“COVID-19 pandemic – Testing the resilience of poor communities just recovering from Typhoon Vinta in Lanao del Norte, Philippines”

"I found it hard to feed my family, considering that my business stopped, and I don't have any other source of income," shares Zolaika (49) from Salvador, Lanao Del Norte on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Zolaika and her husband sell textile products such as bed sheets and traditional Muslim wear in their village of Mindalano. Their business was brought to a halt mid-March when the Philippine government announced a strict community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19. Zolaika ponders COVID-19 as one of the greatest challenges her generation has faced as it has no clear remedy up to now. She said that their experience with their community being struck by the most devastating typhoon they have experienced (Typhoon Vinta) was less challenging than the widespread COVID-19 because the virus cannot be seen, and therefore makes it harder to fight.

In 2018, AWO International began working with Mindanao-based EcoWEB (Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits, Inc.) to address a different hardship faced by families in Lanao del Norte. Last December 2017, Lanao del Norte was hit by Typhoon Vinta, causing death and destruction to people’s livelihoods. The project, through the survivor-led and community-led response approach, has been capacitating vulnerable villages on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) and helping families recover their livelihoods through the initiatives of their own self-help groups.

When the confirmed number of infected people and deaths due to COVID-19 increased rapidly in March, the Philippine government declared an "enhanced community quarantine" effectively implementing a total lockdown and restricting the movement of the population. Additional lockdown restrictions mandated the temporary closure of non-essential shops and businesses – a major setback for our project participants working towards recovering their livelihood. Due to these restrictions, many small traders like Zolaika have not been able to sell their goods and many farmers have not been able to take their produce to markets due to difficulty in transportation.

"EcoWEB has brought comfort to me and Barangay Mindalano in providing us relief goods, and most importantly for raising our awareness on COVID-19," says Zolaika. Through EcoWEB, 660 families, including Zolaika’s, have received hygiene supplies and food packs in four villages of Lanao Del Norte province during the pandemic to help families address their immediate needs. In response to the threats posed by COVID-19, the project also provided information sessions and materials on COVID-19, tippy-tap handwashing facilities to daycare centers, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local rural health units (RHUs) in the municipalities of Munai and Salvador in Lanao del Norte.

As the threat of COVID-19 and quarantine measures continue, Zolaika manages to keep a positive mindset. “Community quarantine takes a long period, but I believe it must be carried out until things get better. We, ourselves, choose to stay at home. It is not only because the rule said so, but it is our way to protect ourselves. What matters now is self-discipline and having the faith that one day, this challenge ends."

One of the recipients of PPEs, Dr. Al Harvey Galorio, of the Salvador Municipal Health Office also shares their gratitude as their unit is also experiencing shortage in health supplies and protective equipment thus posing a risk to frontliners like him as they respond to possible cases of COVID-19, “EcoWEB is our partner during this time in fighting this pandemic. We know that their job is not easy in serving and reaching the communities during this time considering that the resources are limited, especially transportation. Still, they exerted an effort to be here. We are overwhelmed by their presence and the assistance that they have provided. Especially the PPEs - we are badly in need of those."

EcoWEB implements the Enhancing Local Capacity on Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction and Management for Typhoon Vinta Affected Barangays in Munai and  Salvador, Lanao Norte Project in the villages of Calimudan, Mindalano (Salvador), Bacayawan, and Lininding (Munai), as supported by AWO International and Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH).

EcoWEB staff Alikhayr Mangondaya orients the villagers in Lininding, Munai in the use of tippy tap handwashing structure turned over at daycare centers.EcoWEB also provided an orientation on avoiding COVID-19 and how people can protect themselves.