminder in every post-disaster response.

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