Students from Methodist-founded Harris Memorial College at an orientation class in Disaster Risk Reduction, in Taytay, Rizal, Philippines.
By David Tereshchuk *
As part of its ongoing mission to help people build better lives, UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, cooperates with partners all over the world to limit the risks of, and damage done by, future disasters.
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is every bit as important to UMCOR’s work as humanitarian response to disaster.
And there can be few partners more dedicated to that same forward-looking effort than students at the Methodist-founded Harris Memorial College in the Philippines, which is a local partner to both UMCOR and the United Methodists’ General Board of Global Ministries. Appropriately enough, the College’s own motto – often proudly displayed along with its founding date of 1903 – is “Never Unprepared”.
At Harris, annual training in DRR – with full participation from UMCOR Philippines – is a vital part of the students’ curriculum. A prime objective is to instill in the student body knowledge and tools for achieving Disaster Risk Reduction that they will carry with them as they go on to work in communities.
Purposefully, the annual DRR course takes place in the summer, just prior to when the students – many of whom are destined to be deaconesses in the church – undertake their lessons on integration with the community, through the school’s program of full immersion with local populations.
UMCOR Philippines Director Ciony Ayo-Eduarte takes pleasure in having seen students busily at work in the small but densely populated community of Taytay Rizal on the outskirts of the capital, Manila – where Harris has its campus – carrying out their hazard-assessments. Almost all of the islands that make up the Republic of the Philippines are extremely disaster-prone (mainly because of the frequency of extreme weather like typhoons) and so hazard-assessment is an essential part of the DRR process throughout the archipelago.
In this case, the students identified building-collapses and fire as their priority hazards in the event of a disaster in Taytay. “Both these hazards are difficult to deal with”, says Ayo-Eduarte, “because they both involve issues of land and land-ownership.”
Obstacles to effective planning for disasters can arise in cases like this, given the widespread presence of residents known as “informal settlers”; many of whom have been living and working on the land for more than a decade. Such issues inevitably invoke UMCOR’s determined approach of walking with vulnerable communities.
Ayo-Eduarte says: “The advocacy part of Disaster Risk Reduction is a cross-cutting issue for UMCOR here, and is essential to good contingency planning”.
She points out that if “For instance people can identify that flooding or landslides are caused or worsened by mining and logging, then the community will need to plan ways of advocating against the negative impact of those industries.”
These kinds of integrated and purpose-driven approaches form a crucial element in the Harris students’ course, thus helping communities protect themselves against a future disaster’s worst effects.
Once graduating as deaconesses, this class of students will individually return to their own annual conferences, all in different parts of the Philippines. The hope is that they will continue to use the valuable tools of Disaster Risk Reduction as they live and work among the people they serve.
Your gift to Philippines Emergency, UMCOR Advance #240235 will help communities disaster-prone areas minimize the effect of future disasters.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst who regularly contributes to umcor.org.