In Leyte, Philippines, hundreds of people live in barrack like bunk-houses made of woven bamboo. These are the millions of residents who have been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, in November 2013, which caused a fatality rate above 5,000 and according to the Government of the Philippine’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC), dislocated some 4 million people internally and affected 14 to 16 million people in total.
These make-shift homes provide a transitory shelter for those who are waiting to resettle but can be a state of permanency for many. Thousands of dislocated residents will have to wait for years before they can finally move into a new home.
Despite the strength and resiliency of Typhoon Haiyan survivors, the prospects of beginning anew are slim. One local organization, the Water, Agro-forestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND FOUNDATION), provides survivors and leaders with basic skills in organic home-gardening using local resources available in households. A project that teaches survivors not only how to cultivate enough food for themselves but also empowers survivors by providing sustainable jobs and income.
Dr. Elmer Sayre, the in-house advisor for WAND, explains that in the ensuing months of Typhoon Haiyan, there was generous provision of food and aid, which was not only beneficial but necessary during the critical months post Typhoon Haiyan. However, overreliance on aid may eventually trap the nation, and communities targeted, on a vicious cycle of aid dependency. Rather than debilitating the system of recovery with a culture of unproductivity, Dr. Sayre, created a proactive development program that engages and drives survivors to literally regrow their life.
The WAND Foundation has trained a total of 120 survivors/trainees in Ormoc City, Letye, in 2 groups each, with trainees required to train their neighbors back home. The core training was led by WAND staff, Annie Jane Lagawan, who had undertook a 9 month Rural Leaders Training Program at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan. Training included active labor and theory that familiarized trainees with concepts as plant growth, agronomic requirements, organic fertilizer, soil conditioners, vegetable harvesting techniques, vegetable planning and budgeting and preservation of vegetables.
Apart from training survivors with gardening and harvesting knowledge, Annie Jane, set forth ARI’s philosophy called Enrichment of Foodlife, an ideology that encouraged the ‘value of producing and sharing healthy food in a manner sustainable to the environment and to the community, through the cooperative efforts of the community.’
With the aid of private donors, the food resiliency program implemented by WAND has managed to provide families with proper farming training, vegetables seeds, garden materials and garden tools, helping a total of 440 families and counting, with each of the original participant trainee reaching out to 3-4 other families in Leyte. This has allowed bunk-house residents to raise crops in small family plots, communal gardens and in containers when space became an issue.
Now, plots of land that were once old sugar cane fields or just muddy trails have developed into lush gardens harvesting local crops such as potatoes, kang-kong (spinach like vegetables), onions, peppers, okra and squash. Families with a surplus of vegetables are able to market these crops to generate extra income.
With gardening, WAND, has not only provided survivors with a source of sustainable nutrition and income but has also built a sense of community. People share what they have planted and gardens have become a communal point of conversation, meeting and work. As a tool of therapy, harvesting, has helped millions of people cope with the misfortunes and hardships in life, germinating seedlings of hope.