Helping Communities Survive The Next Storm In The Philippines


Recipients of a shelter from our project with Handicap International (Toby Ash/ShelterBox)

Recipients of a shelter from our project with Handicap International (Toby Ash/ShelterBox)

‘After surviving Typhoon Haiyan, we had to cope with three more typhoons. But now that we have moved into our new shelter, I know my family is finally safe.’ These are the words of Anna Lisa Calvadores, a young mother who lives in small, tight knit community on an exposed hillside in Eastern Samar in the Philippines. 
Toby Ash who is the Philippines country coordinator for ShelterBox, recently met some of the people who are involved with ShelterBox’s projects to create resilient ‘transitional’ shelters in the country following the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
For more than a year, Anna Lisa and her family lived in a tiny, makeshift shelter cobbled together from tarpaulins and materials salvaged from her old home, which was completely destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the country in November 2013.

The typhoon was one of the strongest storms ever recorded and destroyed not only homes and buildings, but people’s livelihoods too, leaving them without the income to start rebuilding. She and other vulnerable families are now moving into safe, resilient shelters being built by ShelterBox and our project partners across areas hardest hit by the disaster.

Anna Lisa Calvadores, who has recieved a new 'transitional shelter' as part of one of ShelterBox's projects in the Philippines. (Toby Ash/ShelterBox)

Anna Lisa Calvadores, who has received a new ‘transitional shelter’ as part of one of ShelterBox’s projects in the Philippines. (Toby Ash/ShelterBox)

The generosity of our donors following the extraordinary scale of destruction wrought by Haiyan has enabled us to continue our assistance to those who lost their homes. Working in partnership with four larger international aid agencies, ACTED, Handicap International, Islamic Relief and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), we are constructing almost 1,700 ‘transitional’ shelters, made largely from locally sourced materials. We are working in Eastern Samar, where Haiyan first hit landfall, in Leyte, close to the devastated city of Tacloban, and on the island of Bantayan.
In addition to the creation of the shelters themselves, the projects promote a wider understanding of how communities can best protect themselves in the future by passing on, and training carpenters in, techniques to rebuild safer shelters. In this way, communities are taking an active role in the recovery process and helping themselves to become more resilient to future disasters.
One such carpenter is 50 year old Nilo Visto, from the municipality of Alang Alang in northern Leyte, who underwent 15 days of training as part of the project we are carrying out with our implementing partner ACTED. He now has a certificate from the Philippines’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) after demonstrating his knowledge of safe building practices. Since graduation, Nilo has helped construct 20 strong shelters for us in his village. With his newfound skills, Nilo believes that he will be able to find more regular work to help support his family and also be able to assist his neighbours rebuild safely.
Nilo Visto, who now has a certificate in safe building practices as part of  the project ShelterBox is carrying out with our implementing partner ACTED.  (ACTED/ShelterBox)

Nilo Visto, who now has a certificate in safe building practices as part of the project ShelterBox is carrying out with our implementing partner ACTED. (ACTED/ShelterBox)

The shelter projects we are supporting target the most vulnerable of society – often the elderly, physically challenged and families who have limited capacity to recover on their own. Other members of the community are often happy to help out with the construction work even though they will not be beneficiaries themselves. In Anna Lisa’s village, where we are supporting the work of CRS, we found a large group of residents busy making gravel from large boulders, which will be used in the foundations.
The projects we are undertaking also engage the wider community in build back safer awareness activities, from catchy build back safer songs to house-to-house visits. These activities clearly paid dividends in December last year when Typhoon Hagupit struck areas we are working in. This time they were far better prepared, with many households tying down their shelters and reinforcing their roofs in the hours before the storm hit. None of our newly built shelters sustained any damage.
The reality of climate change is that super typhoons such as Haiyan are no longer one off events. So far this year, the Philippines has already endured three powerful typhoons. Our continued engagement is helping to ensure they are better able to withstand extreme weather events in the future, minimising not only the future risk to life, but also the need for us to return with emergency aid in the years to come.

‘Rice, Sugar and Salt’ – Lessons learned from seven months in the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan Remembered


Toby Ash is the Philippines country coordinator for ShelterBox and has, along with our four project partners, been working to help construct almost 1,700 shelters for families affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which struck one year ago this week. In this personal reflection from Toby we hear about the difference ShelterBox is making in the region thanks to the support of our donors from around the world. 

‘When are you moving in?’ I asked a beneficiary of one of our newly built shelters yesterday. ‘Not until we’ve brought good luck to our new home,’ she replied. ‘The first things we bring in are containers of sugar, rice and salt. Then we will plant a Kalipayan (‘happiness’) tree by the foundations. Only then can we move in’.

So, yesterday was much like every other day of the last seven months I have spent here in the Philippines – it was a day of learning. I arrived here at the tail end of the emergency phase, some five months after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the country leaving more than 6,000 dead and a million homes destroyed. By April the basic needs of those affected had been largely met – most had access to some basic shelter to protect them from the elements. But travelling through the great swathe of the country that was affected, it was clear that the future of many of the Haiyan’s survivors remained precarious – the road to recovery would be long and difficult, and many would not be able to get there without further assistance.

ShelterBox was one of the leading international shelter agencies that responded to the typhoon last November. Over the course of more than five months we helped almost 7,000 households with more than 100 ShelterBox response team members distributing boxes, tents, shelter kits, solar lamps, water purification systems and other desperately needed equipment.

In many disasters, the provision of a tent and other household items are all that is required for those affected to start rebuilding their lives. But the scale of the damage wrought by Haiyan has made the process of recovery much more difficult. The typhoon destroyed millions of coconut trees, rice fields and thousands of fishing boats, leaving those who depend on them for their living without any income. And with no income there can be no rebuilding. Even those able to eke out a living are faced with the stark choice of having to put food on the table and sending their children to school or buying building materials. Then, of course there are society’s most vulnerable. How does a frail, elderly woman rebuild her home by herself?


Philippines country coordinator, Toby Ash (pictured center) in the Philippines

Philippines country coordinator, Toby Ash (pictured center) in the Philippines


Once the frenzy of the emergency phase had calmed, we began to look at how we might be able to continue our assistance to help these survivors recover from this devastating and traumatic event. I travelled extensively across the typhoon hit areas in a bid to better understand the needs of those affected and to look at how we could assist the most vulnerable, building on our legacy from the emergency stage.

Given our limited operational resources in the country, a key goal has been to identify project partners to help us continue with our work. The initial ground work on this was done by Sam Hewett, one of our operational co-ordinators who oversaw the emergency response in the early part of the year. Myself and Jo Reid, our projects consultant at HQ, followed a strict and rigorous criteria for selecting our partners that examined every aspect of their proposals including the nature of the shelter project, its location, the partner’s track record and the likely speed of completion.

Over the course of the summer we signed partnership agreements with four large international aid organisations – ACTED, Handicap International, Islamic Relief and Catholic Relief Services. In total we will be building almost 1,700 transitional shelters built mainly of locally sourced materials in four separate locations badly affected by the typhoon. Although not permanent, they are designed and built to be resilient. Each will meet the ‘build back safer’ guidelines as recommended by the International Federation of the Red Cross’ (IRFC’s) shelter technical team here.

But in many ways these projects are bigger than the individual shelters themselves. We are working with our partners to create shelters that can serve as exemplars of safe building practice in the communities they are built in over the coming months and years. Moreover, we are directly training carpenters and engaging the wide community in safer building practices, with the goal of leaving them better prepared for natural disasters in the future.

I have been a ShelterBox response team member for six years now and have delivered ShelterBoxes to many far flung places across the world. The last few months has been a different ShelterBox experience, but one that has been equally rewarding. Last week we handed over a specially adapted shelter to Conchita Suamer, a frail 89 year old woman, that will allow her to live in dignity after months in a tiny shack cobbled together from rusty lengths of corrugated iron. At this stage in the disaster, almost a year after the typhoon struck, a tent would be not be the right shelter solution for her. But the shelter we have built for her and her family is.

ShelterBox’s response to the calamity that hit this part of the Philippines last year, has been its most complicated and multi-faceted to date. Institutionally it has been a learning process, but one which will hold us in good stead in tackling the complex shelter issues that will invariably be thrown our way in the future. And what I have learnt? Many, many things but first and foremost, what a wonderful country the Philippines is and how warm-natured and resilient its people are. And of course to have a container of rice, sugar and salt in my home, and a ‘happiness’ tree planted close to its foundations.

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ShelterBox Responds To Typhoon Rammasun

Philippines 19 July 2014. A mother and her seven children seek shelter in the ruins of their house. (Toby Ash/ShelterBox).

Philippines 19 July 2014. A mother and her seven children seek shelter in the ruins of their house. (Toby Ash/ShelterBox).

The typhoon season in the Philippines returned with a vengeance on 16 July when Typhoon Rammasun (locally known as Glenda) swept through the north of the country leaving 94 people dead, more than 300 injured, and tens of thousands homeless. 

ShelterBox response team members John Cordell (US) and Toby Ash (UK) arrived in the Bicol region, where the typhoon first hit land, on 19 June to carry out a damage assessment. ‘Once again we have seen how the destructive power of these violent storms singles out the poorest and most vulnerable. We found a mother and her seven children eeking out an existence in the ruins of their former home. We found another family sheltering in a bus shelter after the roof of their house was blown away,’ says Ash.

The local government estimates that about 7,000 homes in Bicol were totally destroyed by Rammasun, which packed winds of up to 185 km an hour. ‘We have travelled extensively in and around the city of Legazpi in Albay province, often to quite remote areas,’ adds Ash. ‘The monsoon rains are pouring and we have found families with little or nothing to protect themselves from the elements’.

ShelterBox aims to transport tents and other vitally needed equipment from prepositioned stock in the country to the worst affected areas. A ShelterBox response team led by Owen Smith (NZ) will hopefully travel to Legazpi to coordinate aid distribution. ShelterBox is being assisted in Albay by the Rotary Club of Legazpi, who are providing logistics, warehousing and manpower support.

Working ‘Below the Radar’ With ShelterBox

Credit: REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi. People walking down a street are pictured through a hole in a building in Deir al-Zor, Syria April, 2013.

Credit: REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi. People walking down a street are pictured through a hole in a building in Deir al-Zor, Syria April, 2013.

Toby Ash (UK) is an experienced ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member currently responding to the ongoing Syria crisis. Although he cannot reveal his location due to security concerns, he reflects on his experience in the field.
‘I’m currently on deployment for ShelterBox – but I can’t tell you where.
‘Why? Well, life in the field for an SRT volunteer is not always about lugging green boxes and putting up tents in the aftermath of major natural disasters that you hear about in the news. The deployment I am on now involves working in a complex and challenging political and security environment, trying to work out the best way to channel aid to the hundreds of thousands of desperate and displaced people in Syria. Myself and a fellow SRT member are based close to the Syrian border building ties with local partners who are able to distribute our aid in the most out of reach and often dangerous corners of the war-torn country, partners who we trust to help us get the job done on the ground effectively and quickly.
‘Alleviate humanitarian calamity’
‘We can’t even tell you what country we are working in because to do so might bring unwanted attention that would not only risk our work and that of our trusted partners in Syria, but also other charities trying to alleviate the humanitarian calamity that’s happening just a few short miles away from where I am sitting. Sometimes you just have to work ‘below the radar’ to get the job done.
‘The world is becoming an ever more complex and potentially dangerous place – and no more so than here in the Middle East. This is challenging for charities trying to help those affected by disasters, but, as I am discovering at first hand, is a challenge that ShelterBox is extremely well set up to respond to. ShelterBox is not a rigid, faceless, cumbersome organisation. It’s a community of extremely bright, resourceful individuals, often volunteers, focused on a single goal of helping those who have lost everything – wherever they are, and however hard it is to reach them. This makes ShelterBox such an exceptional and unique charity.
‘Positive difference in darkest corner’
‘When I return home and invariably watch the latest horrors unfold in Syria on my TV, I can take some pride and solace knowing that I am part of an organisation that is doing its utmost to help the innocent people caught in the cross fire and that we are making a positive difference in the darkest corner of the world today. It’s just that this time, we can’t go out and shout about it.’
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