The University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies (UP CWS), a UP system-wide office, was among the immediate responders to extend relief and psychosocial support to the survivors of typhoon Yolanda last November.
Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, director of the UP CWS and professor at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development (UP CSWCD), shared some of her insights and recommendations for the UP community.
Cut the bureaucracy
According to Claudio “cutting the bureaucracy in times of disasters” to be able to immediately address the needs of survivors is “one of the most important principles in psychosocial relief support.” She said the UP Tacloban coordinator relayed vital information about their immediate needs, information which also hinted at the level of rehabilitation faced by survivors, which allowed the UP administration to respond accordingly.
Claudio said the UP CWS has since been assisting survivors and volunteers alike. Its linkages with the gender offices of the UP campuses in Tacloban, Iloilo, Cebu and Mindanao facilitated moves to help the people in areas devastated by the typhoon. Coordination with the UP Tacloban office “served as a very good channel for (responding to) the needs of the staff and faculty of UP Tacloban.”
UP CWS activity updates, as well as call for donations, were posted in their web site and Facebook page. The UP CWS and the UP CWS Foundation gathered donations “with particular emphasis on the often neglected needs of women and children, such as sanitary napkins and adult and baby diapers,” and sent sanitary kits coursed through the CSWCD.
“When I was helping with packing relief goods at the CSWCD, I noticed we quickly ran out of children’s clothes and underwear, as well as women’s and men’s underwear. We had to purchase them,” Claudio said. During the first week, the set of requested relief goods included food and other basic needs like candles, flashlights, and chlorine tablets for the purification of drinking water. Recent requests, meanwhile, included mosquito nets and “trapal” for their temporary shelters. Old shower curtains would also be needed in relocation centers “because the need for privacy is always there.”
Integrate the support measures
The UP CWS held orientation seminars for counsellors and volunteers who can give psychosocial assistance and counselling to survivors. We had a series of orientation seminars for UP and non-UP volunteers going to the relief areas or working with the people at Villamor (airbase),” recounted Claudio. Integrating psychosocial support measures with other services, not making it a separate activity, is another principle in giving psychosocial support. “You integrate these support measures with the services of every team that goes to meet survivors. These survivors can be the people who were hit by the storm, the people who have been transported to Villamor, and, often neglected, the first responders,” she said.
According to Claudio, psychosocial support is seen in the “creative, resourceful, and compassionate volunteer who will problem-solve.” It could be as simple as giving proper information to people or looking for their basic needs, such as food and water, locating their loved ones, transportation, and others. “If we can answer with compassion and adequate information, then that is already a very important aspect of psychosocial support. You have to be very good at problem-solving. You have to be very respectful and compassionate. You have to be culturally-sensitive,” she said.
Systematize disaster preparedness
Noting that the Philippines ranks very high among disaster-prone countries, especially due to climate change, Claudio said disaster preparedness and psychosocial support trainings should be systematized and done in all colleges and campuses. “Scientists are saying things would get worse. There’s a new normal. Then we must have a more systematized program of support and skills.”
Claudio also expressed optimism that their training with the MMDA last year improved their capability to give psychosocial support when they were deployed in the affected areas. “Our strength would be on being very sensitive to vulnerable populations like women and children, the elderly and the disabled, and giving emphasis to community organizing and solidarity relationships as the real backbone of recovery and rehabilitation in terms of psychosocial support work,” she said.
Since differently-affected students, faculty and staff of UP have varying needs, Claudio acknowledged the important contributions and psychosocial support efforts by other UP units, such as the Office of the UP Diliman Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Department of Psychology of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, and the College of Education.
Review the budget process
According to Claudio, as soon as the typhoon hit, the UP CWS immediately imposed forced savings by scaling down its silver anniversary and Christmas celebrations while trying to find ways to efficiently and legally use their resources for the relief efforts. However, regulations on the use of funds and the budgeting process would have to be reviewed if the UP CWS is to be allowed to re-allocate or set aside an emergency fund for disaster response. Claudio plans to save 20 percent of their annual budget for possible use in disaster relief. “I understand why these regulations are important—to avoid malversation, corruption, or misuse of funds. But perhaps we should also look at our budgeting processes to see whether some processes can be discovered (to enable us) to more effectively meet disasters,” she said.
Commit to long-term rebuilding
Claudio said the UP CWS is committed to the long-term effort of rebuilding UP Tacloban. UP could have a long-term group for this purpose, comprised of the constituent units, as well as a response center. “This could be a cluster of people who could look at the continuing rehabilitation. For UP CWS, we launched the campaign called ‘Commit to Rebuild’ on our 25th anniversary last December. We want people to know that beyond the ‘heroic phase,’ we need to be steady and committed to rebuilding the UP campuses in Palo, Leyte and Tacloban, and see the rebuilding of storm-ravaged areas, in general,” she said.
“It’s really a good chance to make things better, for what we’re going to build. There are so many things that can be done,” concluded Claudio.
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