For anyone interested in our Media and Photography Project to Support an NGO in the Philippines, the following article is an interview conducted by Australian journalist, Emma Bailie, with Helena Claire, who is the director of the projects in the Philippines.
“A year on from history’s worst recorded storm, Director of Operations Helena Claire looks back on the work rehabilitating the communities ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda.
The 35-year-old mother of two was forced to take her family and swim to higher ground when Yolanda struck in November last year.
“My husband and I swam with our sons and our nanny to a higher structure; we took a mattress to place on top of us and shield us from flying debris,” said Helena Claire.
When Yolanda finally abated, Helena Claire who has been with the NGO for almost a decade, threw herself into damage control.
“The first priority was to check if we had casualties amongst the children who are a part of our sponsorship program,” she said.
“We lost one of our sponsor children and their two parents. We were fortunate not to have lost more.
“Next we notified the embassies of each of the volunteer’s safety.
“Once everybody was accounted for I went to Cebu for a week to deal with communications — notifying families that everybody was okay.”
As international NGOs swept through the country dispensing relief, we got to work ensuring no communities were missed in the frenzy.
“We ended up mapping out areas to be sure that we were not wasting resources duplicating the efforts of larger NGOs,” said Helena Claire.
“We wanted to make sure everybody was getting aid so we were helping larger organizations route where they planned to provide relief.
“We were filling in the gaps and notifying NGOs of what was still needed.”
Two months after the storm hit, volunteer projects were back up and running and focused donations and volunteer efforts on rebuilding and repair.
“We prioritized building work for our sponsor children’s families and our homestay families,” said Helena Claire.
“We also focused on rebuilding and repairing classrooms — providing the children with sturdy buildings to protect them from the heat and rain.
“We started complimenting some of the projects begun by other organizations to make everything more efficient and effective for the recipients.
“One organization was only doing the roofing of damaged daycare centers so we hooked up with them to provide the walls and floors.
“With the money we saved we were able to fix double the buildings.”
With hundreds of thousands of Filipinos displaced, volunteer work focused on providing effective relief to those waiting in transitional shelters to be moved to permanent housing.
“We went into extending services in the transitional shelters and did extensive profiling to make sure we were delivering the services they need most,” explained Helena Claire.
“They were already receiving food from the social welfare agency so we supplied them with hygiene kits — we augmented what was lacking.”
Despite Yolanda’s immense devastation, Helena Claire said the people’s resilience and sense of community has helped them rise from the ashes.
“Honestly, we recovered fast. We had a lot of help but we’ve done very well with the recovery,” she said.
“During those times, from one stranger to another, everybody was kind.
“You would never feel tired because everybody was your friend and everybody was trying lift each other up.
“We were even able to laugh. We swapped the horror stories for funny stories. We had to, there was no more room for sadness.”
For Helena Claire, Yolanda served as a reminder that grassroots work is crucial in building a stronger future for the people of Leyte.
“The key focus moving forward is to keep empowering local communities to help themselves so they have the tools to survive when events like these happen.”